Monday, January 17, 2011

John Warren: Teresa Sayward’s Pay Day

Back in 2003, in a classic Glens Falls Post Star puff piece about one of their favorite local politicians, Teresa Sayward pined about moving to Georgia when she retired. “It may be years away, but Sayward said she and Ken have started discussing their retirement, perhaps buying a condo someplace warm for the winter months,” Stacey Morris wrote. Turns out – Sayward retired a few weeks ago.

Well, retired might not be the correct description, because Sayward won’t be leaving her job. She’ll be collecting her retirement AND her salary. That’s about $90,000 in annual salary for a six month job plus her new retirement benefit of about $30,000. From here on out, Teresa Sayward will be collecting about three times the median income per HOUSEHOLD of her constituents, for half their work.

What makes this all the more offensive is that Sayward has claimed to be a big opponent of such pensions. Just three months ago, she completed a questionnaire for the League of Women Voters. “Political appointments and benefits are way too rich, Albany needs to lead by example… retirement benefits are unsustainable,” she said, knowing full well she was about to take advantage of a loophole (along with 11 other state legislators including Janet Duprey) that would would line her own pocket. Her idea of leading by example? Get as much as you can, while you can.

I know, it seems crazy. I mean, how can it be that three months ago Sayward says that the retirement benefits of legislators are unsustainable, and now she takes advantage of a loophole that allows her to collect those same “unsustainable” benefits early? What changed? The answer is nothing. The retirement benefit she started taking now is a loophole. It’s not meant to be the actual retirement benefit, which is why just 11 legislators are taking it and Betty Little is not. It’s not a legitimate benefit as some would argue, it’s an unethical loophole and she’s scamming the system. The state closed this retirement loophole in 2005, but she’s still one of the few who are eligible and thinks they deserve it.

Just a year ago, Sayward was crowing to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about how she was saving taxpayers money:

Another idea Sayward has is to privatize some of the golf courses, swimming pools and campgrounds. She also said cutting the number of mailings that senators and assembly members send out will save money. And, she said, both the governor’s political appointments and legislative staff could stand to be reduced. Sayward said she is already doing this herself and has one less staffer this year than last.

Did you get that? Sayward laid off one of her staffers to save money – money that is going into her own pocket. Last week Sayward gave the Post Star two reasons she deserved that money more than her employee. The first was that her husband would have to live on social security alone if she died.

“This decision did not come easily for me,” she said. “But my husband and I, as you know, are farmers. And so my husband has nothing for his retirement other than Social Security, which is not a lot.”

The second, was that she drives a lot. “Sayward said she travels a lot of miles on rural roads representing the 113th Assembly District, the largest geographically of any Assembly district in New York,” the Post Star reported, “That places her at a higher risk than average of getting in a car accident, she said.”

These excuses are outrageous – no dairy farmer expects a retirement, that’s why the average age of principal farm operators in Essex County is 54 years old. Like most Americans, local farmers work until they die, or can’t work anymore and are forced onto the public dole by the costs of their own healthcare.

Driving too much Teresa? That’s laughable to folks who live in rural areas like the Adirondack Park. The fact is, despite repeated claims to the contrary, Sayward lives outside the Blue Line in Glens Falls – maybe that’s why she drives so far.

Another item she called for, just three months ago, was term limits: “4 year terms, three terms max.” Forget for a minute that she has just started her fifth term, because she wants to extend the current two-year terms anyway, and has run unopposed the last two times around. Focus instead on the fact that Sayward thinks 12 years is enough for any one politician to be in office.

Sayward was elected to the Assembly in 2002, and before that spent many years as a politician in Willsboro. Now that she’s made her pay day, certainly she must believe her time in the job is over?

I haven’t heard her “this is my last term speech” yet, but I suspect it’s not coming.

“I’m not proud of doing this but I’m not going to hold my head down,” Sayward told WYNT.

So she knows it unethical, she just doesn’t care. The message she sends is that her family is more important than yours.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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