This is a copy of the job description for a Saratoga Springs City Attorney placed on the Saratoga County Bar Association Website
Mayor Ron Kim has posted the position of City Attorney on the Saratoga County Bar Association website (see above). This ad is quite troubling in a number of ways.
The Residency Issue
The job description contains no residency requirement.
As recently as the January 18, 2022, City Council meeting, Mayor Kim has continued to insist that the City Attorney is not a public officer. It is on this basis that he has claimed that they are not subject to a residency requirement. In support of his assertion at that meeting, he declared that our city attorneys do not take an oath of office. He stated:
“So we [JK: We?] think it’s very clear the City Attorney is not a public officer. The criteria that this case goes through so to set that out [sic]. They don’t take an oath like a district attorney.”
Mayor Kim, January 18, 2022 Council Meeting.
Unfortunately for Mayor Kim, the facts do not bear him out. At the bottom of this post, the reader will find the oaths of office taken by all the City Attorneys in Saratoga Springs for the last twenty years.
Evidence shows beyond a doubt that the position is a “public officer”. To allow a non-resident to hold the position would require action by the City Council either requesting the NY State Legislature to pass a Home Rule law (the preferred method) or adopting a local law allowing the city to waive the residency requirement.
Even if the exception were to be established, state law would still require that candidates would need to be a resident of the county, so one way or the other, a proper job description would have to address a residency requirement. Without Council action (which could take from weeks to months) the job at this point requires the applicant to be a city resident.
The Lack of Council Action Regarding the City Attorney Position’s Terms of Employment
As readers may recall, Mayor Kim drafted a resolution for the last City Council meeting proposing terms of employment for the City Attorney position. These included a reduction in hours for the position and a salary range. Previously the City Attorney was a full-time position requiring forty hours and the city employed an Assistant City Attorney to work up to 29 hours. Kim’s resolution proposed only a single City Attorney who would work “an average of thirty hours a week.” [JK: The concept of “average” for calculating a salary is problematic and I am deeply troubled by the radical reduction of in-house counsel time but that will have to wait for a separate post.]
That resolution was withdrawn before the Council meeting. Nevertheless, the terms of employment now appear in the job posting for a City Attorney even though they were never approved by the City Council as required. The Mayor is not authorized to make these offers of terms of employment on his own. It would seem to be improper and unfair to applicants to offer them conditions of employment before those terms have been appropriately authorized by the Council.
One has to wonder what his Democratic colleagues on the Council think of this. But then, they have no one to turn to for legal advice…….
Note: The attorneys serve two-year terms unless they are filling out a term that a previous attorney had vacated. In browsing these oaths the reader will find multiple entries for the same attorney in some cases because they were required to take an oath for each new term.
I want to urge the readers of this blog again to subscribe to the Daily Gazette which is the only reliable coverage of Saratoga Springs these days. Without the resource of a rigorous newspaper, our democracy will be seriously jeopardized.
According to all media accounts Ms. Miles and her lawyer Kevin Luibrand asserted that Ms. Miles was singled out and treated differently than the other persons charged in actions related to the July 14 Black Lives Matter protest in Saratoga Springs because she is black.
The history of this business is more complicated, however. As indicated in the Gazette article, 13 other persons, 3 white and 8 black, were charged for their actions at the protest. Those who had no criminal history were given “adjournments in contemplation of dismissal” (ACOD). This allowed for the dismissal of charges if the defendants committed no other illegal acts in a specified period of time. Ms. Miles was also offered an ACOD but refused this in an earlier court appearance.
Judge Vero noted that there had not been a “one size fits all” approach in dealing with cases resulting from the demonstration. She stated that “each defendant received an individual, independent analysis to determine their level of culpability and each defendant received a plea offer that was appropriate given their culpability and criminal history.”
It was apparent that Judge Vero was again looking for an ACOD for Ms. Miles at a later court appearance, but the Assistant DA declined to agree to it noting that Ms. Miles had previously rejected that solution. The DA did offer to reduce the false imprisonment charge down to disorderly conduct.
