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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Saratoga Springs Housing Authority: Shine a light to get rid of pests

Expose a bedbug to the light and it scurries away.

Expose an agency that should be eradicating bedbugs, and its leaders blame the media.

Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board chairman Dennis Brunelle apologized the other day to Stonequist Apartments residents for the "media hysteria" regarding the bedbug problem.
He has it backwards.

He should be apologizing to the residents of this federally subsidized building for pooh-poohing the bedbug complaints right up until this week, when the bugs were found (and finally exterminated) from 43 of Stonequist’s 176 apartments.

Had the authority solved the problem when some Stonequist Apartments residents complained about bedbugs last summer, the SSHA would have remained way under the public radar. The lack of oversight, cavalier spending of public funds, nepotism, and Director Ed Spychalski’s outrageous salary and perks would never have come to light.

Without "media hysteria," Brunelle would still be insisting the bedbugs were a minor issue. And he and his fellow board members might have been thinking that Spychalski was due for another raise. After all, they had no qualms about the doubling of Spychalski’s salary to $152,000 over a five-year period and still maintain that he’s worthy every penny and then some.

So what’s new?

Brunelle now says the board will review salaries to see where Spychalski’s stands. That’s something that would not have even been considered without the "media hysteria."

Also, the state Comptroller’s Office has agreed to conduct an audit requested by Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson. The audit request was a good move, though Johnson a latecomer to the party considering that he appoints SSHA board members and his name appears on the monthly SSHA newsletter. He should have been pushing harder, behind the scenes and publicly.

While Johnson dipped his toe, his colleague on the City Council, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, dove in. Franck helped bring the SSHA shortcomings to public light — or fueled the media frenzy, depending on your point of view.

And now a U.S. senator has gotten into the act. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is demanding that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds housing authorities, investigate the SSHA. Grassley has sparked similar investigations in other places and describes himself on his website as a watchdog of federal agencies.

As I promised in a column a couple of weeks ago, The Saratogian continues to chip away at this ongoing story. Call it media madness. I call it doing our job as public watchdogs.

It’s a shame it took a bedbug infestation for the rest of us to notice the SSHA. To get rid of pests, you have to shine a light.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara - I'm afraid you have missed the big picture here. This is a National Scandal and lies right at the feet of HUD and the Federal Government as well. There are several investigations going on simultaneously. Check out Chelsea, Mass. which was reorted in several lonal newspapers. Their Executive Director earmed $360,000 last year and worked a total of 15 days. He has since resigned. This is in the backyard of Senatro Browns territory. Several other cities involved as well. Chelsea Mass. has a population of about 32,000 so it is comparable somewhat with saratoga Springs. Quite honestly if it wasn't for the bedbug problem which could have easily been addressed in a short period of time we would have never been aware of any problem.

February 18, 2012 at 7:27 PM 
Anonymous RM said...

You are embarrassing yourself here on this.

This story was broken -- and championed thereafter -- by a local blogger (Saratoga in Decline).

February 21, 2012 at 1:26 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although the Director's salary appears high it is well within the guidelien or comparable positions across the country. The difference is he doesn't meet the educational requirements of the Position. As far as represtnting accustaions as fact I would recommend waiting for the findings of the State Comptrollers Audit as well as a possible Federal Audit. Quite honestly HUD at the Federal Level is quite honestly a mess tha continues to create a mess.

February 22, 2012 at 6:40 AM 

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