A Mystery: Where Is Ron Kim’s Financial Report?

According to the Times Union newspaper, two attorneys have filed a complaint about the failure of newly elected mayor Ron Kim to submit his campaign financial disclosure data to the New York State Board of Elections. His report on donations and spending was due November 29, 2021.

This story appeared in the Times Union under Wendy Liberatore’s byline. It does not require a degree in journalism to see that there are some serious problems with the coverage of this story.

Obvious Questions Never Asked

According to the TU, Kim gave the following explanation about the missing report:

Kim said that he filed his post-election report, but a technical issue has prevented it from being viewed. 

“We submitted it,” Kim said. “I thought it was done. I just learned of the problem and we are working on it.”

Times Union December 30, 2021

This statement should have raised a number of questions.

First, it would seem obvious that the reporter would check with the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) to see whether the failure for the data to appear on their website lay with the NYSBOE or with Mr. Kim. This blogger contacted the NYSBOE and was assured that if Mr. Kim had properly submitted his information, as he did in the previous reporting periods, it would be on their site.

For whatever reason, Ms. Liberatore found the time to research the campaign contributions of the lawyers bringing the complaint but saw no need to check with the NYSBOE as to whether the NYSBOE had received the required information from Kim.

Next, the obvious question to have asked Mr. Kim would have been, “what is the “technical issue” you referred to and what actions are you taking to correct it?” This line of questioning also was apparently never pursued by the reporter.

The article also reported that Kim had previously “…acknowledged in November that his final financial disclosure would be late because the deadline coincided with his father’s death.”

I can find no public record that Kim ever said this. The story includes no citation. Ms. Liberatore simply reports it as fact.

According to the obituary, Kim’s father, who had been ill for a long time, died on December 4, 2021. That was five days after the last filing date for the required report and thirty-six days after the actual election.

Every other candidate has filed with the exceptions of Tara Gaston (Supervisor-D) and Shaun Wiggins (Supervisor-D).

More importantly, New York State election law requires that for a campaign to accept donations it must have a treasurer. Standard practice is for the treasurer, not the candidate, to not only maintain records of contributions and expenditures, but to handle the reporting to the state.

I texted Pat Tuz, Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee chair, asking who Mr. Kim’s treasurer was. I did not get a reply.

Similarly, I emailed Mr. Kim, himself, with the same question and did not receive a response.

Blogger Urges Times Union To Hire A Reporter To Cover Saratoga Springs

There is a role in a newspaper for a gossip columnist. Everyone enjoys hearing the latest rumors and the more salacious the better. No one really expects accuracy or fairness from a gossip columnist. A gossip columnist is not a reporter.

Saratoga Springs deserves to have its news covered by someone with an independent eye who is rigorous in their reporting rather than someone whose stories, while occasionally entertaining, often sacrifice accuracy and fairness for sensationalism. The Times Union used to have a real reporter covering us. His name was Dennis Yusko. It would benefit our community for that newspaper to find someone of similar excellence to fill that role now.

Mayor Kelly Exonerated By Ethics Board

In the December 8, 2021 edition of the Times Union, gossip columnist Wendy Liberatore reported that Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton had submitted an ethics complaint to the Saratoga Springs City Ethics Board against Mayor Meg Kelly.

The complaint alleged that Mayor Kelly had acted improperly to promote the Charlton School where, at the time, Mayor Kelly had a part-time job.

Background On Charlton School

The Charlton School is a private not-for-profit residential treatment center and special education school for troubled young women.  Many come to the school with previous hospitalizations, therapeutic schools, or therapeutic placements. This is a link to their website that describes the school.

Established in 1895 as an orphanage, The Charlton School became a residential treatment center for teens in 1954. Today, Charlton deploys the most modern and evidenced-based treatment and educational approaches available to help students who are struggling to be successful in school and life. We have a maximum capacity of twenty-five residential students and thirty-eight students in Ketchum Grande Memorial School which includes day students from local school districts.

Charlton School website

Applicants are referred to Charlton School by local school districts. The school districts pay for the education while the county where the girls are from pays the other associated residential expenses.

My wife, Jane Weihe, taught at Burnt Hills High School prior to her retirement. Charlton School is located in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District and where appropriate, some Charlton School girls attended classes at Burnt Hills High School. Jane still remembers being enormously impressed by these young women and by the support provided for them by the Charlton School.

In true Wendy Liberatore style, Ms. Liberatore never discussed who the school served and only referred to it as a “private school”. An uninformed reader might have wrongly assumed it was a boarding school for wealthy privileged young women.

The Complaint

This is a copy of the complaint submitted by Commissioner Dalton.

The Summary Decision As Issued By The City’s Ethics Board

Mayor Meg Kelly’s Statement

Response From Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton

I contacted Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton seeking a response. After a series of text exchanges, she apparently decided not to respond.

