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. 

11 thoughts on “Montagnino Challenges Public Safety Commissioner Dalton’s Appointment”

  1. It is troubling that now two of the four newly elected city council members have chosen to go to the media rather than first getting their information straight and addressing these issues in a more professional manner. How did going to the media help to resolve either of these hiring disagreements? This does not bode well for how these individuals will govern in the next two years. I fear there will be more drama than substance.

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  2. I believe (this makes me sick to say this)…..Mayor elect Juan Kim did the same thing and because of that lets start from there JK!

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  3. I am looking forward to the new Commissioner’s term of office. Sounds like he is not planning on being a buddy to the Police Dept. The department needs a boss, not a public relations specialist. The same applies to the Fire Dept. There are many issues to contemplate, and from what I am reading, he is in the starting gate, ready to spring into action. Good luck Mr. Montangnino.

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  4. Blah blah blah. At the end of the day one of the three people who took the test will get a smalll pay bump and a huge increase in responsibility, busy work, and overly opinionated public/media/social media “oversight”. Sucks you can’t always pick you boss. Sucks even more when your boss loves to talk to the media about basic HR issues.

    It would behoove the city to restructure civil service, hr oversight, and employee compliance, such that the whims of political tides do not impede on people trying to work.

    To that person I feel badly and I wish them g-speed.

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    1. True statement Arthur. Does this group of Democrats know how to handle a conflict any other way? Do they find this to be a productive means to an end? God knows what will happen when they inevitably turn on each other, other than Wendy once again getting full access to settle it any which way she wants. Saratogians be damned, long live Wendy the witch. Talk about controlling the narrative…

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  5. Thanks for filling in the missing pieces of information the were left out of the TU article. I have no idea how or why this particular journalist is void of the details regarding the civil service positions and the governing body who actual sets the rules and terms of hiring. It would seem to be very important pieces of information to include in these types of articles and thanks for spelling those out. I do not have any particular insights in regards to this hiring, outside of what I read in the paper, but I was a little confused as to why a lawyer doesn’t realize this hiring is subjected to a competitive test and the rule of three. Again, thanks for providing this info as it is very important.
    Just to add a bit of info in regards to Jim’s argument about filling a vacancy that isn’t vacant. It is not uncommon for City employees to build up vacation and sick time accruals. They will often use this build up in time to essentially “retire” earlier than their actual retirement date. To give an example of what I mean our Water Meter Supervisor retired after 20 years. He was able to use his personal, sick and vacation time to bridge a gap from mid to late October to January first where he was technically on the payroll, but not working. On January 1st, all City Hall employees have their vacation and personal days reset and I believe the bonus for reaching 20 years is a sixth week of vacation. So he was then able to use the six weeks and six personal days to stretch well into February. This meant while we had a supervisor on the payroll, we didn’t really have an acting supervisor showing up to work for essentially four months. One could make the argument that certain departments shouldn’t really be without supervisory positions for extended periods of time when circumstances like this arise, and the Public Safety might be such a department. plus, Ron Kim did it, so there is that, Wendy could’ve certainly added this information in her article.

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  6. By all accounts, even Montagnino’s, Dalton has been professional and proactive in helping with his transition into office. Given the reception some of his colleagues are getting in City Hall, you’d think Jim would pick his battles with more care. Following civil service law is what every Commissioner must do, not because they personally endorse the system, but because it is law – one designed to prevent nepotism, such that hiring and promotions are done based on aptitude. Sounds to me like the incoming Commissioner would not have made it to the top three of any list he’s been in contention for, let’s hope he scores better when the real test starts January 1.

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    1. “Given the reception some of his colleagues are getting in City Hall….”?As far as I can determine all sitting council members have been professional and proactive in trying to help make the transition for the newly elected officials as smooth as possible. Unfortunately one can’t say the same for those about to take office. Sadly they seem to be more interested in running to the press with real or imagined complaints rather than learning more about the offices they are about to supervise and trying to communicate and work with the outgoing Council members. I’m afraid the newbies don’t know what they don’t know and have not shown much interest in learning. I fear also that when things go wrong they will blame the form of government not their own failings and we will be off to the races with the charter changes they have embraced and promoted in the past.

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  7. I look forward to Jim Montagnino’s inauguration this January. Public Safety is one, if not the most challenging post on the Council, if only because most all PS members have guns and a powerful union. I hope that he can bridge the gap between the resident public and those charged with serving and protecting our citizens in a more meaningful less detached and more purposely responsible manner than we have been accustomed to recently.

    I think he brings some valuable skills and life experiences to the job, having run less on the photo montages of our recent election cycle impressing the electorate with ideas and promise.

    It is unfortunate that in the last weeks of his predecessor’s term, that appointments are being made for future staffing. However lawful, it is bad form and sour grapes.

    As a survivor of St. Mary’s and Crotona Parks, I wish him well and success.

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  8. It appears Jim has had a change of heart:

    ‘Saratoga Springs’ Incoming Commissioner of Public Safety, Jim Montagnino, has changed his mind.

    The lawyer and commissioner-elect, who publicly squabbled with current commissioner Robin Dalton over her pick of Lt. Robert Jillson to be the next assistant chief of police for the Saratoga Springs Police Department, says he is no longer looking at whether Jillson received the promotion improperly.

    Montagnino told this to FoothillsBusinessDaily.com in a recent interview.

    He also announced that he had chosen Sgt. Jason Tetu from the ranks of the SSPD to be his Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety.

    Chief among Montagnino’s issues with Jillson’s appointment was that Jillson will replace Assistant Chief John Catone who retires in January. Montagnino said he thought the decision to pick a replacement should be his to make since he will be the commissioner in office when the retirement occurs.

    He said that the position that he believed was created especially for Jillson—a second assistant chief position—Montagnino has learned, was not. The line in the budget was not created for Jillson but had been there to begin with and was funded in the 2022 budget. Therefore, it could be filled.

    Make You Smarter
    That was part of Dalton’s argument against Montagnino and part of the reason for her choice.

    “I rethought my position and it’s more important that we move forward with the best people we have and the future will hold what it holds,” he said, adding later, “Procedurally, it’s an OK move.”

    Asked about the choice of Tetu as his deputy, Montagnino said he did not know Tetu personally before the interview for the position, but said Tetu came highly recommended. ‘

    Source: https://foothillsbusinessdaily.com/springs-more-deputies-named/

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