[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.”