Mayor-Elect Ron Kim Has Issues

Mayor-Elect Ron Kim (D) has failed to comply with the New York State Board of Elections campaign finance reporting requirements. His final report on contributions to his campaign and an account of what he spent was due on November 29. As of this date (December 27, 2021) he has not filed. The only other candidates who have failed to meet the Board of Elections requirements are Tara Gaston (D) and Shaun Wiggins (D).

Wiggins, who unsuccessfully ran for Supervisor, has not submitted any reports this year. As I saw some of his signs around town I know he has had expenditures. He was required to report both his contributions and his expenditures even if his campaign was self-financed.

I was curious how much it cost Mr. Kim for the TV campaign ads he ran on WNYT. There was nothing regarding this expense in his earlier reports. I was also interested in seeing how he was dealing with the very large donations he made to his own campaign. Mr. Kim had appropriately emphasized the need for transparency in his campaign. It would seem he should meet the rigorous standard he has promoted.

Problems With His Choice For City Attorney

Mr. Kim has yet to announce his choices for his Deputy and for City Attorney. It is a poorly kept secret that he has selected Angela Rella for his Deputy and Elizabeth Fletcher for the City Attorney.

Mr. Kim who served as Public Safety Commissioner for two terms and who is an attorney should have been aware that New York State law requires the City Attorney be a resident of the city. Ms. Fletcher lives in Middle Grove.

I am told that Ms. Fletcher was supposed to meet with the city’s Human Resources office today, presumably to take care of the employment paperwork. She canceled the meeting.

Mr. Kim takes office on January 1. Since he has told the current City Attorney and Assistant City Attorney that they will not be reappointed, the city will be without an attorney in three days [today is December 27, 2021] unless something is done very quickly.

All of this is not encouraging.

Public Safety Commissioner Elect James Montagnino Chooses a Deputy

[JK: I emailed James Montignino asking him to respond to some of the points in this post. In the past he has been quite accessible and responsive. He did not respond this time. I understand that he is ill with COVID which may explain his silence.]

Incoming Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino is articulate and thoughtful. I wish him nothing but the best in his new role. Some of his actions and statements since being elected have been troubling, however, including the choice of his new Deputy for the department.

In an article in the Times Union, Mr. Montagnino offered this reaction to outgoing Commissioner Dalton making promotions within the Police Department while they are being investigated by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“It would be beyond embarrassing to discover someone who got promoted during the course of the investigation could end up being named as someone being involved in wrongdoing,” the Democrat said. “As long as there is an investigation ongoing, there shouldn’t be any promotions.”

TImes Union December 2, 2021

It was surprising then that Mr. Montagnino recently told the management of the Saratoga Springs Police Department that he would be naming Saratoga Police Sergeant Jason Tetu as his Deputy.

This seems on the face of it, a serious contradiction. No internal promotions until the Attorney General reports, but Mr. Tetu goes from sergeant to Deputy Commissioner.

The problem also is that Sergeant Tetu comes with some serious baggage. It turns out that he was the Saratoga Springs police officer on duty who made the decision to block members of the Black Lives Matter group from attending the arraignment hearing of fellow protesters in the city’s courtroom.

The city was severely criticized by the New York State Unified Court System for this action and the city subsequently apologized.

It is reasonable to assume that the Attorney General will be looking closely at this incident. I expect the Attorney General will include in the anticipated report how culpable Sergeant Tetu was in this matter.

The Saratoga Today Interview

The December 17-23 issue of Saratoga Today featured an interview with Mr. Montagnino in which he shared his thoughts on a variety of issues with reporter Thomas Dimopoulos.

The Darryl Mount Case

Mr. Montagnino advocates for a grand jury review of the Darryl Mount investigation. He notes that Police Chief Greg Veitch, who headed the department at the time of the Mount incident, admitted to the media that he had misinformed the press that there had been an internal investigation. Montagnino argues that the failure of the city to initiate a timely “internal investigation” would undercut any city-sponsored internal investigation now.

“At this stage, I don’t know how satisfied the general public would be with an Internal Investigation. In a perfect world, what ought to happen is the district attorney should use this provision in criminal procedure law that allows for a grand jury investigation of a non-criminal nature. It’s the one area where a grand jury can investigate – and it’s not necessarily a crime they’re investigating. It’s allegations of misconduct on the part of a public officer…at the end of the investigation, the grand jury issues a report, and the judge has discretion to release the report to the public.”   

James Montagnino to Saratoga Today

BLM Arrests

Montagnino argues that the department’s decision to arrest some of the Black Lives Matter members who were involved in the July 14, 2021, protest was ill-advised. He observed that they were charged with petty offenses which technically speaking were not “crimes.”

