Travel records released by the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority for the past year show the authority spent more than $17,000 to send the authority board chairman to conferences in Las Vegas, Florida, Phoenix and New Orleans.
The records also indicate the authority spent more than $5,000 to send an authority receptionist to conferences in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
Dennis Brunelle, chairman of the authority’s Board of Commissioners, traveled to Florida in January 2010 and again in January 2011, according to the records. They also indicate a trip to Baltimore and multiple trips to Washington.
Kathleen Peterson, the receptionist, went to Las Vegas in May and June 2010 and to Washington in August and September 2011, according to the travel records. Peterson is the mother of the Housing Authority’s attorney, Scott Peterson of Saratoga Springs.
The records were released at the request of John Kaufmann of Saratoga Springs after he sought them through the state Freedom of Information Law.
“I would expect that a cursory survey of area nonprofit agencies would reveal that most board presidents rarely travel out of state for conferences,” Kaufmann said in a statement.
Kaufmann was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council for 16 years before going into the computer software business.
“It is particularly hard to understand why a person who served as a receptionist would need to travel to Washington and Las Vegas for training,” Kaufmann said.
When contacted Friday about the travel records, authority officials asked a reporter to contact a media relations firm, Gramercy Communications of Albany, that the authority recently hired.
“The Saratoga Housing Authority regularly attends HUD [Housing and Urban Development] conferences for both volunteer and mandatory training purposes,” said Brunelle in a statement released by Gramercy Communications. “The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority encourages our executive director to attend these conferences along with staff members and a member of the board, when possible.”
The city Housing Authority has been under scrutiny after residents of the federally subsidized Stonequist Apartments on South Federal Street complained of bedbug infestations in some of the 176 units. The authority also has been criticized for the generous raises it has given to Executive Director Edward Spychalski, who was hired in 2006 at $74,777 but is now making $151,956.
Financial materials, including the authority’s current operating budget that was released to reporters this week, indicate that the authority spent $2,664 in 2008 for an executive desk and also a “credenza, high back organizer” for $2,664.
Kaufmann noted that Spychalski uses a 2011 Ford F-250 pickup truck, valued in the authority’s inventory at more than $35,000, to commute from his home in the Mechanicville area to the authority offices in the Stonequist Apartments.
City Accounts Commissioner John Franck has scheduled what he calls a “legislative hearing” for 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall and invited the Board of Commissioners to the hearing.
“The purpose of this hearing is so that members of the City Council may directly ask questions of members of the board of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority concerning several matters affecting residents of your properties and about the overall management and accountability of the authority,” Franck says in a letter to board Chairman Brunelle.
Brunelle has indicated, through Gramercy Communications, that he is vacationing out of town but will address City Council questions using teleconference technology.