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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

City Accounts Commissioner Grills Housing Authority

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SARATOGA SPRINGS - A special workshop led by Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner John Franck was held on the evening of Tuesday, January 31 regarding a number of issues relating to the Saratoga Springs Public Housing Authority.  The four other presiding members of the city council also joined Commissioner Franck to address several concerns with the housing authority’s director, Ed Spychalski.

The public housing authority has come under fire in recent months after residents complained that not enough was being done to control a bed bug problem that had been discovered at the city-owned Stonequist Manor, located at 1 South Federal Street . The commissioner also had questions regarding the rapid growth of Spychalski’s $152,000 salary, charges of nepotism, and financial mismanagement.

Commissioner Franck began the workshop with an emotional video of residents making their case to the city council about the infestation at an earlier meeting.  It was followed by another brief video explaining the threat of bed bugs. David Parkhurst and Kenny Watkins from the pest control company Orkin were asked to speak on their expertise of dealing with bed bugs. Spychalski had previously told the council that he had consulted with an entomologist, or bug expert, in order to deal with the problem. His solution involved providing steamers to residents to clean their apartments and furniture. Parkhurst disputed the effectiveness of steam when dealing with bed bugs, saying it’s more likely to just move the bugs around than kill them.

Parkhurst and Watkins indicated that while an entomologist would certainly know more about the bug itself, a pest control company would be more effective in actually treating the problem.  The Orkin men said their company has specific programs designed to deal with buildings similar in size to Stonequist.  It was estimated that treatment would cost $25,000. 
The cost of the treatment became the subject of much more scrutiny, as the chairman of the housing authority’s board of directors Dennis Brunelle, who teleconferenced into the workshop via Florida, claimed that dealing with the bed bugs had stretched available resources too thin.
“We just wanted to treat them in the most economical way,” said Brunelle referring to the provided steam cleaners.

Commissioner Franck countered his argument by revealing the housing authority is sitting on over $2.5 million in unrestricted assets, and somehow found the money to hire a public relations firm to deal with the backlash, but could not find the money to make sure the bed bug problem was resolved.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me why you haven’t hired an outside firm to clean this up,” said Franck. “You should spend the money and get this done yesterday,” he concluded.
Franck then turned his attention to director Spychalski’s salary, which at $152,000, is a 100 percent increase from the $74,777 he reportedly earned in 2007. Commissioner Franck calculated that Spychalski’s salary is $456 more than is earned by the Lt. Governor of New York State.  

Brunelle remained defiant while discussing Spychalski’s salary, repeating that Spychalski had absorbed the responsibilities of two other positions that no longer exist.

“He’s working a lot more than 40 hours [a week],” said Brunelle.

“So is everyone else in this room,” Franck quipped back.

Franck then brought up questions regarding a reported $56,000 that both Brunelle and Spychalski have spent on trips to conferences in 2010 and 2011.  The trips include places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

Mayor Scott Johnson met with residents of Stonequist earlier in the day, to let them voice their concerns to him personally.  Mayor Johnson has asked the state comptroller’s office to look at the housing authority’s records, and possible discrepancies in salary, compensation, and reported business travel.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan echoed those sentiments.

“I strongly suggest the [Saratoga Housing Authority] submit to a full audit at the expense of the housing authority, and believe it is in their best interests to do so,” she said.
Chairman Brunelle agreed and said the housing authority would “welcome the audit.”

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