Chris Mathiesen, Past Public Safety Commissioner, On the Continuing Crisis of Violence in Downtown Saratoga Springs

One of the problematic aspects of allowing bars in Saratoga Springs to stay open until 4AM that has not been focused on is the impact this has on the city’s police department. In addition to the verbal abuse police suffer, officers are routinely placed in a volatile and dangerous situation as they try to cope with crowds of drunks in the downtown bar area. It is only a matter of time before more people, including police officers are hurt. In addition, officers who must routinely respond to the eruptions on Caroline Street are not available to quickly respond to other incidents that may occur simultaneously in other areas of the city. If this situation is not addressed, the city will find it increasingly difficult to attract and keep officers.

Chris Mathiesen served as the Public Safety Commissioner in Saratoga Springs from January 2012 to December 2017. During his time in office Chris visited Caroline Street at three in the morning to observe firsthand what was going on there. Here is a recent interview I did with him where he describes this experience.

Below is a piece Chris wrote for this blog.

Caroline Street Nightclub Scene

It is much too early to make any definitive pronouncements regarding the November 20 shooting in the Caroline Street Nightclub District.  As this incident is fully investigated by law enforcement professionals, there will be more details to consider.  It is hoped that all injuries sustained will not be too serious and will allow for a full recovery.

It was just a matter of time.  Gun violence has become commonplace in the cities surrounding Saratoga Springs.  There was an incident in June of 2021 where a gun was discharged multiple times on Caroline, though it was assumed that no one was injured.  Other forms of violence have gotten worse in this district, with ubiquitous fist fights giving way to knives.  A stabbing took place this past summer on Phila Street.  Two fatalities occurred when individuals were punched and then suffered fatal head injuries as they hit the ground, once in 2014 and again in 2021.  There was a death in 2010 when a brawl turned into an assault by a motor vehicle.

Over the years, there have been relatively frequent incidents of altercations between police and inebriated patrons of the many drinking establishments in the nightclub district.  Usually, the incidents have occurred on weekends after midnight.  Some have resulted in injuries to police officers.  Due to the over-consumption of alcohol and other excessive behavior, Caroline Street has been out of control during late-night weekend hours for years.  It has to be observed to be believed.

The success of Saratoga Springs is stunning.  It has become a year-round destination City for weddings, conventions, meetings, and other less formal occasions.  Skidmore College attracts resident students from all over the world.  Downtown continues to thrive with numerous successful stores, offices, and businesses, while inner City condos and apartments have high occupancy rates.  Our good fortune is the result of many years of efforts on the part of those both in government and the private sector.

Success is fragile.  The success of a city like Saratoga Springs depends upon a reputation as a safe, fun place in which to live and work or to visit.  That all-important reputation is being undermined each and every weekend by the late-night bad behavior in our nightclub district.  

Some improvement took place in 2012 when, after a horrific incident in the summer of 2011, the pressure was brought to bear on all parties, which resulted in better cooperation between police and the establishments.  There was more focus on the problem of over-serving alcohol to inebriated patrons and on required background checks for bartenders.  Training standards for ‘bouncers’ were enforced.  The increased presence of police officers on the street helped to significantly subdue those engaging in openly aggressive behavior. 

Unfortunately, other measures proposed to help tame the nightlife problems were met with fierce resistance.  The most obvious issue has been the 4 AM last call for serving alcohol.   While the NYS SLA was supportive of our efforts in 2012 to limit the hours of alcohol sales, and the City Council did vote 3-2 to support these changes, the Chamber of Commerce and the owners of the nightclub district bars were adamantly opposed.   The County Board of Supervisors has the final say on this issue.   Our attempt to change the last call to a compromise driven 3 AM failed when that board failed to provide any support for our efforts.

Since then, both Warren County and Essex County have passed legislation shortening the hours of alcohol sales to 3 AM.  Police officials in Glens Falls and Lake Placid reported an immediate reduction in weekend calls for service.  The police officials in Lake Placid were so pleased that they were seeking a further reduction to 2 AM to reflect the last call hour in neighboring Clinton County.

It should be noted that Saratoga County is in the minority in New York State.  Most counties have last call hours of 3 AM or 2 AM, with some as early as 1 AM with more severe restrictions Sunday through Thursday.  As anyone who travels knows, alcohol in most other states cannot be served as late as in New York.  The 4 AM last call is extremely late.  In fact, the best solution to this problem would be for New York State to revisit this issue.  There is no good reason to continue granting permission statewide for bars and clubs to be serving alcohol until 4 AM.

Members of the previous City Council supported efforts to change the last call to 2 AM.  Mayor Kim and Commissioner Montagnino now seem poised to seek ways of doing so.  We should all support their efforts.

Chris Mathiesen   

Kim and Montagnino Fire Back at Judge’s Temporary Restraining Order

As reported in my last blog posting, at the request of Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, New York Supreme Court Justice Dianne Freestone issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, November 23, restricting Saratoga Springs city officials from further releasing certain kinds of information surrounding last weekend’s shootings on Broadway.

It didn’t take long for Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino to appear in multiple media outlets misrepresenting the judge’s actions.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has become a media favorite. It is not surprising. He is poised, self-confident, and dramatic in his delivery. He enjoys dropping legal terms that appear to give his remarks a certain gravitas. And he makes himself endlessly available, especially to TV reporters. Unfortunately, given their scarce resources, the media rarely has the time to fact-check his pronouncements.

Nowhere is this more problematic than in the coverage of Montagnino’s response to the judge’s decision.

Montagnino quickly issued a press statement making the following claims:

  1. His constitutional right to free speech was being violated by the order.
  2. The action by the judge issuing the restraining order was “jurisdictionally defective.”