Judge Vero affirmed in her decision that there was in fact “evidence of guilt of Disorderly Conduct”.
It is perfectly understandable that Judge Vero was intent on finding a resolution that would not result in a conviction that would be inconsistent with the other cases. The judge noted that Ms. Miles had no previous criminal convictions. She has four children who she needs. to support.
The Gazette article noted that Mark Emanation, executive director for the Capital District Area Labor Federation, gave testimony to Ms. Miles’ volunteer work including her current tenure on the Schenectady School Board. He testified that Ms. Miles volunteers for mass food distributions for the hungry.
While Judge Vero observed that the video evidence clearly documents Ms. Miles’ disorderly conduct, she also wrote: “There would be no purpose in imposing a jail sentence upon a 47-year-old woman who has never been arrested before, particularly for an offense when there is no harm.”
Judge Vero also commented regarding problems with the prosecution’s case. The prosecution alleged that Ms. Miles was a leader of the demonstration without providing supporting evidence. She also observed that the victim in the case did not testify nor did the victim submit a written statement opposing the dismissal of the case.
So it is not surprising or unusual that a judge, having been thwarted in her attempt to resolve the case with an ACOD, would choose to dismiss the case.
Notwithstanding the allegations by Ms. Miles and her attorney, there is no indication that Judge Vero supported that race was a factor in the original arrest and prosecution.
District Attorney Karen Heggen’s Response
The Gazette reported that:
[District Attorney Karen] Heggen criticized the judge’s decision and suggested it sent a dangerous message that people who don’t have criminal records and perform good acts in the community get a pass to break the law.
Daily Gazette January 25, 2022
Times Union Watch
The Times Union story was a study in contrast to the Gazette coverage. The TU basically focused on Jamaica Miles’ allegations that she was singled out by the police and DA because of racism.
A cursory reading of the TU article would lead one to believe that Ms. Miles’ charges were dismissed because she was innocent of violating the law.
Conspicuously missing from the TU article were the central tenants of Judge Vero’s decision: that video evidence confirmed Ms. Miles’ disorderly conduct and that the charges were dismissed for a variety of reasons including Ms. Miles’ personal history. Judge Vero also noted the time and resources that would have had to have gone into a jury trial particularly during Covid. Her opinion notes, “If the misdemeanor proceeds to trial a significant amount of the Court’s time and the time of the…jurors will be spent…in the process of summoning jurors, selecting a jury, instructing the jurors and waiting for them to deliberate…As a consequence…other Court matters will not be timely heard…”
As reported in my previous blog, I recently received an email from the Department of State (DOS) definitively affirming that, contrary to Mayor Ron Kim’s many assertions, the City Attorney is a public official and therefore subject to a residency requirement. We reported earlier that the residency requirement could be waived by the passage by the NY State Legislature of a Home Rule bill as had been done many times for many municipalities throughout the state.
Foothills Business Daily followed up with the New York State DOS and spoke with someone in the DOS press office.
That office did not dispute their department’s earlier determination that, contrary to Mayor Kim’s assertions, the City Attorney is a public officer. The office, according to the story, “seemed” to agree with Mayor Kim, though, that the residency requirement could also be changed through the passage of a local law. They hedged on this, recommending that the New York State Attorney General should be contacted for further clarification of its opinions on this issue
All of this prompted me to do more research.
I knew that recently the city of Mechanicville similarly wanted to remove the residency requirement for their City Attorney. They enlisted the help of Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and Senator Daphne Jordan to get the state legislature to pass a Home Rule bill that would exempt the city from the requirement. The bill was passed just seven months ago on June 11, 2021. As noted in an earlier post, Section 3 has many similar additions exempting the residency requirement for other municipalities.
It was interesting to me that Mechanicville chose not to take the seemingly simpler route of passing a local law. What I found in my research, consistent with the caution shown by the DOS press secretary, was that the history of the Public Officers Law on residency is marked by conflicting opinions and court cases. Attorneys that I spoke with offered that the conservative approach was to opt for the state legislative solution Mechanicville chose rather than a local law.
