Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi has been in office for eight months. She does not yet seem to understand what the city’s consent agenda that she votes on at every meeting is all about nor her role in developing the city’s budget. She has, however, been granted a new position for an executive assistant in her office without any explanation of what this person would do and a $10,000 addition to her budget to buy furniture for her office, which was just completely redone two years ago.
A Well Appointed Office
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi received unanimous approval from the City Council at the August 16 meeting to transfer $10,000.00 from the “Help Desk Technician Furniture/Equipment” line to her “Office Furniture/Equipment” budget line. This brings that budget line up to a total of $13,000 to replace the furniture that was just bought two years ago when City Hall was refurbished after the fire.
The item was on her August 16 agenda listed as “Discussion and Vote: Budget Transfers – Payroll.”
Commissioner Sanghvi was absent from the August 16 meeting (more on that later), and Mayor Kim assumed her responsibilities for presenting her agenda at the meeting.
The link to this agenda item takes you to this document:
Mayor Kim merely read the agenda item without explaining what it was about and moved the adoption of the budget transfer item that allows for the furniture purchase. There was no discussion before the unanimous vote to approve the transfer of funds.
The current Finance Office furniture was purchased roughly two years ago. It is basically brand new.
Sources tell me that the money is to redecorate Commissioner Sanghvi’s personal office. We really don’t have any details because no one on the Council saw the need to ask Commissioner Sanghvi exactly what she planned to buy with $13,000.00.
I emailed the Commissioner asking for clarification. I received the following email back from her:
Hello. I am out of the office from August 8th through August 30th and will not be checking my e-mail during this time. (my emphasis) Please contact the following for any matters during my absence:
I understand Commissioner Sanghvi is on a tour of India promoting a [this is a correction] gay, romance novel she has written.
I have been sending emails to City Council members for decades. Politicians sometimes prefer to ignore emails regarding unflattering issues and do not reply. I have never received an email, however, announcing that a commissioner will not respond to any email at all for weeks.
So, I emailed Sanghvi’s deputy, Heather Crocker, with the same question and received no response.
Doesn’t Everyone Deserve an Executive Assistant?
In addition to generously adding to the Commissioner’s furniture budget, this Council also voted unanimously at an earlier meeting this spring to add a new position to the Finance Office again without anyone asking the Commissioner to explain the need for this.
In her last budget, former Commissioner Michele Madigan added a “grants writer” position to her department. As she explained at the time, the position, similar to the information technology office (IT), would serve all the city departments. Commissioner Madigan noted that to effectively secure grants in a highly competitive environment for critical city needs, it is important to be nimble and skilled.
Interestingly, the city has just contracted with a consulting firm to write grant applications for the Mayor’s infrastructure committee chaired by Joanne Yepsen, with an initial payment of $25,000.00.
Commissioner Sanghvi has decided to jettison the grant writer position and instead create for herself an executive assistant without explaining exactly what this executive assistant will do and why she does not see the need for an employee dedicated to seeking grant money.
The annual salary of the position is $51,490.00. Including benefits, the position costs $72,000.00 annually.
I spoke to Michele Madigan, the previous Commissioner of Finance, about this change. She expressed disappointment. “The city really needs an additional grants writer. Increasingly, money from the state and federal governments is available competitively. A skilled grants writer can produce money for the city well in excess of what the position costs.”
I can tell you there are many grants we fail to compete for because of the lack of a grant writer – particularly for water related projects and public safety. Updating the city dam is going to cost millions. There is money out there for water projects. Tina Carton does a great job seeking funds for sidewalks, trails, etc. but she has only so much time.
Madigan also expressed surprise at the idea of an executive assistant. “I was Commissioner for ten years. There is no doubt that the job requires many hours for what is supposed to be a part-time position, and it would have been nice to have another body, but we always managed successfully to run the department with the staff we had.”