Commissioner James Montagnino issued the following statement to WNYT:

“While the District Attorney claims to be seeking to protect Constitutional rights, she has blatantly violated the First Amendment by obtaining a jurisdictionally defective order, without notice to the city, which deprives elected officials of their right to inform the public of profoundly important events unfolding in their city. I have spoken to Mayor Ron Kim and the city intends to fight this in court promptly and vigorously.”

Commissioner Montagnino

Channel 6 news has a video of their interview with Montagnino. The following is an excerpt from the transcript:

“I find it beyond offensive that the district attorney has somehow managed to get a court order preventing the elected officials of this city from discussing the circumstances surrounding that incident,” Montagnino told CBS6. “We’ll be in court as soon as possible to attempt to see that this is lifted or at least narrowed to a reasonable scope. It’s facially unconstitutional to bar an elected official from commenting on a matter of significant importance to the city that he or she represents.”

Channel 6 News November 24, 2022

Mayor Ron Kim issued a similar, if less artful, statement:

“We have a responsibility to the public to make sure that they know what has gone on and that’s all what we were doing when we initially made the presentation and showed them body cam video,” the mayor added.

Mayor Ron Kim

Unpacking What the Judge Actually Ordered

In fact, the actual order sought by Karen Heggen, the Saratoga County District Attorney and approved by Judge Dianne N. Freestone, was carefully limited in its scope and much more specific than was represented by Kim and Montagnino to the media. It states those city officials, including the Mayor, Public Safety Commissioner, and public and elected employees acting in an official capacity:

“shall refrain from releasing any further street camera footage, police body camera footage, surveillance footage, private video footage, audio footage, audio transcripts, or any other information that would tend to identify witnesses, their statements to law-enforcement or describe in detail any physical evidence or results in scientific tests with the ongoing investigation.”

Restraining Order

According to the Channel 6 story, the judge also ordered that the same people named in the temporary restraining order:

“refrain from making any further public comments characterizing any evidence, speculating as to the quality and quantity or quality or clarity of any evidence and presenting opinions or legal conclusions as to the ongoing investigation.”

Restraining Order

In other words, the judge ordered that Montagnino, Kim, et al. avoid making public statements that might hinder or undermine the investigation of the shooting incident and any potential prosecution that may ensue.

While this definitely restricts Montagnino and Kim and other city officials, to a layperson like this blogger this order does not seem “overly broad,” as claimed by Montagnino nor does it bar them from “commenting on a matter of significant importance to the public”, but only from making comments that could interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation of the shootings and potentially future prosecutions.

Violating the Right to Free Speech?

One of Montagnino’s and Kim’s objections to the judge’s order was that they claimed it violated the First Amendment to the Constitution by limiting their ability as public officials to “inform the public of profoundly important events unfolding in their city….”

In an interview with the Times Union, Kim went even further claiming “It’s unfortunate Karen Heggen couldn’t carry out her duty in a free society, to allow people their right to freely speak….Certainly it’s [the judge’s order] not consistent with our constitution. There is just no reason to seek a gag order of public officials who have a duty to the taxpayers.”

James Montagnino and Ron Kim often remind their audiences that they are lawyers. As such they are no doubt aware that there are ample examples regarding the limits of free speech. There is the classic “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre” restriction, for instance, and slander is not protected speech.

I will acknowledge that there is no simple line that can be drawn in these matters, and I do not have the full text of the judge’s order, but the precipitous release of evidentiary materials such as videos before the investigators have had time to process the information in them, including the identifying and contacting of witnesses, seems problematic. This is especially true in light of the fact that Montagnino had been asked by “other organizations” (his words) not to release this key evidence.

City officials should be careful that they take no actions that might jeopardize the Constitutional right of defendants to a fair trial by an impartial jury or that will undermine the ability to properly determine culpability.

Montagnino’s Dubious Claim

Montagnino’s other complaint was that the judge’s order was “jurisdictionally defective.” I spoke with a number of lawyers, all of whom expressed puzzlement as to what Montagnino meant by this phrase since the NY Supreme Court clearly had jurisdiction over this case, and the order was temporary. I have written to the Commissioner asking him for a definition of the term he used. I will let you all know when I hear from him.

Kim and Montagnino also complained that they were not notified that Heggen was requesting a restraining order and therefore were not in court to make their arguments before the judge.

The several attorneys I talked with dismissed this complaint.

The DA had the right to seek a temporary restraining order. That action can be taken “ex parte” (even this blogger can throw around legal terms). This means that the law does not require both parties to be present for a judge to issue the order. This is a temporary order, and according to channel 6 news, the city will have an opportunity to challenge the order at a hearing on December 22, 2022.

Yet Another Vanity Suit

I am not a lawyer, and while my sources say Montagnino is wrong on the law, Montagnino and Kim have made it clear they intend to challenge the order. We will only find out who is right when and if there is an appeal with a decision.

For me, the question is, why would the city spend money on appealing this decision?

One has to ask, what do Montagnino and Kim want to say, or what evidentiary information would they want to release that this order would restrict?

I guess we will learn more when the city pays for attorneys to represent it at the December 22 hearing.

Judge Issues Restraining Order Against Montagnino and Kim

Earlier today (November 23, 2022), your blogger posted a story criticizing the press conference held by Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim regarding the shootings on Broadway early Sunday morning, November 20.

According to WNYT news tonight, a supreme court justice has issued a restraining order barring Montagnino, Kim, and all other Saratoga Springs public officials “…from releasing any more information, video or audio, and from commenting on evidence in the case.”

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen says the unprecedented release of information regarding the Sunday morning officer involved shooting has had a chilling effect on witnesses and could taint the jury pool.

