Commissioner Montagnino Gives Away the Kitchen Sink

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has carried on a dubious campaign to reverse the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) recently approved contract that established twelve-hour shifts. In order to reduce the shift hours he “negotiated” a contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) that is generous, to say the least. His presentation at the June 21, 2022, City Council meeting drew a skeptical response and never came to a vote.

The language in the proposed contract had an effective date of July 2, 2022. As the next Council meeting will be on July 5, 2022, it appears that Commissioner Montagnino was overly optimistic. Apparently, he had expected the MOA to be adopted at the meeting where he introduced it, but that didn’t happen. Instead, his proposal met with uncharacteristic pushback from the Mayor and Finance Commissioner.

Some Background

In 2021, during the last administration, the city negotiated an agreement with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) to change the shifts from eight to twelve hours, something the PBA had wanted for a long time. The agreement was seen as advantageous to both the PBA and the city. The PBA wanted the longer hours because it would allow for more days off. The city saved money because the final agreement had the patrol officers working eighty-four hours every two weeks at straight pay. This meant that the city saved four hours of overtime every two weeks per patrol officer. Over time, that adds up to substantial savings for the city. Montagnino’s new proposal would scrap this agreement.

Commissioner Montagnino Takes on a Dubious Fight

Commissioner Montagnino, with only a few months in office, decided to unilaterally change the 12 hour shifts back to eight hours. He claimed the long shifts were dangerous in spite of the fact that the New York State Police, among others, have been operating on twelve-hour shifts for some twenty years.

As the city and the PBA have a written contract, Montagnino’s attempt to unilaterally impose the shift hours reduction ran into a brick wall. The union “grieved” the decision. There was no way that Montagnino could ignore a signed agreement. He then assumed the role of city negotiator and reopened the city’s contract with the union.

It was clear from the outset that the city would have to pay dearly if it wanted to renege on its agreement with the PBA after less than a year.

It also was just one more of a growing number of decisions by Montagnino that was creating a toxic environment in his department.

The Police Department has been hemorrhaging staff and rather than focusing on addressing this, Montagnino entered into yet another contentious, unneeded conflict. Even if the concept of shorter shifts had merit, the timing of this move is hard to defend coming on the heels of demotions in the department, interfering with ongoing police cases, and oh, yes, adding adultery as grounds for dismissal.

Montagnino, having announced his plan to shorten the shift hours, was unable to retreat. The result was a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was Christmas in June for the police union.

What The New Contract Would Add for Officers

The proposed agreement includes:

  1. An increase in the patrol officers’ salaries for 2025
  2. A major increase in the bonuses paid to officers working the less appealing shifts for nights and weekends.
  3. Making Travers Day, in effect, into a holiday with double pay from 9:00 AM on that day to 5:00 AM the following day. Even more, if an officer works overtime.
  4. An annualized bonus add-on to salaries based on longevity. So for example, a police officer who is in their sixth to ninth year is paid $75.00 times the number of years. An officer in their ninth year makes an additional $675.00 per year. the bonus goes up to $200.00 after twenty years so an officer in their twentieth year gets an added $4,000.00.
  5. The overtime rate is increased.
  6. There is a fitness requirement which under the current contract grants four hours off would now get eight hours off.

There may well be more, but I am not sure as I don’t have a great deal of expertise in reading contracts.

Union contracts are complex. They require not only a deep understanding of labor and municipal law, but also require the ability to crunch the financial numbers to avoid folly.

In these two clips, Commissioner Sanghvi questions some of the benefits.

In the most recent podcast of Talking Saratoga, Dan De Federicis also casts doubt on the financials Montagnino claims are the cost of the proposed contract. Mr. De Federicis had a career as a New York State Trooper and served as the union president of the NYS Troopers from 2001 to 2009. He also earned a law degree, so he knows something when it comes to police contracts.

In the following video clip, he and Robin Dalton challenge Commissioner Montagnino’s handling of this self-inflicted fiasco.

Will a Generous Financial Package Bring in Quality Officers?