My feeling is that if there is a petty offense committed in the past, you use a summons. You don’t use an arrest warrant, unless there’s some exceptional set of circumstances that you can put in writing to satisfy me that you need a warrant. 

James Montagnino to Saratoga Today

Mutual Respect

“The vast majority of people in Saratoga Springs are not going to choose to walk up to a police officer and berate him or her. But, we’ve all seen that happen under certain circumstances. And that’s not fair. They’re doing a tough enough job as it is and they shouldn’t be asked or expected to have to take abuse, verbal or otherwise, for doing their jobs. So that’s something I’d like to get in the process early on. Putting the word out that you expect a lot from our officers, and we expect mutual respect in exchange.” 

James Montagnino To Saratoga Today

Montagnino cites a Supreme Court decision from the 1940s that carved out a “fighting words” exception to free speech.

“I would like the word to get out that there should be an over-arching policy of mutual respect between the police and the people they serve. There is a fighting words exception to (to First Amendment protected speech) that has been recognized by the Supreme Court since the 1940s. What I would like to try is a policy of mutual respect where beforehand I would sit down (with those planning to protest) and I’d say, ‘Look, here’s the situation: the kinds of things like getting in an officer’s face and saying (expletive) – that speech is not protected under the First Amendment.’ That’s a statement intended to provoke a violent response I think. What I would like to see in a situation like that is an officer would be trained to say, ‘I’m sorry, that’s inappropriate conduct, and it can’t be continued.’ Maybe two or three repetitions of that.

And if it continues, then, OK, we’ll make an arrest on the spot. Cops have a hard enough job to start with. The First Amendment doesn’t mean you can say whatever you please. 

James Montagnino to Saratoga Today

I applaud Mr. Montagnino’s sentiments. I wish him every success. Unfortunately, I am respectfully skeptical. I would like to find more tempered language, but he appears to be regrettably ignorant regarding the events of the last two years.

The leadership of the Public Safety Department has made many efforts to engage the leadership of Black Lives Matter with just these sentiments. Lexis Figuereo, the leader of the group made clear to Lieutenant Robert Jillson he had no interest in literally any discussion with the police. In fact, he texted the police that they should cease any attempts to call him.

This is hardly surprising. There is copious documentation of Mr. Figuereo and many of the other BLM people expressing their belief that the Saratoga Springs Police are incorrigible predators of people of color. A standard chant at their protests is “How do you spell murderers? SSPD.”

With respect to Mr. Montagnino, his scenario of a police officer offering three warnings before an arrest was never an option at our local BLM protests.

Now I very much hope that Mr. Montagnino can somehow change this dynamic. It just seems that he might acknowledge that his aspirational plan is not new. In fairness, he might acknowledge that Commissioner Robin Dalton, Chief Shane Crooks, and Lieutenant Robert Jillson all tried to respectfully deal with the Black Lives Matter leadership.

He would do well to thoroughly review the department’s efforts to find a peaceful path for dealing with the local BLM group.

Mr. Montagnino has an outstanding leadership team in the department to work with. It is my hope that together they will find a way forward. I hope that Mr. Montagnino will acknowledge that he will need a plan B, though.

The Civilian Review Board

Mr. Montagnino has some very interesting ideas for the proposed Civilian Review Board.

He thinks the chair should be selected either by the mayor alone or by the mayor with the consent of the city council.

He would like to see the members of the board randomly selected in the manner of a trial jury.

It would be interesting to see how a pool to draw from would be constituted.

On subpoena power for the Review Board:

I know that there are subpoenas, and then there are subpoenas. The most that we would have the power to authorize is an administrative subpoena. That does not carry with it contempt citations. So, if you were to ignore an administrative subpoena the most that could happen is a monetary fine and it’s a trivial (dollar) penalty. 

James Montagnino to Saratoga Today

As for the power of the Civilian Review Board:

“There’s nothing in the Task Force proposal after the CRB does what it does. Its power, according to the City Charter, is limited to a recommendation to the commission. They take testimony, examine evidence and make findings, conclusions and ultimately recommendations. That sounds simple enough, but what does that mean? So, what I want to do as the first commissioner to serve with a CRB is to create a framework for what would be the role of the Commissioner upon receiving the recommendations of the CRB. I see the commissioner’s role as an administrative appellate authority. I see my role as taking the recommendation and saying: OK, I want to see all of the evidence, not just the findings and conclusions; to review that myself for factual and legal sufficiency, so that the CRB is not the last word as to factual findings and legal conclusions – the Commissioner is. I think it’s important the Commissioner’s Office promulgate its own internal procedures, so that it’s not just what the CRB said rubber-stamped. There’s a significant amount of responsibility with having to come up with the next steps.”  [JK: This is exactly why the City Council took the position that more work needed to be done before establishing a CRB]

James Montagnino

How Will Black Lives Matter Respond?

