Mayor Kim Attacks Commissioner Moran in an Impetuous Rush to Judgement without the Facts

At the June 7, 2022, meeting, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim offered a resolution to transfer the Director of Risk and Safety from the Accounts Department to his office under the supervision of the City Attorney. The tone of Kim’s remarks (see video at the end of this piece) was heated and self-righteous while to his credit, Accounts Commissioner Moran maintained his dignity and decorum in responding to the Mayor.

Although the proposal may not be without merit, the reasoning for such a change was lost due to the Mayor’s fundamental misunderstanding of the liability insurance policy the city maintains and his inaccurate assertions about events related to an ongoing suit against the city.

The main argument Kim articulated for moving Risk and Safety to his office was based on the false assertion that the City Attorney had been left out of an April 1 meeting regarding the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the city by former city engineer Tim Wales. The attorney for the insurance carrier, John Aspland, who is handling this case for the city, asked Commissioner Moran, a witness in the case, and Marilyn Rivers, the Manager of Risk and Safety, to attend.

Mayor Kim’s Shrill Warnings

Kim misrepresented the significance of who was and who was not at this meeting when he spoke to Daily Gazette in a story published on June 8, 2022:

Kim argues the position [Manager of Risk and Safety] should be placed under the city attorney’s office to avoid situations like one in April in which the city attorney was not at a settlement meeting in an ongoing lawsuit against the city, while Moran and the city’s Risk and Safety Director Marilyn Rivers were present.

Daily Gazette June 8, 2022

“I believe it is imperative that we better coordinate the activities of the city attorney and the director of Risk and Safety,” Kim said. “If we don’t, this case will continue to go forward without the involvement of the city attorney, and that is not tenable.”

Daily Gazette June 8, 2022

We open the city to substantial risk as shown by the example above, where a City Council member, with the director of Risk and Safety, attempted to resolve a legal matter without involving the city attorney’s office or a member of the City Council,” Kim said Tuesday.

Gazette June 8, 2022

The Role of the Insurance Carrier In Defending the City

To understand the problem with the Mayor’s assertions, it is critical to understand the terms of the agreement between the city and its insurance carrier regarding legal liability insurance.

The city maintains insurance to protect against lawsuits brought against it.

The way this works is that in the event of a lawsuit against the city, as in the Wales case, the city’s insurance carrier engages its own attorneys to defend the city against the suit. It does not use the City Attorney.

The city pays a deductible to its insurance carrier for the legal costs and possible settlement or judgment. In the current case, that deductible amounted to $25,000.00. The cost of lawyer fees in that suit has far exceeded the city’s deductible. The suit has been ongoing for over a year.

So, to be clear, the insurance company at this point is responsible for paying whatever settlement their attorneys may reach with the plaintiff or the cost of the judgment should it go to trial.

Because the insurance company is using their money, they insist on controlling the process. The contract the carrier has with the city requires the city to “cooperate” with it.

Traditionally, the Director of Risk and Safety, who works in the Accounts Department, acts as the primary contact with the insurance carrier. This is not surprising as the Accounts Department handles insurance for the city. The Director assists the insurance attorneys by providing any information they may need from the city. She also keeps the City Attorney informed as to the ongoing activity in the suit.

This has been established procedure for the roughly twenty years the current Risk and Safety Director, Marilyn Rivers, has been employed by the city.

Should the insurance company decide to settle, depending upon the language in the contract between the city and the carrier, the city may be asked to pass a resolution endorsing the settlement.

In such a case, theoretically, the city could refuse to accept the settlement. In reality, the city always agrees, and the vote is effectively a legal formality.

If the city were ever to refuse a settlement reached by the insurer’s lawyer, the insurance company could withdraw and leave the city to hire its own lawyers at its own expense as well as pay for the costs of any possible settlement.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the city would take on the costs and liabilities by rejecting a settlement agreed to by the insurance company.

Mayor Kim Misunderstands the Role of the City Attorney in Insurance Claims

Mayor Kim does not seem to grasp the authority the insurer has in litigation nor how minimal a role the City Attorney plays in these cases of claims against the city.

First of all, the Mayor’s assertions that the City Attorney had been left out of the loop regarding the April 1 settlement conference is patently false. I have seen the email in which Tony Izzo was advised of the “conference.”

In Tony’s defense, he probably didn’t attend because he knew that his role would be marginal and that Ms. Rivers would inform him of what transpired.

To give context to the role of Moran and Rivers in this matter, neither of them said a word during the April 1, 2022, meeting at which the judge discussed the case with the opposing attorneys. No one could characterize them, as Mayor Kim has done, of having “…attempted to resolve a legal matter.”

So at the June 7, 2022, Council meeting, when Mayor Kim accused Commissioner Moran of circumventing the City Attorney and of trying to negotiate the case settlement without the Council’s involvement he was wrong on both counts. The City Attorney had been informed of the meeting and chose for whatever reason not to attend and neither Commissioner Moran nor Risk and Safety Manager Marilyn Rivers “attempted to resolve a legal matter without involving the city attorney’s office or a member of the City Council,” as Kim asserted to the Gazette.

