Saratoga Housing Authority Board Members: Eric Weller, Edward Spychalski, Sister Charla Commins, Attorney Scott Peterson, Dennis Brunelle(Chairman)
Well even since Teresa Grocki shocked the City Council with her emotional plea for help for herself and other residents in the Stonequist Apartments, I’ve been deluged with stories of corruption and nepotism. Stories of lavish restaurant meals for Spychalski and his cohorts all paid for by the Authority. Multiple Authority trucks parked at his Halfmoon estate. I’m afraid that was just the tip of the iceberg. Staff have taken multiple trips to Vegas, Florida and California all on the Taxpayers dime. This at the same time Teresa Grocki was tearfully begging the City Council to stop the nightly terror of bedbugs feasting on her and other resident’s blood.
Somehow this vision of these poor creatures being bitten while Spychalsk and Dennis Brunelle, Chairman of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners chow down on a nice Filetto Al Pepe Verde at Saratoga’s Chianti's restaurant is repulsive to me. The idea that the Housing Authority is picking up the check makes it obscene. Add this to the junkets to Vegas for staff while telling residents that HUD cut their budget and the residents will be paying more, makes it evil.
The following are two statements that have come my way. The first is from John Kaufmann, the former executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council and the second is from Teresa Grocki who left a statement on my blog.
Chairman of the Housing Authority Board Of Commissioners
Saratoga Springs Housing Authority
1 Federal Street
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
January 4, 2012
Dear Chairman Brunelle:
I am writing you in your capacity as the Chairman of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. You and I share a common history in that we were both the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council. Both of us have a long history of service in the pursuit of social justice and of ending poverty. As such, I have enormous respect for your efforts in our city and our county.
Writing this letter has not been easy but disturbing revelations and allegations about the Housing Authority compel me to contact the Authority’s Board through you.
The residents of Stonequist Apartments are some of the most vulnerable people in our city. They are elderly and disabled and can only afford to live in their apartments because they are subsidized by the Federal Government. Many of them have no relatives to assist them. The people in Stonequist, with few resources, simply would have no place to go were they to be evicted. In that context even under the best of circumstances, many of them can be expected to fear that to make complaints to the management of the Authority and even more so to make those complaints public might endanger their tenancy.
It is for this reason that managing the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority is a very, very, special trust. Our city must rely on the leadership of the Authority to maintain the highest standards of conduct and of transparency to minimize the potential for administrative abuse.
The recent coverage of the bed bug infestation in the apartments was of special concern. According to news reports, the Authority only brought in a certified professional pest control company many months after the management learned of the problem and only after the problem became public as a result of complaints by a tenant to the City Council. While I know from our conversations that you whole heartedly believe that the Authority had acted responsibly, I hope you can appreciate how others might view the lack of a comprehensive solution differently. I am enclosing a copy of the Times Union editorial which I believe is representative of the concerns of many in our community.
What alarmed me most was the apparent lack of urgency in the comments made by Ed Spychalski and yourself to the City Council in December. I know how worrisome it would be for me if I lived in a facility in which a growing number of units were reported as infested (now at least seventeen apartments as reported in the Authority’s monthly newspaper). For you and Ed, these are just bed bugs. For a vulnerable, elderly person, living alone, the fear of her home being invaded by small biting insects is a source of real fear and anxiety.
All of this prompted me to inquire further about the Authority. A variety of sources made some very serious allegations. These people all live at the facility and talked to me only after they had my assurances that I would not disclose who they were for fear of retaliation by the management. Among the claims made to me for which I was able to find corroboration were the following:
1. The executive director has hired his son and daughter to work for the facility.
2. The facility manager employs his wife full time on his staff.
3. The accountant/bookkeeper’s husband has been employed as the section 8 inspector.
4. The accountant/bookkeeper’s daughter is employed by the Authority.
5. The agency had been using for its legal services a firm in Troy that specialized in housing law (Hicks and Baily). The Housing Authority discontinued their services and replaced them with the son of the agency’s receptionist.
6. In attempting to address the bed bug infestation at Stonequist the management is proposing that the residents purchase their own “mattress encasements.” While the management has offered to allow the tenants to pay the cost over time, paying for these will still be a serious burden for many. In the meantime, the agency has had an extremely generous policy for sending staff and board members to conferences in places like Las Vegas and San Diego. In fact, among the many trips paid for by the agency was one for the receptionist to go to Las Vegas last year. In all likelihood, the agency could have provided these “encasements” free to all of the tenants at the facility for what it cost to send the receptionist.