It will be interesting to see how the Black Lives Matter group responds to all of this. They made it clear that any Civilian Review Board would have to have representation from their group on it. I expect they will bridle at his commitment to charge people who obstruct traffic or who verbally abuse the police.

James Montignino is a person with strong and thoughtful opinions. I look forward with interest to see how he fairs with BLM.

Incoming Mayor Ron Kim Fires Long Serving Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo and Current City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis

The December 21, 2021 edition of the Daily Gazette reports that mayor-elect Ron Kim will terminate City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis and Assistant Attorney Tony Izzo.

I was stunned to learn of Tony’s dismissal. Tony Izzo has been the Assistant City Attorney for roughly the last thirty-five years through many administrations. No one loves and has devoted more time to our city than Tony.

People who follow this blog know that it is rare for past Mayor Joanne Yepsen and me to agree. The Gazette story reported that on February 17, 2016, Mayor Yepsen issued a proclamation acknowledging Tony’s service to our city.

The proclamation cited Izzo’s “incredibly impressive and detailed knowledge of city government, city history, city events and City Hall that is useful to all departments and employees on a daily basis,” along with his “exceptional work ethic, incredible selflessness, natural kindness, abundant compassion, wonderful sense of humor and able storytelling.”

Daily Gazette December 21, 2021

I could not agree more.

The Gazette reported:

“Tony’s a great resource for the city,” Kim acknowledged. “I just feel like we need more of a litigator there. Everybody has a different style, as attorneys. He’s a great counselor. He’s been great for the city. I think we’re redefining that role.”

Daily Gazette December 21, 2021

Pardon my skepticism, but I think this has more to do with the tribal mentality of those who will be taking control of the city. We live in an age in which too often “you are either with us or against us.” In such a world there is no place for my friend, Tony Izzo.

A Dubious Rationale

According to the Gazette, Kim also cited his dissatisfaction with City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis. In particular, he noted his dissatisfaction with DeLeonardis’ advice to the city council regarding the recommendations of the city’s task force on police reform.

The Governor’s executive order establishing these task forces statewide stated that its determinations “…shall be presented to the local legislative body in such political subdivision, which shall ratify or adopt such plan by local law or resolution, as appropriate [JK: my emphasis], no later than April 1, 2021.”

“‘Shall’ is a very clear interpretation in the law,” said Kim, who’s also a lawyer. “It means you do it. And that was just a fundamental disagreement of two attorneys.”

He continued: “I read the executive order to say that you appoint these people, they do their research, they do their hearings, all of which they did — and then they make recommendations, and the City Council or the governing body shall” adopt the plan.

Kim added that it is “important that the mayor and city council have a city attorney giving honest, good, strong advice — but also sees the direction that they want to go.”

Daily Gazette December 21, 2021

Mr. Kim overlooks the words “as appropriate” in the order. With respect to Mr. Kim, the idea that Saratoga, along with every other municipality in the state, was required to adopt whatever these task forces decided on begs credibility. The Saratoga Springs Task Force, for instance, made at least two recommendations that the city could not legally adopt because they conflicted with federal or state laws or policies. One has to wonder how Mr. Kim interprets “as appropriate?”

In my four-plus decades here in Saratoga Springs, Vince DeLeonardis was the most thoughtful and fair City Attorney I ever dealt with. His termination is a real loss to the city.

The New City Attorney?

In the meantime, I am told that Mr. Kim has selected Elizabeth Fletcher as the new City Attorney. Ms. Fletcher is a bankruptcy attorney and as best as I can tell, she herself filed for bankruptcy in both 1997 and in 2010.

I believe Ms. Fletcher lives in Middle Grove. New York State Public Officers Law Section 3 requires that public officers, of which the City Attorney is one, are required to reside in the municipality where they exercise their authority.

Newly Elected Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi Has Imprudently Continued the IT Hiring Debacle

Incoming Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi has posted a follow-up on her Facebook page regarding the issue of Lisa Shields’s candidacy for IT director.

Minita Sanghvi is Assistant Professor in the Management and Business Department at Skidmore College where she teaches marketing, gender, and politics. One of her focuses is political marketing.

Apparently, she failed to consider that Commissioner Madigan might read her post and respond.

Minita Sanghvi Facebook

Just to clarify on the director of IT issue

I have met with Kevin Kling and Commissioner Madigan. And we all agreed that we should NOT pursue Lisa Shields an an [sic] option for Director of IT. While she may be a great deputy for the mayor in the current administration, I think her appointment as Director of IT would be politically divisive and not in the best interests of our city. I truly appreciate Michele Madigan listening and understanding varioius perspectives on the issue.

These are never easy decisions and I believe everyone (whether they agree with the decision or not) want what’s best for our city.

Minita Sanghvi from her Facebook page.