Heggen said, “I didn’t want to do this, but felt compelled to ensure the integrity of the investigation and protect the constitutional rights of all involved.”

WNYT 4:33 PM November 23, 2022

Commissioner Montagnino Inappropriately Intercedes in Shooting Inquiry

Montagnino Is In Charge!

On Sunday afternoon, November 20, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim held a hastily called press conference to discuss the shootings that occurred early Sunday morning, November 20, in downtown Saratoga Springs. At the event, they released videos of the incident in spite of a request from authorities to not release the videos at this time.

As most people now know, an off-duty Vermont deputy sheriff and someone from Utica exchanged gunfire early Sunday morning, November 20, 2022, on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Police arrived, and when the deputy sheriff refused to drop his weapon, he was shot by Saratoga Springs officers. Here is a link to the WNYT story.

The issues with this press conference called by Kim and Montagnino are emblematic of the problematic leadership in this city in general and of Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim in particular.

Grabbing Headlines at the Expense of Pursuing Justice

At the beginning of the press conference, Commissioner Montagnino made the following statement:

As a result of my reflections of the various questions posed by a number of officials in this investigation, I’ve decided in the interest of transparency to release at this point certain information that some of the authorities would not like to see revealed.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino

As the New York State Police are in charge of the investigation, it is reasonable to assume that it was they who requested that the city not release the videos of the incident at this time.

It was simply stunning that Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim chose to ignore this request.

To begin with, their act of indiscretion has to have strained the relationship between the city and the state police at a time when the two have the greatest need to cooperate closely. How can the state police comfortably share sensitive information with the city in the future when two city officials have made it clear that they are perfectly capable of ignoring the state police’s concerns in order to publicize whatever they want to the media?

The Abuse of “Transparency”

I fully support the need for the city to have promptly convened a press conference regarding the shooting. People needed to be apprised that there was no ongoing threat to the public associated with the incident. They also needed to be provided with a general description of what occurred in order to limit the damage from the usual trash and confusion on social media.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Montagnino, with the support of Mayor Kim, went way beyond this. They acted recklessly and unilaterally in ignoring the requests of those conducting the investigation, justifying their action by invoking the buzzword “transparency”.

Marginalizing the City’s Chief of Police

With the epidemic of violence in this country, most of us are all too familiar with the talking heads that appear in the media following such incidents.

The normal protocol is to have the chief of police address the press. There are many good reasons for this, but foremost is the professional knowledge and experience of the chief. As the top law enforcement officer, the chief would be sensitive to the dangers of tainting an ongoing investigation by revealing anything that might undermine the identification of witnesses or otherwise create obstacles for the investigators, or risk compromising subsequent prosecutions.

Instead, Montagnino and Kim, who have no law enforcement credentials, monopolized the press conference and marginalized Police Chief Shane Crooks, who spent the press conference off-camera and was never called on to speak.

This Is Not the First Investigation Montagnino Has Undermined

As readers of this blog may recall, earlier this year, Commissioner Montagnino injected himself into the ongoing investigation of an alleged assault incident that involved some youths at a party. He chose to repeatedly go to the media as he has now done again in this case. The coverage resulted in the family of the alleged victim asking that the matter be dropped, halting the investigation.

Past Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen Offers His Thoughts

Chris Mathiesen served three terms as the city’s Public Safety Commissioner. I asked him for his thoughts on how this press conference was handled.

The incident that took place in the Caroline Street nightclub district in the early morning hours of November 20 is one of the most serious acts of violence to have taken place in our City for many years.  Apparently, shots were fired by a group of civilians, by an off-duty sheriff deputy, and by three Saratoga Springs police officers.  Especially since members of the Saratoga Springs police department were actively involved in the gunfire, it would have been important to have their department superiors conduct the press conference that took place later that day.  Instead, the press conference was conducted by Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim, with the chief of police relegated to a minor role.

The police chief and the lieutenants serving under him have years of law enforcement experience.  They are in the best position to provide the public an accurate perspective on a police activity such as this.  They know well the officers involved, the problems that officers have historically faced on Caroline Street and the guidelines to be followed when an incident of this sort occurs.  Other municipalities usually have the police chief or a senior police department spokesperson handle press conferences involving serious crime or police action, for good reason.

It was a good idea to have an initial press conference so soon after the incident.  It might have been better to hold off showing graphic video recordings so soon and instead give a verbal summary of what the videos showed.  It definitely would have been better to have law enforcement officers conduct the press conference rather than two elected officials with no law enforcement experience. While the Commissioner of Public Safety has important oversight duties regarding the police as well as fire and code enforcement departments, the public needs to feel confident that it is actually the professionals that are in charge of their perspective agencies.

Rushed Release of Video Exposed Police Officer’s Name

In Kim’s and Montagnino’s rush to release the video, the name of one of the officers involved was inadvertently included putting the officer at risk. This is a screenshot from the city website. I have edited this to hide the officer’s name.

This oversight is just another example of this administration’s repeated indifference to details that has alienated much of the city’s employees.

Our Outstanding Police Department

While we still know relatively little of the full details of the shooting incident, based on the videos and the reports, the officers involved showed great courage, discipline, and professionalism.

Their first response to hearing gunshots was to run to the source without hesitation. Upon arriving at the scene, rather than simply firing upon a man standing pointing a gun, they called out eight times for him to drop the gun. Only when he failed to comply did they fire.

In addition, they immediately went to the aid of both wounded persons. Kudos too to the dispatchers and firefighters who also performed their duties that night with exceptional calm and professionalism.

It is worth noting that this kind of discipline in the face of mortal danger begins at the top. Chief Shane Crooks and his lieutenants have established the standards that make this kind of courage, discipline, and sense of service possible.