7. The executive director uses a Housing Authority truck to commute to and from work. The vehicle travels approximately 35 miles a day to do this. As in item #5, this money could be used to pay for the tenants’ “encasements.” In a conversation you and I had last week in which I inquired about this perk, you said you had no knowledge of it. I asked you to determine whether this was true. In an email from you yesterday you responded that the executive director “had permission” to use the vehicle and advised me that you would answer no more questions and that future questions should be directed to the Authority’s attorney. This leaves open the question of who approved all this.
Today I visited the Saratoga Springs Civil Service Commission to find out more about the regulations for employment as they pertain to family members. In the course of my discussions with the Commission’s secretary both she and I discovered that Mr. Spycharski had created a position for his son Johnathon in violation of civil service requirements. Before a position can be filled the civil service commission must approve its establishment and determine how it will be categorized. In most cases this further requires that applicants pass a test. In most cases this will also require that the position be publicized in the community so that any interested parties may compete for the job. Instead, the executive director simply created the position and filled it. Such a breach of civil service law would be serious in and of itself but the fact that it involved the executive director hiring his own son is especially problematic.
While the employment of family members in the other positions is all technically within the civil service law, the extent of this practice raises a variety of questions about the problems that can arise when nepotism is so pervasive. The board might ask itself, how comfortable would a tenant be in complaining to a manager about a problem they might be having with that person’s son or daughter or spouse.
There have been many other very serious allegations. I have not included these because they can only be confirmed or dismissed by a full and thorough review of both the Authority’s financial records and the Authority’s Board of Commissioners minutes.
I know you to be a person of great integrity. The only way to remove the cloud of doubt that now hangs over the Authority is through the greatest openness and transparency. We both have run large not-for-profits. I know that when I was executive director, my approach to any concern about policy or finances was to make the records of my agency easily available. I knew that the faster I provided information to people, the greater the trust and the more quickly rumors could be dispelled.
I have submitted a Freedom of Information request for access to the agency’s financial records, capital inventory, and Board of Commissioners minutes. It is my hope that you and the board, in the interest of the community at large, and particularly in the interest of the tenants, will expeditiously comply with my request.
Cc: Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Board, Saratoga Springs City Council, Ed Spychalski, Adolfo Carrion (Director of Region 2 HUD)
Next we have Teresa Grocki
I take perseonal offense at the BLAME put on me, (roundly by Mr Spychalski)My situation in coming to Stonequist is that I came from Miami to NY to live & care for my dad, got him on his feet & after 2 yrs he told me he was moving to Embury apts, & I was not of the age to live there; I was basically on Disability & had no money or no place to go. I came here with CLEAN FURNITURE that has always been MY OWN & for 4 1/2 years I have lived bug free! I take SUCH umbrage at his fliipant manner, grouping everyone in the same boat, dumpster-divers!! I am always dressed nicely, my apt as you saw on Channel 13's coverage, is clean, neat, minimal.
In my yrs living here every maintenance man who has EVER come into mhy apt...and even 5 pokice officers who came to take a statement on an unrelated issue last August has lauded me on how lovely I keep my place & how nice it smells; it's ALWAYS been my brightly colored little piece of tranquility! THAT was intgerrupted due to the lack of empathy on the part of the Office; when I reported MY bedbug situation,I brought my jar of bugs to the Office & nothing was done, in fact I was told if I left my mattress outside for ickup (my dad had JUST spent $600 on it last March!! Throwing it away was not an option) Kathy Peterson (hmmm same last name as the Housing Authority lawyer) told me, I would STILL be charged the $100 "dumping fee" but I could pay it off in installments monthly.WHEN is Mr. Spychalski going to assume some responsibilty & stop bloaming residents? It's NOT a time for blame; Maintenance is the ONLY sector dialoguing with me about preventative ways to rid my unit of bugs...or stave them off.
If the Office would have dialogued with me frm the start...this would never have been a City-wide issue! I am insulted by comments made at City Council meetings making some of the cleaner residents out to be 2nd hand Roses...Not only did I have my face plastereed all over the tv & newspapers, I now have this stigma placed on me as having bedbugs. I didn't look for this "fame" as some residents are saying about me...for this is NOT the kind of fame someone looks for! As for my personal case, I have managed finally to keep the bugs away from my unit - for the moment.
I will continue to hold my head up high; I will try to erase the embarrassment I have and I know in my heart I was not looking for any "war" with Ed, but he seems to have taken this personally...well, maybe if he acted in accordance with the NY State Tenants Rights book, he'd have taken responsibility for extermination of the building from the start, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today. I have the right to a safe clean environment & I am doing MY PART in keeping my place nice.
But...appasrently...if anyone else comes to see me & take photos...are THEY going to be banned by Mr. Spychalski by Police order also??? Security has put a new rule into effect: everyone has to show their ID at the door...am I living in a "police state"? or amm I living in a private apt. with the right to have ANYONE of MY choosing come to visit me? Hmmmm. By the way, nice house, eh?