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Thursday, 09 May 2013 14:26

City Council Discusses Trails, Guns and Housing Authority

By Patricia Older | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tuesday night’s City Council meeting covered a wide range of topics from a pedestrian and bike trail that will loop the city to the Housing Authority’s salaries to banning uncovered rifles in the downtown district. 

The most contentious, and most unproductive discussion, was during the report from Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan when she requested the council adopt a resolution drawn from the state comptroller’s audit to set standards for compensation for the Housing Authority’s employees. 

“We need a clear understanding of the compensation,” said Madigan, adding the resolution would “improve the compensation of Saratoga Springs Housing Authority’s employees.”

The City has worked to improve how the Housing Authority is run following the infamous bed bug issue last year and the state’s audit of the Housing Authority. The audit, while it did not find any financial mismanagement, did question the salary of the Housing Authority’s director, Edward Spychalski—it was found to be 93 percent higher than other housing authority directors, and other concerns such as his allowing his brother to service the City-owned vehicle he used and under-reporting his personal mileage. 

After Madigan read through the resolution, which was worded after the audit, Mayor Scott Johnson said he was not fully sold on adopting it. 

“I have great concerns,” said Mayor Johnson. “There are too many ambiguities and vagueness—what guidelines are we imposing? What is this resolution accomplishing if HUD guidelines are already in place and they are bound by those guidelines? What are we achieving other than a symbolic resolution? ” 

He went on to tell Madigan that the entire 40-page audit was no longer a feasible document to work from at this point, noting that “some conditions do not exist anymore.” 

But, it was the dialogue between Account Commissioner John Franck, who sided with Madigan, and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathieson, who did not, which dragged the discussion on and was the most colorful.  

“There is no need to kick this can back down the road,” said Franck, alluding to the fact the issue had been talked about for months. 

Mathieson countered that he thought the resolution was ambiguous and that he had sought out opinions from other housing authorities in other communities. 

“I think we would be opening a can of worms,” said Mathieson, who then read responses from various municipalities, each with varying interpretations, of how they deal with their housing authorities. 

Franck shot back that Mathieson must not be on the same page as everyone else.

“I disagree with you—it sounds very clear to everyone else,” said Franck, adding that the Housing Authority is already required by HUD to report their salaries. “We’ve been talking about this for 16 months. The question is does the Council want to step up to the plate—[Madigan] is trying to say ‘Let’s follow the law.’” 

The banter between the two, with Madigan and the mayor also adding their opinions, at times almost heated, dragged on for nearly an hour, with no one giving ground. 

Madigan said she “cringed” every time she had to put the Housing Authority on her agenda, but that they needed to have guidelines. 

“They have agreed to give us the salaries and it is up to the mayor to approve them—we need to be on record though,” said Madigan. 

Then suddenly, after steadfastly refusing to budge on his stance, Mathieson abruptly changed his opinion and agreed the Council should adopt the resolution, which brought a chuckle from Franck. 

Mathieson asked Franck if he thought the discussion was funny. 

“I think this is hilarious,” said Franck, adding that it must be an election year since Mathieson did “a 180.” 

The board finally adopted the resolution with only the mayor dissenting. 

In other business, the Council discussed a number of transportation issues, including a 22-mile greenbelt trail that would connect Bog Meadows with the Spring Run Trail and into the city, a streets checklist that would study each city street individually to come up with a plan to make them all pedestrian and bike friendly and a grant was awarded to the city to complete the study. 

The board also set a public hearing for the next council meeting to adopt a resolution that would ban any long barrel weapon from being carried uncovered in the downtown area. 

“We are working on becoming a more crime resistant city—people are worried about crime,” said Mathieson, adding that following the January gun show, he had been approached by several residents who were disturbed at seeing rifles and shot guns being toted into the City Center. 

“A number of people reported they were uncomfortable with people entering the gun show with their weapons exposed,” said Mathieson, adding that he had spoken with the chief of police. “He said there was no law against it.”

He added the resolution would not affect the people’s rights to bear arms. 

“This is if they are carrying a weapon, they need to have it encased or in wrapping—this is for the downtown area only—if someone is walking around with a rifle, this at least will give the police a little power to do something.”

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