Mayor Kim’s Odd Handling of the Issue at the Council Meeting

Adept elected officials do not bring resolutions to the table if they do not have the votes to pass them (unless they are trying to score some kind of political point). I am not privy to the interactions that may have occurred prior to the meeting, but it appeared clear at the June 7 Council meeting that the Mayor did not have the votes to pass his resolution. Why take up Council time for a resolution doomed to fail?

Moran understandably opposed the Mayor’s resolution, but as it turned out, so did Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub. Golub told his colleagues that he was uncomfortable with the process. He noted that there were issues involving civil service that needed to be addressed (Kim dismissed this). His key concern was the potential for future partisan abuse. He was concerned about a partisan majority from one party forcing a reorganization move on a Commissioner from another party.

Mayor Kim read an email from Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, who was in Europe on vacation and therefore not present to vote, strongly supporting his initiative.

Had Mayor Kim’s resolution come to a vote that night, there would have been two votes against. Even if Commissioner Sanghvi had voted with the Mayor (which wasn’t clear) his motion would have failed to pass.

So, after all this theater, the Mayor withdrew his motion.

Someone in the audience called out to the Mayor that there should be a public hearing on the question. The Mayor then tried to get his colleagues to pass a resolution setting a public hearing at the next Council meeting. Interestingly, he could not get a second even from Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, who earlier in the meeting appeared to be in support of the Mayor.

So it appears that Mayor Kim will introduce this resolution again at the next Council meeting. As Montagnino supports the Mayor in this matter, Commissioner Sanghvi will be the deciding vote.

Some Highlights From The Meeting

6 thoughts on “Mayor Kim Attacks Commissioner Moran in an Impetuous Rush to Judgement without the Facts”

  1. A mess, and for another year and a half. Wonderful.

    Remember, the Mayor fired both city attorneys and helped Councilman Montagnino get rid of the Assistant Chief of Police. We now have 2 departments in chaos with horrible morale and/or concerning turnover. If you become the new boss there are many options on how manage your team. We need leaders with ability and empathy that earn the respect of their teams. We have two with multiple examples of how not to lead. (and both have Deputies that are not making 14.5K a year).

    We deserve better.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Off topic JK, but because of the urgency and importance of my topic, I hope you can accommodate my brief alert.
    The development company, Liberty Affordable Housing, is back with their proposal again. This was first brought forth to the Planning Board about 4 years ago. It was defeated by a 7-0 Unfavorable Advisory Opinion to the City Council. There are two meetings scheduled at the Spa State Park’s Ice Cream Parlor, adjacent to Catherine’s in the park. The first (Public Preview) is Thurs., June 16. The second is Monday, june 20. Both are at 6:30 pm. This development would be located off Bunny Lake Drive, which is the entrance off Crescent Ave. to the Racino. My concern is that this will require a change to the zoning, increased traffic, adjacent to wetlands and excessive density. Almost 300 apartments. I hope you can pass this information on to your faithful audience. Thank you.

    Like

    1. Heaven forbid a city starved for affordable housing, workers, and patrons to local shops do something to increase all three.

      “My concern is that this will require a change to the zoning, increased traffic, adjacent to wetlands and excessive density. ” is typical “not in my backyard” lingo, with the only more egregious example being when residents misuse historical or environmental concerns to ensure their property value doesn’t go down.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mike, If you can prove that this will actually be “affordable housing” then maybe it should be considered, but on a smaller scale. The developer previously would not commit to the number of apartments, nor the actual dollar amount for one, two and three bedroom apartments. BTW, I accidentally clicked “like” on your post.

        Like

  3. @henry37 Looking at Liberty’s website ( https://libertyaffordable.org/liberty-housing-properties/ ) you can see what groups have been served by prior projects, be it seniors, workforce, or others. I don’t know what has changed with the new project, but in looking at prior reporting ( https://saratogatodaynewspaper.com/home/item/8792-plans-call-for-two-buildings-192-workforce-housing-apartments-near-saratoga-casino ) they were targeting 50, 60, and 90 AMI (Area Median Income). Sounds like a good attempt at being affordable for some.

    Yes it has the potential to strain some city infrastructure, but what’s point in the city bragging about its high bond rating if we don’t use available resources to make it possible for people to live here? Airbnb and similar companies continue to take traditional homes and rental properties off the market, while the old guard claim to be have generic concerns about infrastructure, or the environment, or undefined “safety” issues, all because those are much more palatable than coming out and admitting they don’t want to risk their property value going down or want people lower on the income scale living near them. Maybe some of the concerns are valid, but having seen the public comment period during the last project, multiple speakers let the façade slip and showed just how selfish their motives are. There is no perfect housing project, but that shouldn’t keep the city from at least trying to tackle issues are housing/apartment supply, workplace staffing (good luck trying to count all the local “help wanted” signs), and consumer base to stop the recycling of storefronts on Broadway.

    Liked by 1 person

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