The Path Forward
As people may recall, Mayor Kim originally crafted a resolution that was submitted for the pre-agenda meeting of the City Council regarding the City Attorney. The resolution included a whereas clause that incorrectly asserted that the City Attorney was not a Public Officer. Apparently, Mayor Kim simply assumed that if he asserted that the City Attorney was not a public officer, there was no need to even address the residency obstacle.
While Mayor Kim has steadfastly held to his position that the City Attorney is not a public officer, at Tuesday night’s meeting he allowed for its possibility and offered that a local law could circumvent the problem.
A local law is different from a simple resolution. I don’t understand all of the distinctions except that it requires a public hearing and must be registered with the state upon adoption.
I can only say that had the Mayor enjoyed the assistance of the two attorneys who he chose not to reappoint, he might have avoided the torturous and prolonged process he has followed and Saratoga Springs might now have a City Attorney.
I know he believes he is saving money by personally providing legal counsel to the city. One might hope that this experience would humble him to acknowledge that whatever his background as a bankruptcy attorney, it is not sufficient when it comes to municipal law. He would be better served by focusing on his role as Mayor and relying on an attorney with expertise in municipal law.
At Tuesday (January 18, 2022) night’s Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, Mayor Kim dug his heels in on the City Attorney issue. Even in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he continued to insist that the position is not a “public officer” and therefore not subject to a residency requirement, offering yet more odd rationales for his opinion. Kim’s pursuit of this issue seems to be related to his desire to appoint a resident of Middle Grove to be the City Attorney. This person has since indicated she is no longer interested in the position making it strange that Kim is doubling down on this issue.
Even more troubling, though, was watching him gain support from his three Democratic colleagues on the Council for a vote that violated the Open Meetings Law and another vote that potentially violated the City Charter.
A Promise Not Kept
Readers following this blog may remember that Mayor Kim promised to answer two questions I put to him regarding how he determined that the City Attorney is not a public officer:
Who at NYSCOM provided you with the opinion that the city attorney is not a public officer?
Could you cite the actual language in section 3 of the NY State Public Officers Law supporting your position.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, he answered neither question.
Instead, he oddly offered a new piece of evidence he thought supported his claim: the case of Fischer vs Mechanicville.
That evening I looked up the case. It turned out that the case went back to 1916 when Mechanicville was transitioning from a village to a city. There has been considerable legislation and case law over the subsequent one hundred and five years since this decision. It is troubling that now this is the only specific the Mayor is offering to support his claim.
Mayor Kim then went on to assert that among other things he believed the City Council had the authority to ignore state laws such as the Public Officers Law and draft their own local law. He stated:
“even if we were hemmed in by this Public Officers Law it is very clear that we as a city council have the authority to enact a local law that would vary this [sic]. There are, as I said, several attorney general opinions on this dating back to the 1970s that sort of resolve this issue. In other words, every city council has to wrestle with whether or not they have the authority to change certain laws as opposed to whether or not only the legislature could do it. It’s very clear we could do it. So we think it’s very clear the City Attorney is not a public officer. The criteria that this case goes through so to set that out [sic]. They don’t take an oath like a district attorney.”
If in fact there were opinions issued by Attorney Generals in the 1970s, Kim never cites one that would allow the City Council to ignore state law and declare that the City Attorney is not a public officer.
In fact in 1997 the NY State Attorney General issued this opinion:
“While there is a lack of uniformity in judicial decisions as to whether municipal attorneys are public officers, in our view, a municipal attorney who is the head of the municipality’s law department, serves as the chief legal officer of the municipality, and is responsible for offering advice to municipal officials and defending and commencing actions on behalf of the municipality is a public officer.” [my emphasis].
Here is a link to a video of his remarks.
Kim’s claim that our City Attorneys don’t take oaths is simply not true. One wonders what source he relied on for this assertion.
I contacted the previous City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis, Sarah Burger, and current City Court Judge Jeff Wait. Mr. DeLeonardis told me he had taken the oath when originally hired by Joanne Yepsen and then at the beginning of each term during Mayor Kelly’s tenure. Judge Wait told me he had taken the oath twice when serving as City Attorney under Ken Klotz for two terms. Ms. Burger served under Mayor Yepsen and took the oath.
