Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s Dubious Actions

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.    

5 thoughts on “Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s Dubious Actions”

  1. Moving to 12 hour shifts was something that the PBA has wanted for years, as it allowed for much better quality of life for officers with more than one day off in a row, more officers on a shift and out on patrol and simultaneously cut down on overtime costs for the city. A win-win-win. It took an enormous amount of time and energy to work out all of the staffing and payroll details to successfully switch over from 8 hour shifts to 12 hour shifts and was accomplished only through the support and cooperation of the Chiefs, PBA, Finance Department, Mayor, city attorneys & entire city council. For Commissioner Montagnino to try to undo something of this magnitude simply by citing a sleep study is simply inexplicable, especially when it accomplishes one of his recently stated goals of having more bodies on patrol. Montagnino seems to use the press to pontificate on ideas for the department without having any awareness of the real world distress it causes for those affected.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. “Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s Dubious Actions” (JK). Saratoga Today (Thomas Dimopoulos) “Public Safety Decision Raises Red Flags”.
    And now the former Commissioner, who was defeated by a wide margin, is defending the police and the reforms that she is responsible for.
    I support all law enforcement agencies, and I understand the stress that comes with the job. But I disagree with the way our new Commissioner is being criticized. He is the first Commissioner in over 30 years who is actually trying to understand how our Police Department runs. I applaud his approach. I believe the Police Department, as well as our Fire Department, could use some fine-tuning. The notion that working a 12 hour shift is better for the city is simply not true. The police knew that overtime would not be decreased by making the change from 8 hour shifts to 12 hour shifts. The fact that the police union campaigned for the change is proof enough for me that the change would mean more money in their pockets, as well as more time off. The boys in blue have long envied the time off that the firefighters get. Maybe the police officers have part time jobs in mind for their time off. I say give the new Commissioner the ability to do his research. He is not trying to cause trouble, he is looking out for the taxpayers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice that you want to defend the current Commissioner. Too bad you chose to be snarky regarding Robin Dalton’s response. Just a sad comment on today’s attitude of division. Also, not exactly transparent in your statement about her recent run. She ran for Mayor – not a second term as Commissioner. Second, she ran without party support as she had the guts to stand up for her ethics rather than pander to either party. But good attempt at trying to make her opinions a non starter.

      Despite that, to indicate that her loss eliminates her ability to have insights into the police department and what works and what is important is both myopic and shallow. Not sure exactly who you are or what your political affiliation is but find your lack of transparency is questionable. For full transparency, I worked on both of Robin’s campaigns and consider her a friend so a bit biased, perhaps yet also think I know her very well and how she works. Have you ever actually had a conversation with her before you chose to be so judgmental?

      So there, sir, is the big word that is missing in Montagnino’s and the rest of this council is transparency. They touted that as a big issue in the election yet have been anything but transparent so far. Issues are brought for votes with little or no information provided the citizens via properly attached documentation in the agendas. They appear to block vote having likely made whatever deals are needed before sitting at the council table (Yes, I worked in City Hall – I know how that works). Without Commissioner Scirocco in attendance there seems to be no critical thinking happening or any desire to challenge each other or add diverse thinking. This was no more evident than the vote on the police department actions of this last meeting. No advance information to citizens – a real sneaky move to achieve something the Commissioner had to know would be challenged.

      As for the rest of your post, I can’t attest to the things you put forth as fact and I’m not sure you can either as indicted on your statement “he fact that the police union campaigned for the change is proof enough for me ….. .”. Not exactly empirical or proof. You say you support the police yet you make accusations that are unfounded and derogatory. Sorry, sir, you can’t have it both ways.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. John,

    Those who comment on your posts are given great license, but some compromise their credibility with sweeping editorial asides intended not to support their position but only taint those of others.

    So it is with the comment attributed to “henry37″ that the current commissioner of public safety ” … is the first … in over 30 years who is actually trying to understand how our Police Department runs.”

    Although I’m not sure how you go about ” … actually trying to understand … “ something, I assume the writer, in this case, means a review of the police command structure, the allocation of officers and other resources, minimum shift requirements, hiring and promotion practices, training, etc. and what changes might be necessary to address shifting community needs and expectations.

    There have been eight (8) public safety commissioners including the incumbent over the last 30 years. To suggest – without offering any evidence – that none of the previous seven undertook such a review of department structures is irresponsible. But to state unequivocally, as “henry37” has, that the incumbent is the first commissioner in 30 years to do so, is to deny dozens of well documented initiatives and changes designed to promote better, more competent and more ethical policing. He tells us an untruth which requires challenge.

    His statement lacks credibility and ought to be ignored.

    Lew Benton

    Liked by 4 people

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