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Saratoga Springs Housing Authority defends director's salary in audit response

March 21, 2013
Updated 10:29 p.m.
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— The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board of commissioners defends the $144,921 annual pay of Executive Director Edward Spychalski in a corrective action plan released Thursday.

The required corrective action plan, which addresses criticism of authority practices listed last November in a state comptroller’s audit, says Spychalski’s pay is below that of two principals in the Saratoga Springs City School District.

An authority policy dating back to 1981 says the local housing authority director should be paid in the “range” of that of a principal in the city school district.

The Caroline Street Elementary School principal is paid $160,306 and the Lake Avenue Elementary School principal is paid $147,512, according to the plan drafted by commission chairman Eric Weller and approved by the full board at Thursday’s meeting in the Stonequist Apartments.

The audit said that Spychalski’s salary exceeds the pay of directors of larger housing authorities in Schenectady, Albany and Troy.

The corrective action plan, or CAP, was supposed to be submitted to the state Office of the Comptroller 90 days after the audit was released; commission members admitted the plan is about 30 days late.

The plan says the board of commissioners is seeking expert legal advice on how to modify the executive director’s salary as recommended in the state audit to “align the director’s salary with industry comparables and federal requirements.”

The audit also criticized the authority for not moving quickly enough to quell a bedbug problem at the Stonequist Apartments in 2011 and paying a total of $11,689 in “questionable” travel costs to staff and board members.

Board member Kenneth Ivins was the only one to vote against the plan, saying it did not mention the bug issue nor include a plan to deal with other possible health-related problems that may surface in some of the authority’s 339 public housing units in Saratoga Springs.

The corrective plan says that all travel expenses, including those the audit listed as “questionable,” for staff and board members were approved under the authority’s travel policy and were subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal.

The audit suggested that the authority employees and board members reimburse the authority for the “excess” travel costs of nearly $12,000 for out-of-state seminars and conferences. The plan did not indicate the money would be reimbursed.

Ivins said the travel money is “all public money” and should be treated as such while the corrective plan indicates that the “payments for travel of the executive director and chairman of the board during the period examined were all charged to and paid out of non-federal funds, i.e. monies earned by the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority through its own activities.”

In response to the audit recommendation that the board strengthen the travel pay policy, the corrective action plan says the board has instituted a new pre-approval form stating the purpose, dates, and projected costs of travel that will be authorized by an agency or board officer.

The board held an executive session on Spychalski’s compensation and, after returning to the open meeting, approved a resolution agreeing to pay “all legal expenses (up to $3,000) to the executive director’s legal counsel for assistance” in renegotiating Spychalski’s current contract, which includes a rolling, automatic four-year contract extension.

Weller said Spychalski has indicated he is willing to renegotiate his contract. The board is discussing a three-year pact that has no automatic contract extension.

John Kaufmann of Saratoga Springs, a outspoken critic of the housing authority’s board, said he is concerned about the authority paying for Spychalski’s legal fees.

Kaufmann said “there is a real danger” that the Housing Authority will pay for their own and Spychalski’s attorneys and come up with a contract that is not substantially different, at the public’s expense.

“They could produce an even worse contract,” Kaufmann said on Thursday.

A copy of the corrective action plan is available on the Around Saratoga blog at www.dailygazette.com.

 
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