Readers may recall that in addition to her regular duties overseeing the finances of the city, during her tenure, among other things, Commissioner Madigan was instrumental in creating the solar energy system at the city landfill and in facilitating the agreement that will create a city-wide fiber optic network, all done without an executive assistant in the office.
Similar to the approval of the furniture, none of Commissioner Sanghvi’s Democratic colleagues on the Council asked any questions about dropping the grant writer position and instead creating an executive assistant for her.
Budget Time: When the Rubber Hits the Road, but Where is the Commissioner of Finance?
This City Council is about to get a dose of reality when they attempt to do their first budget. The process is very demanding, and a continual source of potential conflict as the departments compete for money to run their operations for the next year.
The process is supposed to begin in August when the departments are required to submit their budgetary needs for the coming year. Former Commissioner Madigan describes the work to be done this time of year.
August is when requested budgets are due. I would spend a lot of time analyzing all department budgets including the recreation department and the IT department. I would begin meeting with commissioners, deputies, chiefs, rec commission, and various non-profits. It was also a time I would review the capital budget as that is due to the Commissioner of Finance by September 15 after a vote by the Council.
This is not a great time for Finance Commissioner Sanghvi to be hard to reach on a book promotion tour in India.
To date, the Council has been cavalier about spending city money, as evidenced by Commissioner Sanghvi’s furniture and new assistant, Commissioner Montagnino’s extremely generous proposed deal with the police department in order to realize his myopic campaign over shift hours, and let’s not forget the legal bills Mayor Kim is racking up for the city in his frivolous lawsuits.
All this is as the city faces necessary costs to operate the new fire station on the east side.
This will not be an easy budget year.
Will Commissioner Sanghvi Up Her Game
During the ongoing debacle about the Travelers insurance settlement, it became embarrassingly evident that Commissioner Sanghvi knew almost nothing about the “consent agenda.” Apparently, she had not ever really looked at the consent agenda she had been voting on at each meeting when she echoed Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s false claim that it only contained minor items such as “mops and buckets.” It was bad enough that Montagnino and Mayor Kim did not understand the criteria of what went into the consent agenda and that there were individual entries involving many thousands of dollars. What was truly disturbing was that Commissioner Sanghvi, who is responsible for managing the finances of the city, suffered from the same ignorance.
Well, readers, tighten your seat belts because we are entering budget time, and Commissioner Sanghvi is going to find out that she’s going to have to take the job she has signed on for of overseeing the city finances more seriously.
A number of people have told me it would be helpful if I could provide an analysis of what happened at the conference requested by Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim with U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino on August 11 regarding the Wales case. The full transcript of the meeting was contained in a previous post and can be found here.
Attending the ten-minute phone conference were:
Judge Mae D’Agostino
John Aspland (attorney of record representing Saratoga Springs on behalf of Travelers Insurance)
Kevin Lauilliard (attorney representing Tim Wales, the plaintiff)
Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim
Ron Kim is Still Not the City Attorney
A number of issues stood out for me when I read the transcript. The first was that Ron Kim still does not seem to understand that being Mayor does not empower him to also act as the city’s attorney in spite of the fact that, as he likes to frequently remind us, he has a law degree. One would have thought that he had learned this basic lesson when he was reprimanded for trying to act as the City Attorney in City Court before first Judge Vero and then Judge Wait. Apparently not.
On August 5 Mayor Kim inappropriately sent a letter to Federal District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino asking her to reinstate the Wales case and “set a time for a conference with the parties.” The proper protocol would have been for Mayor Kim to request that John Aspland (the attorney of record) contact the court requesting the conference rather than write a letter to the court himself. So it should come as no surprise that the transcript of the conference call begins with Kim again being told by a judge that he has no standing to participate in this meeting.
According to the transcript the Judge stated the following:
The only individuals who have standing to participate in this conference as far as the court is concerned are Mr. Lauilliard and Mr. Aspland. I understand that the mayor is on the phone but I’m only going to be hearing from Mr. Lauilliard and Mr. Aspland.