Commissioner Sanghvi, You Appear to Be Unaware that Your IT Department Is in Crisis

There appears to be a breakdown in the Saratoga Springs information technology (IT) department. This department is under Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi. As will be discussed in this post, the Commissioner appears strangely unaware that there are any issues.

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, something went very wrong on the city’s servers. City employees were unable to access the city’s documents on their computers for that entire day. City staff was severely hampered in carrying out their work due to the breakdown. The problems had still not been fully resolved on the following Monday when Mayor Kim discussed the issue at the City Council pre-agenda meeting.

The city’s agendas posted on the city’s website are supposed to have supporting documents available through links for each agenda item. The links to documents on the agenda for the Monday, November 14, 2022, pre-agenda meeting did not function.

I cannot recall this kind of breakdown in the past. I contacted former Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and asked about her experience. She told me that in the ten years that she served as Commissioner overseeing IT, the servers were never down, including following the fire that closed city hall.

I asked if the servers were “mirrored?” This is a standard practice whereby everything going on on the prime server is updated on what is basically a backup server. Ms. Madigan confirmed that they were.

I wrote to Commissioner Sanghvi, asking what is going on? In fact, given the history of our email problems, I wrote her twice (November 10 and November 14). The second email asked that, at a minimum, she acknowledge having received them. When I did not hear from her, on November 16, I called Samantha Clemmey, her Executive Assistant, and asked if their office had received my emails. Ms. Clemmey was very nice. She confirmed that they had received them and assured me she would bring them to Commissioner Sanghvi’s attention and that she would respond.

Videos Of Meetings Not Being Posted

The city’s IT department is responsible for posting videos of the City Council and its land use boards on the city’s website. This function has apparently broken down. As this is a key responsibility for keeping the public informed of what is transpiring with city government, this failure is particularly disturbing.

One of the followers of this blog, Henry37, pointed out the video of the October 27, 2022, meeting of the Planning Board has not been uploaded to the city’s website (I am writing this on November 20, some twenty-four days later, and it is still not up). At this meeting, the controversial Liberty Affordable Housing, Inc. proposal was the subject of review. On Thursday, November 17, 2022, the Planning Board met again, and it is my understanding that there was no live stream of the meeting on the city’s website. Presumably, they will be discussing the Liberty project further, but without the benefit of knowing what went on at the Planning Board’s October 27 meeting or the November 17 meeting, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. I am concerned that as the November 17 meeting was not live streamed over the web, it may not have been videoed at all.

City’s Website Goes Down

On Thursday night, November 17, 2022, I tried to get on to the city’s website. I was unable to access the site at all this time. I got the message above.

City Council Meeting Video Link Fails

The city’s website has a section for agendas, minutes, and videos of Council meetings. Normally when the video of a meeting is available, there is an icon that looks like a tiny television on the city’s website that links to it.

On November 18, I tried to access the City Council meeting video by clicking on the icon. I got the error screen displayed above.

This is yet another unprecedented problem.

Staff Turnover

All but one of the IT staff from the previous administration have left city employment this year. I expect this has contributed to their problems. Of course, one has to wonder why there has been such a turnover.

An Odd Response from Commissioner Sanghvi

On November 18, 2022, I received a very odd email from Commissioner Sanghvi. At the end of this post, I am including my two emails to her that apparently prompted this response.

Strangely, Commissioner Sanghvi’s email seemed to indicate that she had no idea that there was a city-wide breakdown of the IT system resulting in the city’s documents being inaccessible for days.

This is particularly odd because, as documented by the following video. At the Monday, November 14, pre-agenda meeting Mayor Kim began by apologizing to the public for the problems with the city’s computer system. He references that the resolutions on the agenda are inaccessible. He confirms that the problem extended from Wednesday evening through to Monday.

With this background, I found it very strange that in her email, she asks me for the names of city employees affected by the breakdown as though she was unaware that there were any problems. After all, in the video, she is sitting next to the Mayor. This is all particularly odd as this problem would have affected her Deputy, her Executive Assistant, and the Budget Director, as well as what she was able to post on her agenda.

This is the excerpt from her email in which she asks me to assist her by identifying which employees had experienced problems:

I’m not sure what city employees you’re referring to? Could you kindly give me more details. I am happy to set up meetings with the employees you’re talking about and our IT staff to help them resolve their issues.

Commissioner Sanghvi

Coffee?

In a further odd twist, the Commissioner reminds me in her email that her office had reached out to me in response to my original request to meet with her about the city’s budget and then graciously offers to have coffee with me.

As documented in an earlier post, I had advised her that the point of the meeting was to discuss her pending budget, and as she could not meet with me until December, there was no point in our getting together.

It is quite odd that she appears to have forgotten my response to her.

Commissioner Sanghvi Cancels Blogger

At the November 15, 2022, City Council meeting, there was a discussion as to whether having a public hearing at 10:00 AM on Monday, November 21, 2022, on the budget was fair to the public as it was not only in the morning of a weekday but it was the week of Thanksgiving.

Commissioner Sanghvi observed that there had been repeated public hearings, and no one from the public had been interested in commenting.

Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran pointed out that this blogger had attempted to ask budget questions. Commissioner Sanghvi dismissed his point by observing that she does not read right-wing bloggers. Commissioner Moran reminded her that the blogger had tried to address her at a meeting. She retorted that it was not at a public hearing (I asked her about my questions during the public comment period and not during the public hearing portion of the City Council meeting.). When Commissioner Moran attempted to respond, he was cut off by Mayor Kim.

Putting aside that I am not a person of the right, to claim transparency, as Commissioner Sanghvi routinely does, an elected official should answer courteous questions no matter what the political persuasion of a citizen.

