Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs council votes to pay mayor’s legal bill from ethics probe

Two weeks after a divided City Council voted to censure Mayor Joanne Yepsen, an equally divided coun

Two weeks after a divided City Council voted to censure Mayor Joanne Yepsen, an equally divided council agreed Tuesday to pay her legal bill for the ethics probe that lead to the censure.

Yepsen voted to have the city pay the $12,300 bill sent to her from Harris Beach, as did Accounts Commissioner John Franck and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco voted against paying the bill.

Madigan said the ethics issue arose from Yepsen’s private fundraising business, and Yepsen should pay the bill herself. She also criticized the mayor for not telling the council ahead of time that she was hiring a law firm.

“You’ve expended taxpayer funds without permission to do so,” Madigan said.

Those who supported paying the bill said it was appropriate because it stemmed from Yepsen’s role as mayor.

The council voted 3-2 on July 19 to censure the mayor over the city Ethics Board’s finding that Yepsen had violated conflict of interest rules when she pursued a fundraising contract with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation.

Yepsen hired Harris Beach to represent her on the ethics matter.

The ethics panel found that Yepsen violated the city ethics code last winter when she solicited fundraising work from the foundation at a time when the hospital had a zoning expansion application pending before the city.

The hospital wanted to build a medical office building in a residential area a block from the hospital, but the project stalled after Yepsen recused herself from the zoning discussion in January, based on her contacts about fundraising. The recusal meant the project didn’t have enough council votes to win approval.

Yepsen maintains that she did nothing wrong and recused herself as soon as she received an Ethics Board advisory opinion that there was a potential conflict of interest.

Yepsen agreed with her critics that the Harris Beach bill was large. “Lawyers are expensive,” she said.

The mayor’s job is part time, paying $14,500 annually. Yepsen is a partner in a private business that does fundraising for non-profit organizations.

Yepsen said the ethics investigation stemmed from her city job, so it was appropriate for the city to pay the bill, as it generally does when city officials face investigations or lawsuits.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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