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Displaying items by tag: One More Time
MALTA – Prior to the Malta Town Board agenda meeting on Monday, April 28, Town Attorney Thomas Peterson read a letter of counsel arising out of findings from the town ethics committee, which had affirmed its earlier findings of misconduct by Town Clerk Flo Sickels.
The ethics committee recommended that the town board “…issue a letter of counsel to the Town Clerk expressing its disapproval with the violations…” to Ms. Sickels, and further that she be required to attend live ethics training and show proof of attendance.
The letter of counsel from the town board, which was approved by a 3-0 vote (with Councilperson Tara Thomas recusing and Councilperson John Hartzell absent), changed a key word “required” to “recommended” ethics training.
Tax Receiver Linda Bablin, who initiated the original complaint last September, noted this nuance:
“This letter of counsel is a joke,” she said “They couldn’t even follow the Ethics Committee’s recommendation, which stated Sickels should be “Required to attend live ethics training and furnish to the Town Board evidence of completing the training.”
“All they did was suggest she attend ethics training.” Ms. Bablin continued. “Every committee, every elected official and every department head was already “required” to attend the ethics training put on by the Town on March 7. Some of these people are paid employees and were not even compensated for that. Sickels chose not to attend that training. Since she is the only one who has been found “guilty” of unethical behavior, the fact that the Board opted for an even lesser consequence for her and her actions, is deplorable.”
By Arthur Gonick
ROUND LAKE— As reported in Saratoga TODAY in its January 24 issue, the residents around Round Lake Road have risen up in force to actively resist the imposition of roundabouts as a solution to traffic problems at two key intersections.
While members of the Malta Town Board have characterized roundabouts here as a "done deal," the citizenry (about 75) who came out last Saturday, March 1 at the intersection at Chango Drive (one of the proposed sites) to wave signs and urge people to honk horns in support of their "no roundabout stance, as well as those who packed and spoke at a public hearing regarding eminent domain procedure at the town board meeting on Monday, March 3, say otherwise.
The town board voted at it’s last meeting of 2013 to accept Albany engineering firm Creighton-Manning’s (C-M) "preferred" alternative of roundabouts, though it noted in their report that it was a more expensive option and roundabouts that would be placed at the two intersections would have "non-conforming," features, or less than ideal specifications.
The roundabout projects are at the intersections of Round Lake Road with Ruhle / Raylinsky Roads and with Chango Drive. These two roundabout projects are estimated by C-M to cost $4.86 million, with approximately 80 percent funded by Federal and State sources while a project involving a traffic light (which does not exist at Chango Drive), turn signals and turning lanes (which are not at either location currently) would cost $3.1 million according to C-M estimates.
This caused resident Tim Downey at the public hearing to say that this issue came down to "Pork… you guys just wanted the money. The fix was in from the start."
Indeed, the acquisition costs of land for obtaining the proposed right-of-way widens the gulf between the two projects further. C-M estimated that roundabout right of way costs would be $165,000; while a traffic light project would be $39,900.
At the March 3 public hearing, representatives from C-M presented a report noting that some of the non-conforming issues had been resolved, but resident Elwood "Woody" Sloat noted that many remained, and even was skeptical about some of the "resolved" issues ever happening:
"The C-M group stated they are going to move the Stewart’s at Ruhle Road’s entrance/exit back (north) 20 feet and extend the splitter island. This was previously determined to be not feasible because of the extensive telephone/water/sewer and utility systems in this specific area. Many residents, including myself, are skeptical that this will ever happen and will probably result in a "change order" (which will drive the project cost further) once they get approvals.
"The citizens will watch every step of this construction," Sloat said.
Other residents at the public hearing concentrated on the safety issue of roundabouts, both for vehicles and pedestrians.
"I fear there will be children’s bodies lying in the road." Said Shelda Roerig, resident whose family tree includes original residents of this area. Her family currently owns the ice cream stand and miniature golf course near the proposed Ruhle / Raylinsky roundabout that many area children frequent.
Of the 16 commenters at the public hearing, only one spoke in favor of the project that the town board had voted for.
While this is obviously not a scientific sample, the packed town board meeting, a good number of motivated residents who lined Round Lake Road on a frigid Saturday and the passion of the community, exemplified by the now 400+ signatures against the roundabouts submitted at the public hearing, indicate that even though the town board has eminent domain on it’s mind, they think otherwise.