The Emails


From: Minita Sanghvi
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2022 11:57 AM
To: kaufmann
Subject: Re: Servers

Hello Mr. Kaufmann, 

Thank you for your email. I’m not sure what city employees you’re referring to? Could you kindly give me more details. I am happy to set up meetings with the employees you’re talking about and our IT staff to help them resolve their issues. Usually a reboot is a good way to start but if there are any other issues, we’re happy to resolve it (sic). Our IT staff works with all departments 24/7 to ensure our city stays safe and humming along. 

I believe we’ve also reached out to you about setting up a meeting – please do reply to that too. I’m looking forward to coffee with you. 

Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org


From: “kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2022 5:38:47 PM
Subject: Servers

I wrote to you this weekend inquiring about the apparent problem that city employees are unable to access their documents on the city’s server.  Given our history, I am not sure if you received my inquiry.  Could you please explain what is going on?  At a minimum, could you acknowledge my email to at least affirm that you received it?

Thank you,

JK


John Kaufmann <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>Thu, Nov 10, 7:59 PM (8 days ago)
to Minita

I understand that the city’s network was down on Thursday, November 10 all day.  My understanding is that the city has mirrored servers.  Could you explain how this happened?
Thank you
JK

Lexis Figuereo and James Montagnino: Best Buds?

So where is Black Lives Matter leader Lexis Figuereo when it comes to Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino?

Figuereo savaged the women in the previous City Council administration for their alleged racism. His group went so far as to present Mayor Kelly with a live cockroach in a bottle and taunted and shouted at Mayor Kelly, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, and Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton regularly at Council meetings.

James Montagnino’s Get Out of Jail Card

Here is an inventory of actions by James Montagnino that, by all rights, should have made him a pariah to Mr. Figuereo and potentially subject him to the same anger and abuse.

  1. In a document issued by Montagnino at the beginning of his tenure, he argued convincingly that the police did not kill Daryl Mount. One of the central tenants of Figuereo’s campaign against the police was and is that they murdered Mount. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for his report? No.
  2. Figuereo pilloried the police and then Commissioner Robin Dalton for blocking Figuereo’s group from attending a judicial hearing for one of their people charged with a violation. Figuereo was enraged by this and received extensive media coverage in characterizing the incident as a blatant example of racism and intimidation. The officer who gave the command to block them was Jason Tetu. Montagnino appointed Tetu to be his Deputy. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for this? No.
  3. Montagnino has advocated for expanding the police force. In fact, he accused Finance Commissioner Sanghvi of “defunding the police.” Figuereo has routinely called for defunding the police. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for advocating for more money for the police? No.
  4. Figuereo unfairly attacked Kelly, Dalton, and Madigan for allegedly blocking police reform. In particular, they were critical of the three for not expeditiously establishing a civilian review board. It has now been almost a year that Montagnino has been a Commissioner, and there is no sign of a civilian review board. Has Figuereo attacked Montagnino for dragging his feet on this? No.
  5. Montagnino has repeatedly tried to establish a city code making some form of panhandling a violation. While Figuereo has opposed this, he did not call out Montagnino the way he did the three women who served on the previous Council.

Looking For An Answer For Figuereo’s Deference To Montagnino

In spite of the fact that Figuereo donated no money during the last election campaign for City Council and, as far as I can ascertain, did nothing concretely to support Montagnino, he has repeatedly taken credit for the election of the current members of the City Council.

My only conjecture on Figuereo’s apparent buds with Montagnino is that he is unable to admit that he made a mistake in supporting Montagnino.

There is also the unpleasant possibility that the two share a problem of misogyny.

Sanghvi to Blogger: Make Corrections!

During this last week, I received two more emails from the Saratoga Springs Finance Department.  One from Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, and the other from her Executive Assistant, Samantha Clemmey. Both reiterated that Commissioner Sanghvi had no time to answer questions about the budget until after the 2023 budget was passed. In addition, Commissioner Sanghvi charged me with making false claims on my blog and called for me to correct the record.

Minita Sanghvi Wants You to Know That She Doesn’t Read This Blog

Commissioner Sanghvi has taken me to task for writing that she read the post that dealt with her refusing to answer my questions on her budget. In her email, she asks me to set the record straight for the readers of the blog by informing you that while she regularly reads the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Gazette, Saratoga Today, the Washington Post, the Saratogian, and the Times Union, she stopped reading my blog sometime this summer or fall. Apparently, while she wrote me to criticize my post, it was her staff who alerted her to its contents, and I guess she scrupulously avoided reading it herself. Maybe Ms. Clemmey read it to her.

Minita Sanghvi Wants You to Know That She Never Received an Email I Sent Her

In one of the emails I sent the Commissioner, a copy of which was in the post she did not read, I observed that there was no point in my taking up her offer to meet with me regarding the budget in December as, by then, the budget would have already been adopted. I wrote in that post that she had not responded.

Rather than simply asking me to resend the errant email or, better yet, respond to the copy of it in my post, she tasked her staff to search the city’s servers for it. Her Executive Assistant not only searched the servers, but she also sent me screenshots of the failed searches proving that the Commissioner never received it.

Let the record show that I acknowledge that the Commissioner never received the email I sent her.

As it is now established that she knows the contents of that email, it would be helpful if she would address the substance of my concern i.e., that a meeting after the budget is adopted is pointless.

————————————————

The full text of the emails is below.


The Emails

From: “john kaufmann21” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com>
Sent: Monday, November 7, 2022 8:45:39 PM
Subject: Response

I am sorry about the confusion regarding my last email to you.  While you apparently did not receive it, the email from Ms. Clemmey indicates that you read it on my blog.  In any case, here is the text from my email response again:

“As you are aware, my questions pertain to the 2023 budget, which must be adopted by November 30, 2022.  It is pointless for you to offer me dates to meet with you in December.”

