I am working on a longer, critical piece regarding Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino’s recent actions. Unfortunately, his skillful and manipulative use of the media belies what is really going on in the Public Safety Department. Even a cursory assessment of Montagnino’s public relations campaign exposes the poverty of what he is doing. Most of the media, though, sadly lacks the resources to do a critical assessment, and instead they largely parrot his assertions.
To his credit, Stephen Thurston’s recent article provides some push back. His website is the first media source to provide any kind of substantive criticism of the many highly questionable initiatives Montagnino has been pushing.
Montagnino Uses Legal Rhetoric To Dress Up His Positions
Recent coverage has focused on Montagnino’s surprise defunding of the city’s assistant police chief position and the resulting demotion of a number of officers. The new Public Safety Commissioner’s controversial initiatives, however, also have included an earlier announcement that he wanted to roll back an agreement negotiated with the city over months allowing the police to work 12 hour rather than 8 hour shifts.
Montagnino claims that studies he has researched prove that twelve hour shifts are unsafe. Montagnino alleges that these studies give him the legal authority he needs to break the city’s agreement, and force the uniformed officers into the eight hour shifts. I spoke to a friend who is an attorney with a professional background in law enforcement. He offers a counter narrative that raises serious questions regarding Montagnino’s recent statements about the legal basis of nullifying the contract with the police union.
Here are my friend’s observations:
What Jim Montagnino is threatening to do will not only fail, but it will cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees if he forces the PBA’s hand. The 12 hour shifts are not novel in law enforcement, in fact almost all NYS Troopers (with the exception of those in special assignments and details) work 12 hour shifts exclusively and have for 20 years. Stating that some studies indicate safety issues with the 12-hour shifts would somehow allow the city to successfully assert an unconscionable contract defense demonstrates that he doesn’t know much about that defense – or labor law in general. Even if this defense had any validity to it, how would it ultimately fare when so many other law enforcement agencies currently have 12 hour shifts? If Montagnino forces officers off 12 hour shifts, it will force the PBA to file legal actions at either the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) or directly to the courts for a stay or temporary restraining order to stop the city from violating this MOU [Memo of Understanding which is part of the contract]. We should hope the city’s hired outside counsel advises Montagnino that this approach will be doomed to be costly and ultimately a failure, and if they don’t then it’s time to find new outside counsel.