One day before the county Board of Elections prepares to count absentee ballots in the vote to adopt a new city government in Saratoga Springs, a decision by three members of the City Council sparks controversy. Matt Hunter explains.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Of the nearly dozen citizens who spoke at Monday's special city council meeting in Saratoga Springs, all were steadfastly against the single item on the agenda.
"You, as council members and the city, have no standing in this issue, no standing whatsoever," city resident Phil Diamond said. "You are wasting city money and you are a perfect example of why we need a change in government."
"I'm really concerned they're using taxpayer dollars to advance their own personal and political interests in this process," said Bob Turner, who was chairman of the city’s Charter Review Commission.
Authored by Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, the proposal was to spend up to $5,000 of city funds to hire a private attorney to monitor Tuesday's absentee ballot count at the County Board of Elections. Elections commissioners will be counting ballots in last week's vote to adopt a new city charter, a race that is currently separated by just 48 votes in favor of the "yes" side.
"I don't care if it's a 'yes' vote, a 'no' vote or they forget the vote, I just want to have the votes counted," Franck said.
"We want to make sure both sides are covered," Saratoga Springs Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said.
Critics of the decision believe the move is politically motivated and that if the council members want a lawyer present, they should use private funds. All three present for Monday's meeting opposed the charter referendum.
"Especially when we are talking about an attorney who won't be able to object or to make any other claims on behalf of the city, I'm not sure exactly what the purpose is,” said Tara Gaston, who last week was elected to serve as one of the two county supervisors representing Saratoga Springs.
Outgoing Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who was in Albany during the meeting, says the Board of Elections is already in place to make sure the votes are counted properly.
"In fact, the State Board of Elections told me that in his 17 years, he's never seen a city hire an attorney for this purpose,” Yepsen said. “Again, I think it's an insult to the Board of Elections."
Despite those objections, the three council members approved the measure unanimously. The counting of the absentee ballots begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday.