It’s been clear for the last year and a half, ever since a badly handled bedbug infestation brought outside scrutiny to its operations, that the arrogant, unaccountable Saratoga Springs Housing Authority needed to seriously change its ways. After a critical audit by the state comptroller last year, changes are finally starting to come. But they’re slow, grudging and incomplete, and don’t inspire confidence that they will continue when the scrutiny stops.
Last week, for instance, the board finally voted to provide the City Council with salary information that by law it is supposed to get and consider for approval, but hasn’t since the year 2000. Meanwhile, Executive Director Ed Spychalski’s salary increased dramatically, from $75,000 when he was hired in 2006 to $152,000 in 2011.
But the board warns that it may be difficult to go back before 2006 because of a new bookkeeping and computer system. And the board’s always-defiant chairman, Eric Weller, says he abstained from voting because he doesn’t recognize the state’s or the city’s role in this: The authority, he says, is independent from both and answerable only to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Weller displayed the same kind of arrogance regarding other criticisms and recommendations in the comptroller’s audit. Bedbug failure? Nah, we did everything right. Spychalski overpaid compared with executive directors of other housing agencies, including much bigger ones, around the region and country? Nah, he’s doing a great job and deserves every penny, and his salary is in line with what principals in the Saratoga school district make (the audit says otherwise), which is what the authority’s policy calls for. Spychalski and others cheated on certain travel expenses and should be made to reimburse the authority? No, they were in compliance with the board’s laughably lax controls at the time — but we will have tougher controls in the future.
The board will also try to renegotiate Spychalski’s contract to lower the salary and eliminate the automatic one-year rolling extensions that gave him guaranteed five-year contracts in the past. Multiyear contracts aren’t necessary; the executive director should serve at the pleasure of the board.
Recent boards have been kind to Spychalski, even protective, along with Mayor Scott Johnson, who, although he did ask for the comptroller's audit, has been quite passive in all this. But Johnson has said he will not run again this November. If the authority hasn’t made serious, lasting changes by then, the next mayor, who appoints and can remove board members, should get much more involved.
Editor's note: The last paragraph is different from the one that ran in the print edition. It takes note of Mayor Johnson's request for a comptroller's audit.