And then the Judge asks:
Mr. Aspland, what in the world is going on here?
Kim’s Criticisms of Travelers are Baseless- He Does a Stunning Reversal
The second thing that stood out for me in this transcript was that it makes clear that the criticisms that Kim continues to make about Travelers Insurance handling of the Wales case are baseless.
In Mayor Kim’s letter to the judge requesting the conference he cited the failure of the insurer to seek Council approval in settling the Wales case as grounds for reinstating the case and prompting the need for the meeting.
“…The city of Saratoga Springs City Council has never voted to dismiss this matter nor settle it….and certainly not the Mayor’s office….has authorized counsel of record for the City of Saratoga Springs to settle this matter and discontinue it” he complains in the letter he signed.
During the call the Judge asks John Aspland if he had the authority to agree to the settlement without getting City Council approval.
Mr. Aspland, did you have the authority to settle this case on behalf of the city of Saratoga Springs when you did enter into the settlement and signed the closing settlement.
Yes, Your Honor. It’s not a consent policy with Travelers. So Travelers agreed to pay the money and executed the documents that we always execute, and that was the process.
The Judge then re-affirms what Aspland has said:
OK. So you’re telling me that in the contract of insurance between the city of Saratoga Springs…there was no need for the city of Saratoga Springs to consent?
Aspland confirms this in the transcript.
Judge D’Agostino later decides to give Kim permission to speak. She addresses Kim about Travelers ability to settle the case without involving the city in the decision.
But what I’m hearing from the counsel of record (Aspland) is that the insurance company had full authority to settle the case without the consent of the city. I’m pretty sure you disagree with that. You have permission to speak. Correct, Mr. Kim?
In a startling reversal of what he said in his letter to the court and what he has said repeatedly at the Council table, Kim bizarrely responded to her, stating:
No, actually, your honor. We don’t disagree with that…We do not disagree, [with] the interpretation of the policy.
Then Kim tells the judge:
We wanted to make sure that the court understood how this settlement was reached, and then basically, …. we need to find out additional facts about potentially cancelling. That’s why we asked for this (the conference). We do not disagree [with]the interpretation of the policy
It’s challenging to parse something coherent out of this statement but, first, and most disturbing, if we take Mayor Kim at his word, he has asked for this hearing with the Judge so he can figure out how to cancel the Travelers Insurance policy.
The Court Addresses Another Complaint Kim Has Made about Travelers Insurance
While not contained in his letter to the Judge, Kim has also repeatedly complained about the $25,000 deductible the city owes Travelers as part of the $100,000 settlement Travelers paid out in the Tim Wales case.
The Judge repeats the fact that the city did not have to agree to the settlement then asks Aspland about this deductible:
There was no need for the City of Saratoga Springs to consent. Was there a deductible?
So my understanding is that there was a $25,000 deductible under the employment practice policy, that typically what would happen is Travelers would pay the full amount to settle the case for the plaintiff when they choose to do so. Then how the process works is that the insured client, here the city, gets an invoice from Travelers for the deductible, and that the deductible is then paid in the normal course of business.
As documented in a previous blog, this indeed is exactly how previous insurance settlements have been handled over the years. Hopefully this court transcript will now finally make this clear to Kim, and Commissioners Montagnino and Sanghvi who expressed surprise and outrage that the city owed this bill. It is unfortunate that the three of them did not take the time to do their homework and find this out ahead of time before they wasted time, energy, and the city’s resources stirring up conflict and angst over baseless charges.
Kim’s Obsession with Dillon Moran’s Alleged Conspiracy
Speaking of baseless charges, another interesting part of this transcript came when Judge D’Agostino graciously allows Kim to speak. Kim takes this opportunity to launch into a wandering statement claiming that an unnamed member of the City Council (who Kim eventually identifies as Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran) had a conflict of interest in the case and somehow ended up negotiating the settlement.