This Was No Rush Job

The quest to fill this job has gone on for months. The position was originally posted on August 3, 2021.

The position has been difficult to fill with a salary of $90,000. It was reissued on November 22, 2021. Finding skilled IT people in the current environment is not easy. Kevin Kling, the current IT director, interviewed twelve people for the position. Many candidates chose not to return for a second interview. Apparently, the fact that the position is only provisional is a disincentive. Commissioner Madigan tells me that Kling identified three more candidates to interview, but she has asked him to put those off until Ms. Sanghvi can be involved. Ms. Sanghvi has never met or interviewed Ms. Shields and went to the press before discussing the position with Mr. Kling.

Regrettably, I understand that Ms. Sanghvi has left on holiday to India so it is not clear when the additional interviewing will take place.

This does not leave much of a window to hire the new IT director before Mr. Kling retires. Optimally the new hire would be on board before Mr. Kling leaves in order to ensure a smooth transition.

I am also told that another member of the IT department has resigned which means there are now two positions to fill. Ms. Sanghvi will also need to hire a new deputy for the Finance Department.

Lisa Shields Offers Her Thoughts

Ms. Shields has sent me the following statement.

It does not bode well that Ms. Sanghvi allows whatever her issues may be with Mayor Kelly to dismiss the candidacy of Ms. Shields.

Your post on December 9 regarding Incoming Finance Commissioner Sanghvi’s Reckless And False Accusations accurately described me as working “quietly without fanfare”, which I have enjoyed doing for 5+ years in City Hall. I am compelled to depart from this characterization now, not only because of the small-minded, damaging, and alarming behavior demonstrated by Ms. Sanghvi, but to defend my integrity, expertise, and reputation.

Let me make it clear that I did not expect Commissioner Madigan, or the incoming Finance Commissioner were obligated to hire me as IT Director. That I was the preferred candidate well into the interview process speaks to my strengths and suitability for the job. The concerns I’m outlining below call into question fair-mindedness, leadership, professionalism, bias, and decision-making. There are established policies and procedures for seeking employment with the City, which I followed to pursue opportunities for which I am well-qualified. No one should ever be subjected to this treatment.

Behavior Concern #1:
She made judgments based on false information and repeated them publicly.  

Regardless of her source, Ms. Sanghvi formulated a misleading narrative about me and my desire to pursue employment with the city. Her unfounded assertions to the Times Union that Mayor Kelly was involved to assure I have “a job come January” and that she “tried to appoint me as the head of the planning department” are patently false. The job to head the planning and building teams was posted in September. I am highly qualified for this position, having overseen the department for four years as Deputy Mayor and stepped in to lead when Bradley Birge retired in January 2021. As is my right, I submitted my application through an open and transparent process with Civil Service. I believe that my experience, contributions, and leadership would be valuable to the City in this role. In fact, the incoming mayor was notified by HR several weeks ago that Mayor Kelly decided to let him fill the position.

Notwithstanding confidentiality, Ms. Sanghvi should be mindful to verify information received from her City Hall sources to avoid creating a destructive, toxic, and rumor-filled workplace.

Behavior Concern #2:
She showed a lack of leadership and poor management skills by not considering the top IT candidate. 

In mid-October, I was asked by Kevin Kling to apply for the IT Director position and transition to replace him when he retires in January. I submitted my application through an open and transparent process. I exceed the qualifications for the job and believe that my experience, contributions, and leadership would be valuable to the City in this role. I was among many other candidates interviewed and, in fact, I was Kevin’stop choice. Commissioner Madigan made a courtesy call to Ms. Sanghvi last week to discuss the process and facilitate a smooth transition. I desired and expected to meet with Ms. Sanghvi for her consideration, as the incoming Finance Department head. As of this writing, I have not met or spoken with her.

Behavior Concern #3:
She demonstrated a lack of professionalism in running to the media without consulting HR.

Instead of meeting with Kevin and me, Ms. Sanghvi contacted the Times Union to complain. She has yet to learn the complex organizational structure of our city’s government, which includes interfacing with Civil Service, Human Resources, and seven labor unions to understand staffing procedures and the employment environment that will guide day-to-day operations. Best practices for handling personnel complaints include starting with an open mind, meeting with the involved parties, and consulting HR before running to the media.

Behavior Concern #4:
She demonstrated ageism in her judgment of my competence for the IT position.  

In her complaint published in the Times Union, Ms. Sanghvi disparaged me as unqualified because my “…computer science degree was awarded in 1981.” Also from the article, “That was 40 years ago,” Sanghvi said. “Does any part of what she learned remain?”

The foundational data processing principles from my 1981 SUNY Potsdam degree ARE indeed relevant today. Even 40 years ago, effective business management and decision-making relied on quality information systems for recording, accessing, analyzing, and reporting accurate information. While the hardware and software technologies that deliver these systems have changed and will continue to progress, the underlying methodologies for business problem solving remain essential.

