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Saratoga Springs City Council Censures Mayor

Lucas Willard

In February, a proposed zoning amendment to build an expansion onto Saratoga Hospital failed after two recusals from City Council members: John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts, and Mayor Joanne Yepsen. Yepsen has worked in the past as a fundraising consultant for the hospital, and Franck, a CPA by trade, has worked with private clients in the affected neighborhood.

Because of a successful petition filed by neighbors against the hospital expansion, the zoning amendment would require a vote of at least 4 to 1.

The mayor’s recusal was put back into the spotlight Tuesday night.

After lengthy debate and an affirmative vote to recognize an opinion of the city’s ethics board, which called Yepsen’s actions in discussing possible future fundraising work with the hospital while it had business before the city a conflict of interest, Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco called for a former censure of Yepsen’s actions.

Tense discussion grew into arguing over the city’s authority to censure and the weight of the opinion of the Ethics Commission.

“We are held by higher standards in this city. That’s just the way it is. Whether you want to accept that or not, that’s your problem,” said Scirocco.

“I am not in denial,” said Yepsen. “I have accepted their opinion. I disagree with it, but I accept it. You’re putting words in my mouth, Commissioner.”

Scirocco’s measure also brings the matter to the state attorney general’s office and Joint Commission On Public Ethics for review.

The move to censure is a formal rebuke, but does not carry disciplinary action. At one point in the discussion, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan asked Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo a question to illustrate the rarity of such a move.

“So how many times, Tony, since 1915 have we had a situation where, perhaps, a mayor was soliciting employment, potentially in exchange for a vote,” asked Madigan.

“I don’t know for sure,” said Izzo.

“That’s why I want to send this on to a higher authority to take a look at,” said Madigan.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Yepsen, in response to Madigan.

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen called the actions by Yepsen as stated by the Ethics Commission a case of “bad judgement.”

Commissioner Franck called the measure to censure “overreaching.”

At the end of the discussion, Yepsen called for a vote, trading one last jab with Scirocco.

“I don’t know who your attorney is, but you’re getting a lot of bad legal advice," said Yepsen.

Yepsen, a second-term Democrat, was first elected in 2013.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.