Saratoga County

Mayor: Saratoga legal service costs inflated

Mayor Scott Johnson said Thursday claims made by city Democrats that the city spent more than $580,0

Mayor Scott Johnson said Thursday claims made by city Democrats that the city spent more than $580,000 on outside legal services during his first three years in office are inflated and incorrect.

Johnson said the real number, for such things as negotiating union contracts and fighting lawsuits against the city, is just over $380,000 from 2008 through 2010.

Brent Wilkes, the Democratic candidate for mayor, said whatever the exact number is, the Johnson administration appears to be spending much more than previous administrations. “I think it’s a real issue,” Wilkes said on Thursday.

Wilkes said the mayor’s “communications style” is to use litigation rather than talking with those who disagree with him.

“Talk is cheaper than litigation,” Wilkes said. “I have a concern with the mayor’s inability to negotiate with parties with whom he disagrees.”

Lewis Benton, a city Democrat who supports Wilkes, cites reports from the city finance office in charging that Johnson spent as much as $587,000 on outside legal services between 2008 and 2010. This computes to an annual average of almost $196,000 in spending on outside legal services, Benton said in a statement emailed to reporters.

“Of course these costs are in addition to the salaries and benefits paid to the city attorney and assistant city attorney and do not include legal fees for bond counsel, matters pertaining to assessments and non-payment of taxes and, in some cases, legal services associated with the city’s legal actions against charter reform,” Benton said in his statement.

Benton said the spending on outside legal counsel is well above the amount the City Council budgeted each year. He defended his numbers on Thursday and listed at least six law firms that often had more than one contract with the city.

Johnson said about his detractors, “They are confused in their analysis and are using wrong data in arriving at their conclusions.”

“Unfortunately they don’t have all the information and are making assumptions and drawing conclusions on incomplete information,” he said.

Johnson said the actual amount spent on outside legal counsel — much of it to lawyers who specialize in union contract-related issues and collective bargaining — is $383,701 over three years.

“These are actual expenditures,” he said.

He said this year to date the city has spent only $30,636 on outside legal help and about half of this went to lawyers specializing in union contracts, arbitration, and health care issues.

Johnson said he spent $82,365 on these services in 2008, his first year in office, while the previous mayor, Valerie Keehn, spent $93,289 in 2007, her last year in office.

The Johnson administration spent $183,379 in 2009, mainly for law firms specializing in collective bargaining, he said. In 2010, the city spent $117,957 on these services.

Johnson defended the money spent by saying that most of it went to negotiate union contracts and related issues. He said, in the long run, the city saved money because the final contracts were favorable to the taxpayers. “It was money well spent.”

Wilkes is a leading member of Saratoga Citizen, a non-partisan organization that wants the city to change its form of government from the commission style to a more modern city council-city administrator type. The City Council has not been supportive of a charter change proposal on an election ballot.

Saratoga Citizen sued the city over the issue and now the city is appealing a decision by a state Supreme Court justice that supports the charter change referendum.

Johnson said the city has spent nearly $40,000 in outside legal services related to the charter change.

Wilkes said “The city is spending a lot of money trying to suppress public information and the people’s right to vote.”

Johnson said it was Saratoga Citizen that sued the city and started the court battle.

Categories: Schenectady County

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