Ms. Sanghvi dismissed my 40-year-old degree which led to two IBM internships, a career with the Hewlett-Packard Company, and the head of IT for a K-8 private school. Throughout those 18+ years, I developed knowledge of new hardware and software technologies and applied them to solve business problems. Further, as Deputy Mayor my leadership in improving service levels to constituents in the building and planning departments is due in large part to my expertise in applying current technologies to track and automate workflow processes, evaluate workload status and performance, and communicate timely and accurate information to our applicants.

Behavior Concern #5:

She failed to recognize the value of my institutional knowledge to the critical IT business operations.

From the Skidmore College website, one can see that Ms. Sanghvi has several degrees and published works, though it’s not clear if she has any experience outside of the academic environment. Perhaps that is one explanation for the small-minded, damaging, and alarming behavior that now jeopardizes a smooth transition.

In summary, this behavior is concerning for any public or private sector leader. It’s wrong to make rash and biased judgments. It’s irresponsible to make important management decisions this way. It is imperative to speak out against this kind of behavior. The employees and residents of the City of Saratoga Springs deserve better.

Montagnino Challenges Public Safety Commissioner Dalton’s Appointment

Jim Montagnino will become the Commissioner of Public Safety in January. Assistant Police Chief John Catone will retire in January. Mr. Montagnino contends that the current Public Safety Commissioner, Robin Dalton, has acted improperly in selecting a replacement for Catone in the last month of her term. He took his case to the media.

Times Union story

Daily Gazette Story

Foothills Business Daily

Mr. Montagnino makes a number of arguments supporting his opposition to the appointment.

First and foremost, he references the decision by New York State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the Saratoga Springs Police Department over their handling of the Black Lives Matter protests in the city. He observes that it is unclear whether the investigation will identify members of the police department as having acted improperly. He told the Times Union in a December 2,2021, article, “It would be beyond embarrassing to discover someone who got promoted during the course of the investigation could end up being involved in wrongdoing.” He added, “As long as there is an investigation ongoing, there shouldn’t be any promotions.”

Second, he believes that Commissioner Dalton cannot legally make the appointment. He told the Times Union that “I told her [Commissioner Dalton] she did not have the authority.”

In a conversation I had with Mr. Montagnino, he argued that until the Assistant Police Chief actually retires, there is no vacancy to be filled. He expanded his argument by speculating on the issue of timing. For example, what if Catone were to retire next August? Would it be appropriate for Dalton to make an appointment in December? In our conversation, he told me that even if he has submitted his paperwork for retirement in January, Catone could change his mind. Mr. Montagnino emphasized that there is no vacancy to be filled until Catone is no longer Assistant Chief.

The Times Union story included this poorly worded text:

Montagnino is also distressed that all of the top jobs in the police department are currently not open and competitive, as per the city’s civil service rules. That means no one, other that current members of the Saratoga Springs police, can be appointed to leadership positions.

TU December 2, 2021

This language is confusing. It could be read as indicating that the appointment violated the civil service rules or it could be read that the current civil service rules somehow are not “open and competitive.” I believe that the TU meant the latter. The current civil service rules restrict applicants to members of our local police department.

Specifically, New York Civil Service laws require that “as far as practicable” promotions must draw from the local department.” They also grant bonus points for candidates based on their longevity at the local department. [see below]

Drawing on this standard, the local civil service standards limit candidates for positions such as the assistant chief to currently employed public safety staff.

Montagnino doubles down on this point asserting that “…the upper echelon [of the police department], all white, is guaranteed by civil service commission to keep it that way.”

Like Most Things It Is Complicated

I spoke at some length with Commissioner Dalton who responded to Mr. Montignino’s complaints.

Commissioner Dalton noted that she is not actually filling Catone’s position. The roster of the Police Department has two Assistant Police positions. One is currently vacant. She is filling the vacant position.

Without going too far into the weeds, the original reason for the second position is due to the fact that the Police Chief has no administrative support. There is no administrative assistant or secretary for the Chief. This is unusual for the head of a department as large as the Police Department. The idea of the second assistant was to take on some of the administrative duties. Due to funding limits and other priorities, the position was never filled.

Technically the actual appointment being filled is not Catone’s position but the second Assistant Chief. The candidates for the position are the top three scorers on the test for Assistant Chief. The idea is to provide the appointee with a transition period during which this person will work with Catone.

The three eligible candidates are all lieutenants. Commissioner of Finance Madigan has found the money to supplement the salary of whoever is selected to bring it in line with the Assistant Chief position during the transition. The transfer of funds to support the position during the final days of 2021 was approved at the December 7, 2021, Council meeting.