As far as I can determine, every City Attorney has taken the oath. I have FOILed for copies of these oaths covering the last thirty years.
The NY Department of State Weighs In
Following the City Council meeting, I wrote to the New York Department of State’s Office of Local Government.
My email was brief. I asked whether the City Attorney position was considered a public office. I received the following response:
Thank you for your email.
Yes, a city attorney would be considered a public officer.
Ebony Mapp, AICP
Local Government Specialist
NYS Department of State
Local Government Services
One Commerce Plaza 99 Washington Avenue, 10th Floor
Mayor Kim’s doubling down on the City Attorney’s residency requirement was not the only troubling part of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, however. If a public body is to conduct business in private in an executive session, the NY State Open Meetings Law (OML)requires a statement identifying the specific subject that will be discussed prior to the executive session. Before going into the executive session at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Kim instead just read a list of all the possible subjects that New York allows to be covered in the executive session. Conspicuously missing was a statement by Mayor Kim as to the subject of that night’s session as required under the OML. He and all three of his Democratic colleagues on the Council voted for this illegal resolution. Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco was not present.
A Violation of the City Charter
Title 3. Item E of the City Charter requires that “The Mayor shall submit in writing to the Council and the public a State of the City Message on or before the first regularly scheduled Council meeting in February each year.” This would require Mayor Kim to deliver, in writing, the State of the City message no later than the next City Council meeting on February 1.
Mayor Kim acknowledged this part of the City Charter at Tuesday’s meeting but noting the COVID threat and his desire to have the public physically present at the event, he offered a resolution allowing the event to occur any time prior to March 19. He received unanimous support again from his three Democratic colleagues on the Council.
I know this change in the State of the City Message may seem a petty issue to many, but the Mayor and the Council do not enjoy the privilege of cavalierly ignoring the provisions in our charter. This is simply not healthy. A thoughtful lawyer (or simply a thoughtful person) could find a better solution for this. For instance, the charter does not require a public event. It only requires that the mayor “submit in writing to the Council and the public a State of the City message ….” The Mayor therefore could have provided such a document within the time restrictions of the charter and then organized some later event for him and the members of the Council to convene with the public to review the city’s “state.” Why have he and his fellow Council members taken this action which they were clearly not authorized to do?
The City’s Business Requires A City Attorney
It appears unlikely that the City Attorney position will be filled this month. Mayor Kim has told the media that as he and his deputy, Angela Rella, are attorneys so there is no rush. He and Ms. Rella are handling the city’s legal matters.
I am not sure what exactly they have been doing, but I do know that they have not been representing the city in court. The City Attorney handles matters involving code enforcement violations and parking issues in city court. It is my understanding that those matters have had to be adjourned.
Citing the fact that he is a lawyer, Mayor Kim has also told the media that he doesn’t need a City Attorney “looking over his shoulder” in dealing with municipal matters.
I do not think it is unfair to observe that the mishandling of issues at Tuesday’s City Council meeting does not inspire confidence in Mr. Kim’s and Ms. Rella’s legal advice to the Council.
The Wider Implications
The management of this city and its Council should involve a fastidious adherence to the laws and rigorous acknowledgment of facts. These are the essential guardrails of democracy. People will make mistakes. It is the nature of being human but those should hopefully be rare and they should be acknowledged so they do not become endemic.
Mayor Kim has been openly contemptuous of the previous city administration, but he should acknowledge the rigorousness of how it did the city’s business. This was because Mayor Kelly and attorneys Vince DeLeonardis and Tony Izzo crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s when preparing for Council meetings. In a litigious age, without that fastidiousness bad things can happen.
Consider that Mayor Kim sought to employ as City Attorney someone who was legally ineligible because she did not live in the city. Had he succeeded in doing this, it potentially would have put the city at risk in any legal proceedings this person was involved in.