I am also not clear why you would task your IT staff to search your servers and then have your staff craft graphics of the computer screens when you clearly had read my post and knew what I had written to you.  The simple approach that would have spared your staff for better things would have been to simply email me asking me to send it again.

When you offered to meet with me at the last Council meeting, I assumed, as did most people observing the event, that you were offering to meet with me prior to the adoption of the city budget so I could be better informed to thoughtfully provide input at the next scheduled public hearing and to inform the readers of my blog on the issues.

I am rather stunned that you appear to not understand that meeting with you to get these answers in December after the budget has been adopted would be pointless.  Can this really be true?

I am also troubled by the idea that answering my questions should be so burdensome.  My questions were based very specifically on the items in your PowerPoint which I specifically referenced using the same numbers you used in your presentation.  If these PowerPoint items were crafted based on rigorous research and analysis, the questions about them should have been easy to respond to.

The optics of your statement that you do not have the time to answer questions from the public on your budget is extremely troubling.  You and your staff continue to point out opportunities for the public to comment on the budget. What is missing is the opportunity for the public to hear replies from the Finance Commissioner to questions about the budget. This should not be a one way conversation.

An informed public is the lifeblood of democracy.  If you were not prepared to devote the time required to fulfill your duties as Finance Commissioner, you did a disservice to this city in running for office.

I also did not understand the offer extended by your Executive Assistant to set up a call with you if I “still require a further level of assurance.” I’m not sure what this means. 


To: John Kaufmann

From: Minita Sanghvi

CC: Samantha Clemmey

Date: November 9, 2022 4:24 PM

Subject: Re Response

Mr. Kaufmann, 

I am sorry but I stopped reading your blog in later summer / early Fall. I read the Saratogian, Saratoga Today, Daily Gazette, Times Union, New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to stay abreast local, and US news. So providing a little context is always helpful in your future correspondence. 

My staff informed me about you not being able to reach us. So our staff checked the servers to ensure your correspondence was not getting caught in the security system. We do this with any complaint from our constituents trying to reach us. 

If you have made false claims on your blog, I am assuming you will print an appropriate retraction. After all, truth and facts are the lifeblood of our democracy. 

I want to clarify – that I am not meeting you as a writer of a local blog. It is not an accredited source of media with oversight or fact-checking. I am meeting you as a constituent who has questions about the budget. I appreciate your interest and am really excited to share our budget process and data with you. However, as you know, we are still in the process of working on the amended budget. So once the process is over, I am happy to meet with you. 

Best, Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org


From: Samantha Clemmey

To: John Kaufmann

CC: Minita Sanghvi, Heather Crocker

Date: November 7, 2022 1:17 PM

Subject: Meeting

Samantha Clemmey <samantha.clemmey@saratoga-springs.org>Attachments1:17 PM (2 hours ago)
to me, Minita, Heather

Good Afternoon Mr. Kaufmann, 

I had reached out last week on 11/02 inquiring about setting up a meeting between yourself and Commissioner Sanghvi. I have not yet heard back from you. In the spirit of transparency, and to assure we did not miss an e-mail from you, I had our I.T. department run a full City-Wide e-mail search for Commissioner Sanghvi, myself, and Deputy Crocker. The attached screenshots indicate that no e-mails were received from you since 11/01/2022. 

Given that you published on 11/04/2022 that you had responded and never heard back, please double check that this e-mail was sent to the correct recipients. 

I will, again, let you know that at this time I am not scheduling any non-city department related meetings for the Commissioner until the budget has concluded. The public has been given ample opportunities to comment on the 2023 Comprehensive Budget. A list of dates and times for budget workshops and public hearings were published at the start of October, providing advance notice for the public. The second Public Hearing for the Comprehensive Budget will remain open at least until the next City Council meeting on November 15th, 2022 at 6:30 PM. If you would like to make any further comments to the Council, we encourage you to do so at that time or during the allotted Public Comment period. 

I would still be happy to extend to you one of the following dates/times for a meeting: 

– Monday December 5th at 1:00 PM 

– Friday December 9th at 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM 

– Monday December 12th at 10:30 AM 

If you still feel you require a further level of assurance – I am able to set up a call with the Commissioner. 

Again, thank you for your patience as Commissioner Sanghvi and the Finance Department continue to navigate through this incredibly busy period. I can assure you the Commissioner and her team are working tirelessly around the clock to publish a balanced, thoughtful, and forward-thinking budget. 

Very Respectfully, 

Samantha 

Samantha F. Clemmey
Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance

Department of Finance

474 Broadway – Suite 15
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550, Ext. 2526

Temporary Outdoor Dining Will Be Subject to Design Review Board Approval

At the November 1, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran made good on his promise to have temporary outdoor dining sites reviewed by the city’s Design Review Board (DRB).

Beginning January 1,2023, applicants for temporary outdoor dining permits must obtain the approval of the DRB if “the outdoor dining location is located within any area designated within an Architectural Review District, Historic Review District, or City Landmark District”.

For some of us, the bamboo fencing put up by some restaurants on Henry Street and the jersey barriers used to protect diners are quite unattractive. Hopefully, this resolution will address some of these issues.

Commissioner Sanghvi: Broken Promises, No Answers

I attended the November 1 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting attempting one more time to get answers to questions about the city’s proposed 2023 Comprehensive Budget.

Along with the city’s charter and its comprehensive plan, the Saratoga Springs Comprehensive Budget is one of our key documents. The budget will determine what services the city will provide its citizens and what its citizens will be required to pay for these services. It will directly impact every household in Saratoga Springs.