Their fervor could be capsulized by Kevin Eitzmann’s comment at the March 3 public hearing:
"This is not how democracy works."
Well, maybe it is. Stay tuned.
Stewart’s Seed Money To Make It Happen in Maltaville
MALTA— The town of Malta has been challenged with coping with some of Saratoga County’s greatest growth issues arising out of the as a result of the siting of GlobalFoundries at the Luther Forest Technology Campus.
Often the results have been regarded as haphazard: either overreaching or inadequate – a dozen roundabouts (with potentially more on the horizon) and the retail vacancies in the Ellsworth Commons project being two visible examples.
The Town Board, to its credit, has attempted to take a fresh approach. At the February 3 town meeting, they established a Route 9 South/Route 67 Rezoning Committee, which is charged with looking at the entire area in a comprehensive way to avoid individual “spot zoning” of parcels in this key gateway area to the GlobalFoundries plant.
This will be a developing story for quite a while, but there is a situation in process currently that, if adopted, can illustrate how growth and development can have multiple positive outcomes.
It may come as no surprise that this situation sprang forth from the private sector.
The Stewart’s Shops Corporation is advocating the formation of a Planned Development District and the Town Board has heard presentations by Mr. Tom Lewis, who is now a consultant but formerly was the company’s Real Estate Representative. Stewart’s has an option on a key parcel (see aerial map) along the roundabout located on route 67 and Luther Forest Boulevard – a key entranceway to GlobalFoundries and the LF Tech Park. It would like a building permit to construct a shop that would have gas pumps.
The desirability to Stewart’s to have this site is obvious; also obvious is the desirability of having a convenient gas/convenience store for the thousands who will be passing by to and from work at Fab8 and other sites.
Stewart’s would be able to hook up to an existing water main. As part of an incentive to receive a building permit for the site, they have offered the town the sum of $200,000 as seed money for the purpose of extending water lines along old Route 67 and Dugan Hill Road in a neighborhood known as Maltaville. Mr. Lewis had a representative from Saratoga Water Services verify that for that amount of seed money, a 10” water main could be extended 1000 feet, which includes lateral connections to individual (both existing and future) parcels as needed.
This could be the spur needed to stimulate future residential development in a desirable location that is very close to the Technology Campus. After this, the water lines could be extended further in the neighborhood by residential developers.
The next stages are to develop the final legislative language. There are some minor issues to be settled, such as the Saratoga County Water Authority taking ownership of the parcel upon which a water tower would sit. The water authority needs that provision in order to borrow money for the tower. Mr. Lewis also indicated that he was willing to accept a contingency that Stewart’s would receive a building permit after the pipes were in the ground.
Once the legislation is finalized, an item can be put on the town board’s agenda that would schedule a public hearing. It appeared that everyone was going to push to finalize the language in time for this item to be on the next meeting’s agenda, which takes place on Monday, March 3, with a public hearing at the April meeting.
This could be an example of growth that works—a win/win for everyone concerned.
As noted above, Stewart’s option on the parcel is contingent upon receiving a building permit but “the optimist in me says this is going to happen,” Tom Lewis said.
Ethics Complaints Move Up the Ladder to State Attorney General
MALTA – “I don’t care what happens to me. This kind of stuff must stop.”
- Lynda Bablin
Saratoga TODAY has exclusively learned that Lynda Bablin, Malta town tax receiver, has filed a complaint with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office alleging improprieties in the way the Malta Town Board has attempted to circumvent her original ethics complaint, which was initiated on September 11.
Saratoga TODAY has received documents, which in some cases were notarized; email trees and other supportive materials from Ms. Bablin that appear to indicate that the town board sought ways to avoid acting on her complaint.
Ms. Bablin’s original complaint was regarding the conduct of Town Clerk Flo Sickels. As reported in Saratoga TODAY on November 1, the town of Malta’s ethics committee, in a 7-0 vote, found that Ms. Sickels had “…solicited on multiple occasions, employees to make a political contribution, through time, effort, endorsement or signature” on behalf of the Malta Republican Committee during town working hours. The ethics committee’s findings also noted, among other things, that more than one town employee described specific examples of behavior by Ms. Sickels that they believed were retaliatory against people who objected or did not comply with her requests.