I am sure that Mayor Kim has nothing but the best intentions in serving the city. At $14,500.00 he is not doing it for the money. Unfortunately for him, after the City Attorney fiasco, it will make finding a skilled lawyer to serve the city that much harder. I worry about his plan to reduce the hours of the City Attorney (more about that in a later post). Hopefully he will find the right person who will help him, the Council, and the city move forward.
Mayor Ron Kim will be submitting a resolution for Council action on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, regarding the hiring of a City Attorney. The resolution has multiple problems but all of them pale before the fact that it asserts that the City Attorney is not a public officer as defined in the New York State Public Officers Statute.
Here is the relevant text. The full resolution can be found at the bottom of this post.
The purpose of this clause appears to be an attempt to circumvent the New York State Public Officers Law which would require that the City Attorney reside in the municipality in which they would serve. Mayor Kim has previously announced that he plans to hire an attorney who, like him, specializes in bankruptcy law but who does not live in Saratoga Springs.
On January 15, 2022, I wrote to Mayor Kim and copied the other members of the Council:
In the resolution regarding a City Attorney that will come before the Council Tuesday, you claim “the City Attorney is not a local officer as defined by New York Public Officers Law 3.” I am familiar with section 3 and I do not find the language that would support your determination.
You also allege that someone from NYSCOM told you that the city attorney is not a public officer.
If, as I believe, the city attorney is a public officer, and you were to hire someone who does not reside in Saratoga Springs, you would potentially create numerous liabilities for our city.
As you have stated that transparency is of utmost importance to you, I hope you will respond to the following questions:
Could you provide a written opinion to me, your colleagues on the Council, and the public identifying the specific language in section 3 upon which you based your determination that the City Attorney is not a local public officer?
Could you identify who at NYSCOM told you the city attorney is not a public officer? If there is some kind of documentation such as an email, could you please provide it?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Mayor Kim responded later that day:
“This information will be provided at the City Council meeting.”
“Great. I look forward to it”
On January 16, 2022, I followed up with this email:
This is a follow-up to our earlier email exchange regarding your proposal for a City Attorney. I was very pleased to learn from you that you would be addressing my two questions at Tuesday night’s Council meeting. As background for you and the other Council members, I am including references supporting my contention that the City Attorney is a public officer. Item #1 From an opinion from the New York State Attorney General:
“While there is a lack of uniformity in judicial decisions as to whether municipal attorneys are public officers, in our view, a municipal attorney who is the head of the municipality’s law department, serves as the chief legal officer of the municipality, and is responsible for offering advice to municipal officials and defending and commencing actions on behalf of the municipality is a public officer.”
The following is from the Public Officers Law 3. Note, you cited this section in your resolution claiming that the City Attorney is not a public officer. The section includes some seventy exemptions made to the requirement that a particular, local position requires local residency. These were all home rule bills.
11. In the city of Salamanca the provisions of this section requiring a person to be a resident of the political subdivision or municipal corporation of the state for which he shall be chosen or within which his official functions are required to be exercised, shall not prevent a person regularly admitted to practice as an attorney or counsellor in the courts of record of this state from holding the office of city attorney or city justice of the city of Salamanca, if such person resides in the county in which such city is located.
The simple logic here is that Salamanca would not have had to be granted an exemption for its city attorney regarding his/her residency were this position not a public office.
The individual becoming the City Attorney has always taken the same oath of office as the members of the City Council. This is because, in order to take public office, Public Officers Law requires this oath to be taken. (see item #4)
The following text is from the Comptroller’s office addressing who is a public officer:
Public officers are eligible for membership in NYSLRS. This applies regardless of whether individuals are elected or appointed as public officers. You must give them the opportunity to join NYSLRS.
A public officer is a person either elected or appointed to a governmental position with the following general characteristics:
1. The position is authorized by statute, resolution or charter to exercise part of the sovereign power of the governmental entity.
2. The duties of the position involve the exercise of discretion on behalf of the governmental entity. If the duties of the position are routine, subordinate, advisory, or directed, then the position is more likely to be a position of employment, rather than a public office.
