Housing Director To Target Bed Bugs

Friday, February 3, 2012

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The city's public housing director on Friday pledged to change the way the  Saratoga Springs Housing Authority operates, and hire a licensed pest control expert to kill all bedbugs in Stonequist Apartments.

Coming off more than a month of mounting criticism from tenants and city officials, Housing Authority Director  Ed Spychalski said he would hire a professional exterminator to implement "an accelerated, comprehensive" management plan for bedbugs in the 176-unit federal housing tower. He also said he would make adjustments to the agency's business practices.

The bedbug announcement delighted  Teresa Grocki, the first of several residents who made emotional pleas for help in removing the insects from Stonequist, a nine-story tower located just outside the city's downtown area.

"We are on the way to having an ongoing program, which, hopefully, will help us stave off the bugs and go back to as normal a life as possible," said Grocki, who received Spychalski's letter Friday morning under her door. She achieved her goal - funding for bedbug treatment, Grocki added.

Spychalski comments came in letters to Mayor  Scott Johnson and all Stonequist tenants. They were released Friday by a public relations firm that the authority's Board of Directors hired.

Spychalski's call for "corrective action throughout the entire building" marked a departure because authority officials had insisted the bedbugs were confined to less than 20 rooms. Since the summer, he and the authority's Board of Directors had relied on informational videos, steamers, mattress covers, and most recently, non-toxic powder, to control the tiny, fast-migrating insects.

The housing authority will select a pest control specialist on Monday, and inform tenants of upcoming inspection and treatment times,  Dennis Brunelle, chairman of the authority's board, said in a statement. The new approach calls for pest inspections of all apartments to start as early as late next week, insect identifications, the application of two or more control methods and follow up evaluations, Spychalski said.

City residents, public housing tenants and Accounts Commissioner  John Franck have blasted Spychalski in recent weeks for his handling of bedbugs, but also the director's $152,000-a-year salary, employment of family members, extravagant travel budget and pugnacious management style. With his job on the line and oversight demanded, Spychalski acknowledged to Johnson that changes were required.

"We realize that we have other administrative and operations issues to deal with in the coming months," Spychalski wrote. "In some instances, we have relied on past practices that are no longer effective, and so we will be evaluating our business practices with the board and making appropriate adjustments." Spychalski promised to send City Council members regular reports on outstanding issues of concern and plans.