With that in mind, your loyal blogger attempted to study the proposed 2023 budget and sought answers from our elected officials only to be met by silence from the key official responsible for crafting the Comprehensive Budget, Minita Sanghvi, the Commissioner of Finance.

This post documents a series of broken promises by Commissioner Sanghvi, who, in the end, refused to answer questions asked of her weeks ago about her budget.

Trying to Get Answers

On October 6, 2022, as required by our charter, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi presented her proposed budget to the City Council and showed a Powerpoint presentation to her colleagues and the public. While the Powerpoint presentation contained some interesting information, it was brief and not entirely helpful.

In order to help the readers of this blog to better understand the budget, I emailed Commissioner Sanghvi. The email asked how the members of the public could get answers from her.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

John Kaufmann October 10, 2022

Commissioner Sanghvi responded:

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow 5-10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi October 11,2022

Following her instructions, I attended budget workshops (see previous posts) and emailed her my questions on October 13. My questions included asking what services she had eliminated to achieve the cuts in the Public Works and Rec Department budgets and what provisions were included in her budget to deal with funding 16 new firefighters once the SAFER grant runs out. (see a complete list of questions at end of this post.) Knowing her written responses might need clarification, I also wrote to her asking if we could meet.

Ten business days passed. Regrettably, I received no answer to my questions from Commissioner Sanghvi, as she had promised, nor did I receive a response to my request for a meeting.

I then attended the November 1, 2022, Council meeting. During the public comment period, I addressed the Council. I noted that more than ten business days had elapsed since her email promising to answer my questions. She responded that she was too busy working on the budget to answer any questions (see video). I noted that I had asked for a meeting and had not heard from her. She told me, “I would be happy to meet with you.” She advised me that someone from her staff would reach out to me (see video).

On November 2, 2022, I received an email from Commissioner Sanghvi’s executive assistant offering me three dates in December to meet with the Commissioner.

I wrote back, reminding her that the budget had to be passed by the end of November which would make a December meeting pointless.

I never heard further.

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Responsibility to Her Constituents

In her ten years as Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan set a standard for openness and availablility. Some of the success she enjoyed in crafting budgets can be attributed to her willingness to listen to everyone. Those who follow this blog will know that this blogger was not uncritical of Ms. Madigan; but to her great credit, she was always available to answer my questions.

Commissioner Sanghvi has continually presented herself as somehow a break from the past in her commitment to transparency.

“I think accountability, transparency, civic engagement, communications, are all cornerstones of good governance and we are hoping that we will do all of that for the next two years and beyond.”

Minita Sanghvi, Saratogian January 9, 2022

Her promotion of “participatory budgeting,” which is supposed to promote public involvement, is made hollow by her resistance to answer questions from citizens over the city’s actual budget.

Her lack of candor and her unwillingness to answer courteous questions regarding her budget cannot merely be explained away by inexperience. It raises disturbing questions about character. There is still time for her to reconsider. Let’s hope that she finds her better angel.

The Email Exchanges

From: “john kaufmann21” john.kaufmann21@gmail.com
To: “Minita Sanghvi” minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Thursday, October 6, 2022 9:05:08 PM
Subject: Budget

I listened to your budget presentation. I did not hear anything about specifically how the city will prepare to pay for the sixteen firefighters from the grant once it runs out.

  1. Could you please explain how your 2023 budget addresses this?
  2. What is budgeted for the new fire station in your new budget?
  3. The costs of building the facility along with equipping it were paid for when the city bonded. The new employees are going to be paid for out of the grant. Could you please explain what the money generated by your tax increase this year is going to pay for?

JK


From: Minita Sanghvi minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:13 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Budget

Thank you for your email. The budget message and the budget addresses these
questions. Both of these documents are online – Departments – – Finance – – City Budgets – – 2023 Budgets.

I understand that the budget can be difficult to comb through. May I recommend attending the budget workshops for more clarification.

Thank you,
Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org


From: “john kaufmann21” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2022 8:33:45 PM
Subject: Questions

Your presentation regarding the 2023 city budget raised a number of questions.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

JK



From: Minita Sanghvi minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:20 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Questions

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow a 5- 10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org


On October 12, 2022 from Kaufmann to Sanghvi:

Can we meet to discuss the budget?  I want to interview you for my blog.  I would send you my questions ahead of time.  There is very little time before the budget is due.


This email was sent on October 13, 2022

Questions:

  1. How much did the Finance Department budget for 2023 for expenses related to the new fire station.  Please break this down.  For example, how much is included in the Debt Service fund to cover the principal and interest payments for the fire station 3 bond? How much is included in the General Operating fund to cover equipment, training, uniforms and any other costs associated with the plus 16 firefighters?
  2. (Power Point Slide #14) Why is the Finance Department’s estimate for ambulance transport income projected to decrease?
  3. (Power Point Slide #15) Why are personnel costs going down in the 2023 budget?  Is the city laying people off and if so, what positions are being eliminated?
  4. (Power Point Slide #16) The hospitalization benefits were estimated to increase by 15%.  The budget is showing a 13.16% increase.  What is the percentage increase quoted by the city’s brokers?  Has the state confirmed this number?
  5. (Power Point #23) You have reduced the Department of Public Works budget by about a million dollars.  How did you achieve these cuts?  What services are to be eliminated?  What specifically did you remove from their 2022 budget?
  6. (Power Point Slide #26)  The recreation budget was reduced by $300K from 2022.  How was that achieved?  What was eliminated?

           7. Did the Finance Department fund any of the recommendations from the “Participatory Budgeting” committee and if so which ones?