Commissioner Dalton told me that she had offered to let Mr. Montagnino participate in the interviews but he declined. He told me that he did not want to offer legitimacy to the process.

There is a history of late-term appointments. For instance, incoming Public Safety Commissioner Rick Wirth (R) objected when Ron Kim (D), the outgoing Commissioner, moved during his last weeks in office to appoint a new Police Chief. Wirth ended up participating in the interviews and joining Kim in a news conference to announce the appointment.

It is also important to note that, according to Commissioner Dalton, this entire process has been carefully vetted by the city’s Civil Service office and has their approval. Mr. Montagnino is a lawyer and he may disagree with the Civil Service’s interpretation of the relevant statutes but that is their determination.

In my conversations with Mr. Montagnino he acknowledged the need to fill vacancies in the department which seemed to contradict his statements to the TU, but he emphasized that he would like to make any such appointments provisional. My understanding is that the city’s Civil Service rules would not allow for provisional appointments.

Mr. Montagnino said that his information is limited given that he is not yet Commissioner.

Commissioner Dalton also bridled at this accusation that the process is not “open and transparent.” She observed that the history of civil service is that it was created to address the abuses of nepotism. The process is a vigorous one based on publicly established eligibility rules along with a competitive test. Only the top three scorers on the test can be considered.

Dalton observed that if the Attorney General were to determine that the person appointed to the Assistant Chief’s position had violated the law they would be subject to dismissal or other disciplinary acts as established by city policy and contract.

Dalton told me that she was especially disturbed by Montagnino advocating that all promotions be frozen until the AG report is issued.

Dalton told me the Attorney General has asked the city for a huge amount of documents and video. Investigations like this can go on for a very long time. To freeze all positions in the meantime she argued would have a major, negative impact on morale.

Montagnino Rethinks

In an email to me on December 8, following the City Council meeting, Mr. Montagnino acknowledged, that his original critique had been compromised. “It’s a new ball game since last night,” he wrote. “The city council created a second assistant chief position and funded it only until the end of the year.” Actually, as noted above, the position had been authorized several years earlier.

In conversation with Commissioner Dalton, she told me the department has the money to continue to pay the new appointment in January.

Should This Have Gone To The Media?

Mr. Montagnino has raised reasonable concerns regarding the appointment of the Assistant Chief. Commissioner Dalton has offered some thoughtful rebuttals. The question to ask is, did Commissioner Dalton’s actions merit Mr. Montagnino’s media event?

Civil Service Criteria

These are the relevant references from the state’s civil service law and from the city’s provisions:

NYS Civil Service Law 52.1  ‘…vacancies in positions in the competitive class (such as Assistant Police Chief) shall be filled, as far as practicable, by promotion from among persons holding competitive class positions in a lower grade in the department in which the vacancy exists, provided that such lower grade positions are in direct line of promotion…‘.  When a promotional civil service examination is administered, those passing candidates receive seniority credits at 0.4 points per year (max of 8.0 points) which are then included with the score provided by NYS Civil Service.

Also, our local Civil Service Rule 13.1  ‘In order to be eligible to participate in a promotional examination or to be promoted a candidate must have been employed in a competitive class or non-competitive class position on a permanent basis in a lower grade, either in direct line of promotion or in a related or collateral line of promotion as determined by the Commission. The Commission shall determine the minimum period of such service for eligibility to enter a promotion examination, and may also prescribe a minimum period of such service as a qualification for promotion from the resulting eligible list.’

The way the job specification reads currently today, the minimum qualifications call for the Assistant Police Chief to be promotional, requiring continuous time served with the City of Saratoga Springs Police Department. 

Commissioner Madigan Withdraws Amendment Re City’s Green Belt

On Thursday night the City Council held a hearing on Commissioner Madigan’s proposal to amend the Unified Development Ordinance to create a new definition for “clubhouse” in the city’s greenbelt.

The change would have allowed for golf courses in the city’s greenbelt to build 80 room lodging facilities along with standing condos all under the new definition.

The city had received forty-seven comments via email regarding the change. Forty-five opposed the change and two supported it.

Todd Shimkus, executive director of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the project along with three representatives from Saratoga National. Steve Samuels of Sustainable Saratoga spoke in opposition along with three other members of the public.

Following the public comments, the City Council took up the proposal. Commissioners Scirocco, Franck, and Dalton spoke in opposition as did Mayor Kelly.

The Mayor told her colleagues that it was too late in the process to deal with a very challenging issue as there are only weeks left in the tenures of all but one member of the Council. She indicated that it would be better that any consideration of the proposal be left to the new Council.

Commissioner Madigan thanked her colleagues for their consideration and withdrew the proposal.

Incoming Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi Issues Reckless And False Accusations: Show Us the facts!