One of the arguments made for these generous pay increases is that it will attract trained experienced police from other departments to join the Saratoga Springs Police Department. I am comfortable in principle with that argument but as a result of Commissioner Montagnino’s mismanagement morale is at an all-time low in the department. The SSPD is now badly understaffed and in at least one case an officer worked two sixteen-hour shifts back-to-back. I am not sure how successful the city will be in attracting officers as long as Montagnino is Commissioner of Public Safety.

Did Montagnino Ignore the City Charter?

Section 3 of the city charter gives responsibility for negotiating union contracts to the Mayor. Section 3 of the city charter states:

Title 3, I 

The Mayor shall, in consultation with the Council and professionals retained by the Council for the purpose, conduct collective bargaining with City employees’ bargaining units. The Mayor may delegate this authority as the Mayor deems necessary. The Council shall approve collective bargaining agreements and auxiliary agreements before they take effect.

The city used to engage outside labor counsel to handle the actual negotiations but under Mayor Kelly, in order to save money, she put together a team consisting of herself, the city attorney, and the HR director to deal with negotiating contracts.

Neither Montagnino nor Mayor Kim respond to my emails so I do not know if Kim actually delegated negotiating authority to Montagnino or if Montagnino just went ahead on his own and entered into these talks.

Mayor Kim Doesn’t Get It

In this video clip, Mayor Kim insists that the city limit negotiations to just the change in hours for shifts before considering additional benefits. He doesn’t seem to understand that the PBA is happy with the current hours. Without an incentive, there is no reason why they would change. Trying to limit the negotiations to just the hours for shifts is futile.

Commissioner Sanghvi Doesn’t Understand Where to Find the Current City Contract

In these two video clips, Commissioner Sanghvi complains that Dan Mullan Jr., the president of the PBA, has not provided her with a copy of the current contract between the city and the PBA. As the city is a party to the contract, the city already has one. All she needed to do was ask the City Attorney for it.

So Where Is Black Lives Matter?

One of the bizarre aspects of this story is the apparent free ride that Black Lives Matter provides Commissioner Montagnino.

During the last administration, BLM excoriated that Council for failing to acknowledge their allegation that the Saratoga Springs police murdered Darryl Mount. They also repeatedly demanded that the city defund the police.

Commissioner Montagnino has issued a paper clearing the police for Mount’s death, and now he is proposing a major increase in pay for the PBA.

One would have expected that Commissioner Montagnino might have enjoyed at least some of the abuse heaped on the previous Council. Why Commissioner Montagnino is being spared their rath is something of a mystery.

7 thoughts on “Commissioner Montagnino Gives Away the Kitchen Sink”

  1. The reason BLM isn’t complaining about Montagnino is that he’s doing exactly what BLM wants – destroying the Saratoga Springs Police Department.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It would have been better if Commissioner Montagnino had given a much more thorough explanation of why, after barely a year, it is so important to negate the previous PBA contract. It would also be helpful to hear from those in the previous administration who negotiated the changes from 8 to 12 hours for patrols and the background info on their reasons for doing so.
    The Commissioner seems to have been convinced from the beginning of his term that the 12 hour shift was a bad idea. During the most recent Council meeting, he mentioned that a federal agency advised against 12 hour shifts. He neglected to mention that 44% of law enforcement agencies work with 12 hour shifts apparently with at least some degree of success. He also did not mention whether adjustments to the current schedule have been or could be enacted in order to mitigate the problems associated with excessive concurrent overtime hours. The website Planit Police gives a number of variations on the 12 hour shift system that have been developed over the years in other departments.
    The Commissioner is suggesting that an immediate change to a 10 hour shift is the best solution. He describes the 10 hour shift as the ‘sweet spot’ and has apparently decided to initiate a very generous proposal to the PBA in order to get their approval.
    From what I’ve read, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the 8, 10 and 12 hour shift schedules for law enforcement agencies. There is no one perfect schedule system. An odd feature of the Commissioner’s 10 hour schedule is that the department would be overstaffed every Thursday. He states that this is advantageous because Thursdays could then be used for training exercises and programs. However, it would be challenging to annually come up with 52 different training programs.
    The generous proposals in the MOA as arranged by the Commissioner will cost taxpayers many thousands of extra dollars each and every year forever. It is a vivid example of why the Mayor is supposed to take the lead in contract negotiations and why the City attorney, City-hired labor attorneys and the Commissioner of Finance should be involved in the early stages.