 8.Did the Finance Department fund the Civilian Review Board and if so for how much?


From: Samantha Clemmey samantha.clemmey@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Wednesday, November 2, 2022 1:43 PM
To: john.kaufmann21@gmail.com
Cc: Minita Sanghvi
Subject: Meeting with Commissioner Sanghvi

Good Afternoon Mr. Kaufmann,

I am reaching out to get you on Commissioner Sanghvi’s schedule for an in-person meeting. Given that the budget process is currently in full-swing, I am not scheduling non-city department related meetings for the Commissioner until the budget has concluded. The Public Hearing for the Comprehensive Budget will remain open at least until the next Council Meeting on November 15th – if you would like to make any further comments to the Council, you are welcome to do so at that time or during the allotted Public Comment period.

I would be happy to extend to you one of the following dates/times for a meeting:

  • Monday December 5th at 1:00 PM
  • Friday December 9th at 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM
  • Monday December 12th at 10:30 AM

Thank you for your patience as Commissioner Sanghvi and the Finance Department navigate through this busy period. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,
Samantha

Samantha F. Clemmey
Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance
Department of Finance
474 Broadway – Suite 15
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
518-587-3550, Ext. 2526


On November 2, 2022 Kaufmann to Commissioner Sanghvi:

As you are aware, my questions pertain to the 2023 budget, which must be adopted by November 30, 2022.  It is pointless for you to offer me dates to meet with you in December.

Mayor Kim Tries to Play the Blame Game: Falsely Accuses Previous Council of Misuse of Federal Money

The Mayor’s Five Alarm Assertion

As the Saratoga Springs City Council has struggled, often contentiously, to put together a city budget for 2023, Mayor Ron Kim, a Democrat, has chosen to blame his fellow Democrats in the previous City Council for the problems they are having with this task. At the recent Budget Workshop for the Public Safety Department, he shockingly falsely alleged that the problems they are having are because the previous Council had misused federal money from the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Here’s the video:

If his accusation were true, that the city “did exactly what the ARPA money wasn’t supposed to do…”, it should have been like ringing a fire alarm. It should have generated some kind of statement from Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi that she was initiating an investigation as to how this happened and what the city would need to do to address such a huge misappropriation. But of course, Mayor Kim’s statement was false, and the city did not misuse the funds. Commissioner Sanghvi made no such statement.

It is striking how cavalierly Mayor Kim makes such a grave accusation. The city received $7.9 million from the federal government in ARPA funds. Were the federal government to agree with Mayor Kim, it would be a devastating blow to the city, which could have to pay back the funds.

ARPA Funding Requirements: Mayor Kim’s Statement Is False– Funding Can Be Used To “Fill Salary Holes”

The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law in March of 2021 to provide additional funding to state and local governments in the midst of the Covid pandemic. According to the government document “American Rescue Plan Spending: Recommended Guiding Principles,” the ARPA requirements are “very broad.” It states, “The funding provided under ARPA provides a unique opportunity for state and local governments to make strategic investments in long-lived assets, rebuild reserves to enhance financial stability, and cover temporary operating shortfalls until economic conditions and operations normalize.”

Possible uses for the funds include “revenue replacements for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 health emergency….”

The National League of Cities has a helpful Q & A webpage to assist cities in utilizing ARPA funds.

The following is from their webpage:

What are eligible uses for funding?  

Municipalities are granted flexibility in choosing how they will spend their ARPA funds. As outlined in the Final Rule, funding must fit into one of the following categories:  

  • Responding to the public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic  
  • Providing premium pay to essential workers 
  • Providing government services to the extent of revenue loss due to the pandemic 
  • Making necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure  

Can recovery funds be used to fund lost revenue?

Yes, recipients can use SLFRF dollars to fund lost revenue. This is one of the eligible uses of ARPA funds. The definition of General Revenue draws on the Census definition of General Revenue of Own Sources (excluding utilities). The fiscal relief funds give recipients broad latitude to use funds to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue or the standard allowance. Government services can include but are not limited to maintenance of infrastructure, modernization of cybersecurity, health services, school or educational services, and public safety services. When calculating lost revenue, recipients should sum across all revenue streams covered as general revenue for administrative ease. 

The only restrictions on the use of funds listed in the American Rescue Plan Spending: Recommended Guiding Principles document are the following:

-Funds allocated to states cannot be used to directly or indirectly to offset tax reductions or delay a tax increase;

-Funds cannot be deposited into any pension fund.

It is curious that Kim was so disturbed that he could not show Tonko any projects funded with ARPA funds given that this document also warns that “Care should be taken to avoid creating programs or add-ons to existing programs that require an ongoing financial commitment.”

In 2020 and 2021, the city used the money to maintain its services by, among other things, ensuring that the city had enough resources to keep key staff.

The use of ARPA money to “fill salary holes,” as Mayor Kim put it, was totally appropriate and in line with ARPA guidelines and got the city through difficult times without sacrificing city services. That revenue hole has now been filled with the strong return of the city’s economy. It is ironic that this current Council is creating its own future revenue hole by accepting the federal grant that requires the city to continue to fund 16 new firefighters after the grant expires. This City Council needs to take responsibility for developing a budget with the current costs and revenues they have to work with and stop trying to blame their fellow Democratic predecessors for the issues they are having.

A Docile Council Offers No Response to Mayor Kim’s Claim

One has to wonder about the lack of response by Mayor Kim’s colleagues on the Council to his alarming accusation. How can this be explained? I offer the following possibilities:

  1. No one on the Council actually listened to what the Mayor said.
  2. No one on the Council felt any responsibility to do anything about it.
  3. No one takes these kinds of accusations by Mayor Kim seriously anymore.