3. The State or local enactment creating the position refers to it as an “office.”
4. The position has a fixed or definite term.
5. The person holding the position files an oath of office. [my emphasis]
6. The compensation for the position does not depend on the number of hours worked.
7. Incumbents of the position may be compensated either through the employer’s payroll system or by voucher.
8. Incumbents of the position generally must reside in the jurisdiction they are serving.
Section 10 of the Public Officer’s Law requires every public officer to take and file an oath or affirmation prior to the discharge of any of their official duties. Public officers are authorized to act in their capacity as an officer for their established term. Any public officer who is re-appointed should take and file an oath or affirmation at the beginning of each new term. In addition, these oaths of office shall be provided to the Office of the State Comptroller if requested as part of an employee/independent contractor review.
Some positions considered public offices are members of planning boards, Town or Village Justice, County Attorney and District Attorney. Other positions that may be considered public offices are Town, Village, and City Attorney. [my emphasis]—————————————I
I have spoken to a number of attorneys who have extensive knowledge of municipal-related law and every one of them was unequivocal that the City Attorney is a public officer.
I am always willing to acknowledge points that I have missed. It all seems clear to me, but your answer to my questions in the previous email would be helpful in better understanding how you arrived at your determination that the City Attorney is not a public officer.
[JK: This is a correction. Strictly speaking, the Simpsons were not forced to sell.
They had two options as provided by City Court – 1) repair the buildings or 2) seek approval for demolition by the DRC. They chose to sell rather than make repairs.]
The city has a problem. We have no City Attorney. Nor does Mayor Ron Kim seem to have any immediate plans to appoint one in the near future even though section 8.1 of the City Charter reads “There shall be a City Attorney….”
This situation is already causing problems for the city and its residents.
City Court regularly hears cases regarding parking violations and city code enforcement on designated dates each month. The City Attorney or someone from that office designated by the City Attorney is required to be in court to represent the city in these cases.
As we have no City Attorney, cases that have come before the court since Mayor Kim took office have been adjourned.
One of the important cases about to go before the court involves violations associated with Caroline Street properties owned by Helen and Case Simpson. The Simpson’s have gained notoriety over the two properties they owned on Phila Street that had been racking up violations for years and were the focus of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation’s effort to save those properties from demolition. The Simpson’s ended up being forced to sell them. The city has been working for over two years on the case involving the Caroline Street properties they own. It is finally scheduled to go to court; but without a City Attorney to represent the city in prosecuting this case, it is unclear what the fate of this issue will be.
Why The Delay in Appointing a City Attorney?
As reported in a previous blog post, Mayor Kim announced upon taking office that he would not be reappointing Vince DeLeonardis who had served under the two previous mayors nor Tony Izzo who had been the city’s Assistant City Attorney for over three decades. Instead, he announced he was going to appoint Elizabeth Fletcher-Banks, a bankruptcy attorney who lives in Middle Grove to this position. The city’s Human Resource Department informed Kim, however, that the City Attorney must be a resident of Saratoga Springs.
Mayor Kim told the Times Union and Gazette that he was advised by the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYSCOM) that the City Attorney was not a “public officer” and was therefore not subject to the requirement that he/she reside in the city.
The readers of this blog will pardon my skepticism, but I find it more than difficult to believe that someone from NYSCOM would make such a gross error in the matter. As cited in my previous blog, the New York State Comptroller’s Office states clearly: “some positions considered public offices are…Town, Village, and City Attorney.”
In spite of his insistence that he could appoint Ms. FLetcher-Banks, Kim has not done so. Instead, he has now pivoted to telling the press that he questions how much there is a need for a City Attorney since both he and his Deputy are attorneys.
His announced plan now is to reorganize the City Attorney’s Office. He has given no timeline as to how long the review of that office might take. In the meantime, his assumption that he and his Deputy can pick up some of the legal work the city requires seems unrealistic at best. He seems to be unaware of the amount of work involved in being Mayor and how much work the City Attorney actually does. As Kim also supposedly has an active law practice to run, his plate could be quite full.