    Chris Mathiesen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To add on to your very good points, the idea that the finance department wasn’t included in the process earlier is shocking. Across the board pay and benefit increases can really impact the city’s expense budget. With the other departments always wanting to add personal, promote employees going above and beyond, and buy new vehicles, equipment, and technology, how many of those things are going to be ignored in the future because of this poor decision to open up an existing contract early for a potentially merit-less reason?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG
    I cannot believe what I am reading.
    Doesn’t everyone know by now that the PBA and IAFF hire PROFESSIONAL negotiators?
    Yet we are supposed to believe that these NEOPHYTE council members can protect the best interests of the taxpayers?
    Money will be best spent by putting an immediate halt to these “negotiations” and get some professionals on board. Right away.!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. John,

    Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister who established the modern London Metropolitan Police, identified three core ideas and
    nine principles of “ethical” policing. They continue to be relevant today and should be integrated in the culture of progressive community centric police agencies.

    Principle among them is this: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

    Peel’s other ideas and principles also recognize that for good policing practices must reflect the community’s standards and expectations. His third “core” idea seems worth referencing here:

    “The police earn public support by respecting community principles. Winning public approval requires hard work to build reputation: enforcing the laws impartially, hiring officers who represent and understand the community, and using force only as a last resort.”

    All of this came to mind when I read your “Will a Generous Financial Package Bring in Quality Officers?” The short answer is “Not necessarily.”

    I assume you refer to the so-called lateral transfer practice of hiring trained, experienced police officers away from other police agencies. I have always been opposed to such transfers and never appointed from outside the community.

    While there may be some immediate short term fiscal benefits of lateral transfers, appointing from a list of eligible city residents allows for hiring officers who represent and understand the community, citizens who are invested in it and participate in and contribute to its civic life.

    The use of lateral transfer to fill police department vacancies is also at variance with the current administration’s stated goal recruiting minorities. That goal can only be met by outreach that invites and encourages minority members of the city to qualify for appointment and meet the Civil Service testing requirements.

    To that end I suggest that the minority recruitment initiative begun in 1989 be resurrected. It began as a process designed to encourage more minorities and women to compete for appointment to the City’s fire and police services. At that time there were members of the community who believed, incorrectly I thought, that non-white candidates were unlikely to be appointed.

    We set out by re-tooling the Civil Service test announcements, distributing them widely throughout the City, and offering pre-test orientation and other enticements. This was done through a committee I appointed made of the City Civil Service executive, the League of Women Voters, representatives of the police and fire services and a representative of the NAACP. The local press was supportive and profiled the initiative.

    Perhaps that effort – apparently allowed to languish after 1995 – should be dusted off, made more contemporary and aggressively pursued. But it can’t be done if appointments are to be made apart from community.

    Of all the public agencies serving the community, it is vital that the police department and its officers be of it, from it and part of it. And the entire community must have a proprietary interest in it.

    Below are Peel’s Policing Principles in their entirety.

    Lew Benton

    Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles

    In 1829, Sir Robert Peel established the London Metropolitan Police Force. He became known as the “Father of Modern Policing,” and his commissioners established a list of policing principles that remain as crucial and urgent today as they were two centuries ago. They contain three core ideas and nine principles.

    3 Core Idea

    The goal is preventing crime, not catching criminals. If the police stop crime before it happens, we don’t have to punish citizens or suppress their rights. An effective police department doesn’t have high arrest stats; its community has low crime rates.

    The key to preventing crime is earning public support. Every community member must share the responsibility of preventing crime, as if they were all volunteer members of the force. They will only accept this responsibility if the community supports and trusts the police.

    The police earn public support by respecting community principles. Winning public approval requires hard work to build reputation: enforcing the laws impartially, hiring officers who represent and understand the community, and using force only as a last resort.

    9 Policing Principles

    To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

    To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

    To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

    To recognize always that the extent to which the cooperation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

    To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

    To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

    To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

    To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agree with so much of what former Commissioner Benton has said. The only thing I would add is we need more middle income housing in Saratoga Springs in order for our police officers, firefighters, teachers and service industry workers to afford to live here.


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