Newly elected Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi has gone to reporter Wendy Liberatore of the Times Union claiming, without offering any evidence, that Mayor Meg Kelly intervened in the appointment of the head of the city’s Information Technology Department (IT) to secure a job for her current Deputy, Lisa Shields.

In shockingly intemperate remarks Ms. Sanghvi told the Times Union “This is a gross abuse. It’s so egregious, so over the top.”

“This is our city’s IT,” Sanghvi said. “It’s all of our security systems and making a hire based off the favoritism and cronyism, it’s a blatant disregard for our city and our city’s safety. I’m frustrated and angry Mayor Meg Kelly is pushing her into this position. I do not like this at all.”

Times Union December 9, 2021

Ms. Sanghvi also declared that Ms. Shields is unqualified citing the fact that her computer science degree was awarded in 1981.

Due Diligence Be Damned!

Ms. Liberatore apparently made no attempt to verify the accuracy of Ms. Sanghvi’s accusations.

The IT department is under Finance Commissioner Madigan so she would be the one to hire Shields were she to decide to before leaving office at the end of the month. I contacted her and she told me that Mayor Kelly never reached out to her regarding Shields. “Never,” she emphasized.

She told me that she felt it critical to fill the IT position as soon as possible so that the current head of the department could assist in the transition. She told the Times Union that it has been a struggle to find the right candidate. She also said that she would not appoint Shields without support from Ms. Sanghvi. Commissioner Madigan was quite concerned, given the workload, that the position not be allowed to be vacant.

I emailed Ms. Sanghvi asking her what evidence she had to accuse the Mayor of inappropriately interfering in the hiring process for an IT director? A simple question which in light of her severe, public denunciation of the Mayor should be on the tip of her tongue. To date, I have received no response.

Kevin Kling is the current IT director. He plans to leave his position in January after twenty-five years on the job. According to Commissioner Madigan, Kling, who was part of the team interviewing candidates, selected Shields as who he believed should replace him. As Mr. Kling is leaving there is no possible way he would be subject to inappropriate influence.

I find it beyond strange that Ms. Sanghvi attributed the fact that Shields graduated with a degree back in 1981 as the basis for declaring her not competent for the position. Based on that standard, a large number of software engineers at Google, Microsoft, etc. who are in their fifties would no longer be competent to work with computers. I suspect that even Mr. Kling’s degree goes back a long way.

Dear reader, who would you consider better able to determine the competence of an applicant to be the head of IT? A person whose background is in accounting and marketing [Sanghvi] or the veteran director of the city’s IT department [Kling]?

A Callousness That Bodes Badly For The Future

Lisa Shields is probably among the three best public servants I have met in the fifty years I have lived in Saratoga Springs.

Most people have probably never heard of Ms. Shields. This is because she does her work quietly without fanfare.

The thing that has struck me most about Ms. Shields is her openness and her lack of defensiveness. She is an extraordinary listener. She never offers glib answers.

She is conscientious and puts in many hours.

With respect to Ms. Sanghvi, Ms. Shields would not apply for a position if she did not believe she would do a good job.

Commissioner Madigan had urged that Ms. Sanghvi meet with Mr. Kling before making any judgment about Ms. Shields, but rather than do this, Ms. Sanghvi went to Ms. Liberatore.

While Ms. Shields enjoys wide respect and affection in City Hall, it is always possible that there is someone more skilled for the position. For Ms. Sanghvi to announce to the TU, though, that Ms. Shields is not competent, aside from not being true, shows poor professional judgment and strikes me as being simply cruel.

Greenbelt Faces Threat Spearheaded By Commissioner Madigan

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan is on a campaign to open the greenbelt to intensive development.

Commissioner Madigan would like the City Council to amend the Unified Development Ordinance definition of a “clubhouse” to not only allow for a huge expansion of Saratoga National Golf Course but also potentially other clubhouses should a developer be able to construct a golf course.

There will be a public hearing at City Hall on December 9 at 7:00 PM to consider her proposal.

Here is the language of the proposed change:

Sustainable Saratoga has an informative analysis of the threat this poses.

Earlier this year Commissioner Madigan asked the city’s Planning Board to review expanding the definition of a “clubhouse” as reflected in the green and white text above. The Planning Board issued an advisory opinion that such a definition “presents a significant risk to preserving the rural character in the “country” part of the city.”

Sustainable Saratoga noted:

The Comprehensive Plan states: “Discourage destination type resorts that compete with the downtown core.” (page 48). Retail establishments, spas, restaurants and banquet facilities, 80 lodging rooms, and 6 rental golf cottages is a pretty close definition of a “destination resort” that would compete with our downtown.

Sustainable Saratoga

Sustainable Saratoga urges people to attend the hearing and speak in opposition. If due to COVID people are unwilling to attend they are encouraged to email the members of the Council.


Please copy Sustainable Saratoga on the email (info@sustainablesaratoga.org)