There is also the issue that, according to the city charter, the City Attorney, while appointed by the Mayor , “shall serve as general legal advisor and shall be responsible for providing legal services and guidance to the City and all its departments and entities.” [section8.1] Without a City Attorney, to whom do other Council members turn for advice if they have a question about the legality of an action by the Mayor?
The other plan Kim has hinted at is to engage outside counsel to serve the city in certain situations. This is allowed under the charter.
For example, the city contracts with Mark Schachner to support the Council and the land use boards regarding zoning issues. Lawyers with expertise in the field do not come cheap. He bills at $230.00 per hour. Costly as that is, poor legal advice is more expensive as it invariably leads to further litigation.
As far as I can remember, the city has never hired a city attorney that already had expertise in municipal law. They have all had to learn on the job with the assistance of Tony Izzo who had been the assistant city attorney for over three decades. Putting off the hiring of a City Attorney only delays whoever is selected from getting up to speed both on municipal law and on cases the city has been working on for some time such as the Simpson case.
Mayor Kim feels that as he and his deputy are attorneys, he sees no urgency in filling the City Attorney position.
Apparently, he is not familiar with the adage traced to an old Italian proverb: “the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client.”
I have a corollary. The more a politician appears in the newspapers and the more committees they establish, the less actually gets done.
Too often citizens are most impressed by the charm of their elected official or by the simple fact that a politician knows their name and are oblivious as to what they are actually achieving. This is hardly surprising. People live busy lives just getting the basics of job and family maintained. They have little time to monitor their government the way this blog attempts to do.
Meg Kelly was the unpolitician. She was not one to schmooze. She did not spend much time going to social events that did not require her presence.
While in a one-on-one situation she could be quite warm and charming, her public persona was all business. She had an austere manner of running Council meetings. More than once, I was the subject of her stern command that my two minutes at the microphone were up during the public comment period. City Council meetings were all business. They were not a social event.
I know that many people were put off by her style of dealing with the public. Not me. What I look for in an elected official is how much do they actually achieve. Most people also have little idea how much work is required by elected officials such as the mayor to get things done. Most people take for granted the fact that the city is so attractive and liveable.
I asked Mayor Kelly to make a list of the things that she and the Council were able to achieve in the last four years.
Quite a few of the projects on her list had languished for years uncompleted by previous administrations. Patiently working with all the parties Mayor Kelly was able to find solutions that allowed these long sought-after projects to move forward to fruition.
An eastside Fire/EMS station is one example of a project that was routinely identified as a priority by city officials for years. Chris Matthiesen, when he was the Public Safety Commissioner, made the most serious effort to pursue it but without success. During her time in office, Mayor Kelly brought together the New York Racing Authority and representatives of the state and finally made a deal in which NYRA agreed to allow the city to build its facility on their land at no significant charge. This was quite an achievement.
During her predecessor’s time in office, the city’s plan for a Geyser Road bike/pedestrian trail was hobbled by conflicts between the city and property owners and the town of Milton. These conflicts curdled into litigation that basically suspended the project. Here again, Mayor Kelly patiently worked with the parties to resolve their concerns and today we have our new bike path.
Then there were the nitty-gritty, unsexy changes in the city like improving the Board of Plumbing Examiners, something most Saratogians don’t know even exists. The state requires that the city have a board that sets up exams for certifying plumbers. The city statute for this board had not been revised in some thirty years.
State law requires that plumbing services be done by a certified plumber. There is a wrinkle. In addition to state licensing procedures, each municipality is required to establish a written and a practical test in order for an individual to get what is called a “master plumber” certification. The benefit of passing the local test is that fees the city charges for a project are radically discounted if the job is overseen by a “master plumber.”
The city had bumbled along with an outdated statute with confusing language and dubious requirements. For example, an applicant to become a master plumber used to be required to have a brick-and-mortar facility in the city.
Under Mayor Kelly’s watch the city established more appropriate tests and procedures to facilitate the ability of new plumbers to do business in the city.