This report was issued by the ethics committee on October 28, which is a significant date: The Malta Town Board, which installed the original guidelines for filing and processing procedures, had given themselves up to 45 days to act upon the ethics committee’s findings. They could accept, modify or reject the findings which called for Ms. Sickels’ censure on those two counts. 45 days from October 28 is December 12 – yesterday.
Ms. Bablin claims that the town board instead concentrated on procedure instead of substance. “Keep in mind, these were procedures that the town board itself had approved. They were listed in the employee manual. I used their guidelines,” Ms. Bablin said. “And I followed everything I was given to the letter.”
During the next regular meeting on November 6, the town board held an executive session, which is closed to the public, to discuss the ethics committee’s findings.
In the public portion of the meeting, town board members (with Councilperson Tara Thomas recusing herself from all discussions, public and private, because she is Ms. Sickels’ daughter) discussed ancillary recommendations by the ethics committee, such as an overhaul of the ethics section of the employee manual.
There was by no means universal agreement among board members as to whether any changes were necessary.
Councilpersons Maggi Ruisi and John Hartzell indicated that procedures for filing complaints were very clear. However, the town board did agree that the ethics committee should have the advice and counsel of Attorney Christine Karsky to them at least for the balance of the year. Ms. Karsky had previously advised the ethics committee on other matters (though not on Ms. Bablin’s complaint up to this point.)
But there was no public finding on the merits of Ms. Bablin’s original complaint at that November 6 meeting.
A key point is that the ethics committee proceedings are largely done in secret in order to protect the confidentiality complainants.
A member of the ethics committee had contacted Ms. Bablin on November 3 to say that it would be advisable that 1) she have her complaint form notarized, with her address and contact information and 2) that she state in writing that she was signing her complaint under penalty of perjury.
“This was my understanding anyway,” Ms. Bablin said, “so I had no problem doing what was requested, even though these requirements were not specified when I had originally filed my complaint in September.” The now-notarized form was completed and dated on November 13 and sent back to the ethics committee via snail mail.
What makes this interesting is that, though Malta town code chapter 11, section 18, subsection C that Ms. Bablin referenced does state that a complainant attest to the facts under threat of perjury, it does not specify a notarization requirement.
Ms. Bablin was working with the knowledge that she had at the time, and immediately responded to the request for the additional notarization and information almost immediately when requested.
It would appear that the town board either had no idea, or perhaps chose to ignore that such a contact and those subsequent actions had transpired though, for on November 18, five days later, at a special town board meeting for the purpose of discussing the ethics committee findings, the town board in a resolution remanded the complaint back to the ethics committee, stating that:
“WHEREAS the Town Board wishes to provide the Ethics Committee with legal assistance and to ensure that the procedures required by Town Code Chapter 11, Section 18 are followed, specifically: 1) that the complaint be signed under penalty of perjury; and that 2) that “clear and compelling evidence is used as the standard of proof rather than “weight of the evidence”; and further that, though not specifically required by 11-18 (emphasis added) the subject of the complaint should be provided with a copy…”
In response to this, Ms. Bablin read a statement to the town board at the November 18 meeting which said in part:
“There was a so-called established process for filing complaints with the committee at the time the complaint was made. Those processes were followed to a tee. Now you are trying to retroactively change the process that was in place at the time in the hopes of coming to a different result…. In my opinion you are doing nothing more than shooting the messenger because you didn’t like their findings…. This Board is doing everything in their power to bury this complaint…”
Later, Ms. Bablin amplified “The three things they cited were non-issues. The first, I had already done five days before. Second, the ethics committee voted unanimously twice. Doesn’t a 7-0 vote indicate that the evidence the ethics committee received was “clear and compelling? The final requirement of notifying the complainant is something completely new — and in fact, in this case Flo was offered a copy, which she refused.”
After the remand, Lynda Bablin gathered her documentation and waited. After nearly another month of waiting for any result, she knew her next step was clear: next stop, Attorney General.
Her complaint was received and acknowledged by the AG’s office. She was told it would be three to five weeks before they are able to begin the process of examination.
One other fact worth noting at this juncture is that all the members of the Malta Town Board are Republicans, including Flo Sickels.
But Lynda Bablin is also a Republican, an elected official whose term runs through 2015. The State Attorney General, however, is a Democrat.
2014 should be an interesting year in the Town of Malta.