During the worst of the COVID crisis, the New York State Liquor Authority eased its restrictions to allow restaurants to add outdoor dining. Saratoga Springs amended the city code to authorize a committee made up of the Battalion Chief of the Fire Department, the Director of Risk and Safety, the City Attorney, and the Department of Public Works Business Manager to oversee the temporary expansion of restaurant dining into areas that are the public property of the city (sidewalks, streets, etc.).
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran has put a resolution on the agenda for the Tuesday, March 1, 2022, City Council meeting which would eliminate that committee and instead give him sole authority to control eating and drinking establishments’ expansion on to city land.
Moran’s plan to take over this process only became public on Friday night when the pre-agenda was posted on the city’s website as is required by city procedure.
When I saw this proposal, I began calling around for reactions. It became regrettably clear that none of the principal players in city government, let alone the public, had any idea this was in the works. To say that people were upset when they learned of Moran’s proposal would be an understatement.
It Just Ain’t That Simple
In his campaign, Commissioner Moran promised to “streamline” the process for the permitting of outdoor dining in the city. Commissioner Moran seems disturbingly unconcerned, however, about the logistical and safety concerns that need to be addressed in this process, let alone issues that may arise with the New York State Liquor Authority with licensing requirements
It is particularly troubling that in January he announced on a WNYT newscast that he planned to block off certain downtown streets on Thursday through Sunday nights, May to September, without first consulting with the Public Safety and Public Works Departments as to the feasibility of this plan. It should be noted that Moran does not have the authority to shut down city streets or to make them one way.
Look, I am all for making our city as vibrant and as tourist friendly as possible but to do so effectively means recognizing the complexity of designing and executing a successful plan including taking into consideration the effects the plan may have on the adjacent retail businesses. It also involves recognizing that this cannot succeed as a one man show but rather success depends on being able to work cooperatively with other departments and individuals.
Moran’s ham-fisted push for total control may very possibly have the opposite effect of streamlining change. Announcing that you are “in charge” when you lack the true authority to implement something as major as redesigning downtown streets may create major obstacles rather than overcome them.