City charter, public safety races still undecided
Updated 9:53 pm, Sunday, November 12, 2017
SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Monday, the city council plans to vote on hiring an election lawyer to ensure that every ballot is counted in the city elections.
“Basically, we want to preserve the vote,” said John Franck, commissioner of accounts, who called for a special city council meeting at noon to get a vote on hiring a lawyer.
He believes the charter change advocates have hired a lawyer with the intention of discarding votes.
“Our lawyer will be there to observe. If there are any ballots thrown out, we will have three days to bring it to court,” he said.
With the charter referendum vote only split by 48 votes in favor of change and the Commissioner of Public Safety seat divided by 197 votes, now in favor of Peter Martin, the absentee votes have become critical.
The Saratoga County Board of Elections said on Tuesday that the number of absentee votes was higher than normal. It usually issues about 500 ballots, but this year it issued 711. About 550 have been returned.
Of those 550 ballots, 70 absentee ballots are from the Wesley Community and the Home of the Good Shepherd. Twenty-one voters from the nursing homes were attempted to be contacted by the Times Union by phone Sunday.
A 94-year-old voter at the Home of the Good Shepherd had difficulty speaking by phone. A health assistant who took the phone from her said she believed the woman would be “cognitively unable” to submit an absentee.
Martin’s rival, Republican Don Braim, is on the board at Wesley. Cliff Van Wagoner, who is a contributor to SUCCESS, the group that strives to preserve the 100-year-old form of government, is the pharmacy director at Wesley.
Van Wagoner said he knows nothing of a push for absentee votes at Wesley. Braim said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the absentees from the nursing home.
Braim did say more absentee votes may have come in from Wesley “maybe because I am on the board.”
Bob Turner, the chair of the now dissolved city’s Charter Review Commission, said he couldn’t respond to questions surrounding the absentee ballots.
However, he does question the city’s hiring of an attorney.
“The process is open to the public,” Turner said. “Any citizen can attend. Why does John Franck want to hire a high-power Albany law firm to ‘observe’ the proceedings?”
Rick Fenton from It’s Time Saratoga — the charter change advocacy group — initially tried to raise funds online for an attorney to review the absentee ballots. He said he has withdrawn his plans and also questions the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars on a lawyer.
“Having been thwarted by the voters, it now seems they plan on using taxpayer dollars to advocate for their interests,” Fenton said. “Hiring an election attorney to have all ‘proper absentee ballots’ count amounts to public money being spent on the individual members’ personal and political interests.”
Franck dismissed their claims.
“The city has two attorneys but we need an election attorney,” Franck said. “It’s only going to cost a couple hundred bucks, unless we go to court.”