I highlight this because it is an example of the kind of rigor with which Mayor Kelly went about strengthening the city’s internal operations. It’s not a very high-profile change, but if you were a plumber wanting to work in Saratoga Springs it was important and something the city had not properly addressed in years.
There were, of course, the larger multiple challenges she faced with COVID, the fire in city hall, and the street demonstrations by Black Lives Matter and their volatile participation at City Council meetings.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement by the Mayor during her tenure was the way the city dealt with the crisis brought on by the fire in City Hall. The city operations had to be reorganized and moved to other locations and then, following the rehabilitation of City Hall, moved back. The swiftness with which this was successfully done was a credit to both her leadership and the teamwork of her colleagues on the Council.
I asked Mayor Kelly if she would provide me a list of accomplishments and they are as follows:
Changed format of State of the City event. Rather than simply limit presentations to the Mayor’s office, Kelly structured the event to allow all members of the Council to address the public and share their department’s achievements and goals for the coming year.
Eight months into Kelly’s first term the city was faced with a monumental disaster. A lightning strike set off a fire that made city hall uninhabitable. Working with her colleagues on the Council they were able to reopen city operations within five days using the Recreation Center. This also required the Recreation Department to move its programming across the city with the help of the School District, Skidmore College, the YMCA, and Gavin Park.
The City Center had set a goal to construct a parking facility for event vendors and participants that would also address some of the parking needs of downtown merchants. The project languished due to an acrimonious lawsuit. Kelly, working with the stake holders, facilitated a deal to resolve the suit which led to the construction of the facility.
The proposed Geyser Bike and Pedestrian Trail had been in the works for 15 years and was bogged down in three separate lawsuits. Mayor Kelly facilitated an agreement by all parties to end the lawsuits. The trail was successfully completed.
Secured land for 3rd EMS station on Henning Rd, working with NYRA, NYS and FOB.
Create bike lanes on Henry Street
Created many affordable housing units: Finished Intrdata (158), Finished Promenade (87), Finished additional units at Terrace (240)
Canceled gun shows at City Center.
Gun buy back , 85 guns taken in, (Tom Roohan raised $10,000.00 for program).
Organized Police Reform Task Force under Governor’s executive order.
Created homeless court with Judge Vero.
Helped organize and promote food drives for Mother Anderson, Franklin Community Ctr and Snacpac. Fed hundreds for several months.
Secured more parking (45 spots) at the recreation center. Developer donated land to city.
New Playgrounds at Northside and Westside Parks. New equipment at Eastside Rec
Reinstated Plumbers Board (Years went by without one)
Railroad Run Connector Haller Lane (between path and Alger Street, named for Doug Haller. I worked to get land donated by Empire State College)
Secured 1.9 Million Grant for Missing Sidewalks
Submitted State legislation to allow Deputies to live in the county not the city, giving a larger pool of applicants.
Secured temporary housing for Code Blue at the Holiday Inn during outbreak of COVID (not one person came down with COVID)
All 7 city unions’ contracts are up to date (negotiations traditionally dragged on for years)
Negotiated all unions to not take 2% increase for 2021
Testified in Albany to save Video Lottery Funding 2020 & 2021(Both times funds were fully restored)
Dedicated MaryLou Whitney Park at Union and Circular
Progressed with the Downtown Connector for the greenbelt
Introduced RISE to Mackey Ford (new van to transport homeless) donated a vehicle (related to homeless court).
Secured picnic tables for Congress Park from NYRA at no cost
2019 Completed Recreation Master Plan
City is now recognized as a Bronze Certified Climate Smart Community.
2018 The final sidewalk section of “Safe Routes to School” was completed on Geyser Road
Bikeshare was successfully launched and has continued with great success.
In 2018 The City was awarded $2.7M in grant funds for projects like the Greenbelt Downtown Connector project, Electric Vehicle (EV) stations and a Natural Resource Inventory
Land use board applications are now submitted electronically on the City’s website
Helped facilitate Code Blue temporary home through strong working relationships among city, county leaders.
2019 The City’s Zoning Map brought into compliance with the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, as required by law.