Kim tells the Judge:
What we wanted to call attention to the Court was that this settlement discussion was conducted by a representative of the city council that basically has an extreme conflict of interest when he conducted this. He presented himself as far as we know to this Court in front of Judge Magistrate Stewart as a representative of the city…
So then he [Moran] spent about two to three months based on email records that we have, again don’t have a full picture, basically negotiating on behalf — well purporting to negotiate on behalf of the City Council and the city of Saratoga Springs, while having this clear conflict of interest where he was essentially a witness.
Strikingly, Kim uses a lot of qualifiers in making his rambling accusations. He says Moran presented himself as a representative of the city “as far as we know”. He concedes that “again, don’t have a full picture” and backtracks at one point after accusing Moran of negotiating for the city to add “well purporting to negotiate…” whatever that means.
Judge to Kim: “I Can’t Solve Your Issue”
Kim concludes by asking the Judge for the following help:
So, your honor, we are looking to get additional information to basically fulfill our obligation to the public to explain to them why we are paying out $25,000.00 deductible beyond the contract [JK: beyond the contract? What does that mean?] and also find out, determine if there is any other actions that we have to take.
Not surprisingly the Judge tells Kim what he, especially as a lawyer, should have known in the first place:
There isn’t anything that I can do at this point to solve your issues, Mr. Kim. This seems to be like an internal issue between you, the Travelers, and Mr. Aspland. It’s not my role as a federal judge at this point to get you information, but more importantly, I don’t have any information…The case is settled. Moneys have been disbursed. So I can’t give you whatever relief you seem to be looking for.
Time To Move On
At the last City Council meeting on August 16th Mayor Kim announced that his plan now is to initiate a full investigation of the settlement of the Wales case. This is truly ill-advised. Kim’s continued obsession with pursuing Moran and Travelers Insurance only serves to undermine his own credibility. His best route out of all of this would be to move on and successfully carry out the people’s business and restore his own name by producing some real accomplishments that improve the quality of life in Saratoga Springs.
After weeks of refusing to pay the $25,000 deductible the city owes Travelers Insurance for the settlement of the Tim Wales case and plenty of drama, the Saratoga Springs City Council voted unanimously to pay the bill but not before more theatrics from Mayor Kim.
As noted in a previous blog post, conspicuously missing from the Saratoga Springs City Council pre-agenda meeting on August 15 was any reference to the deductible the city owed Travelers Insurance.
At the August 16, 2022, Council meeting, however, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran offered a resolution on his agenda to pay the deductible. Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub seconded the motion. The discussion that followed the motion to pay was laden with disinformation from Mayor Kim (see video clips below). In the end Mayor Kim begrudgingly agreed to vote for the resolution but not before he repeatedly announced that his office would “fully investigate” the events associated with the litigation and settlement. Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino was unusually quiet in the discussion other than expressing his support for the Mayor to pay the bill and pursue his investigation. Finance Commissioner Sanghvi is on vacation for the month of August and was not present at the meeting.
There was no indication that the Council would have addressed this issue had Commissioner Moran not put this on his agenda. Were the other Council members just hoping this would all go away?
Mayor Kim Continues to Complain about Conspiracies
While finally voting to pay the deductible bill to Travelers, Kim persisted in airing his belief that somehow Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran had played a role in determining the $100,000 pay out to Tim Wales. Kim has yet to produce any evidence that this was the case.
At the August 11,2022, during proceedings before Judge Mae D’Agostino (see previous post) that Kim had requested, Kim claimed the following:
“What we wanted to call attention to the Court was that this settlement discussion was conducted by a representative of the city council that basically has an extreme conflict of interest when he conducted this. As far as we know, he presented himself to this court in front of Judge Magistrate Stewart as a city representative.”
Although not named, the person Kim characterizes as the “representative of the city council” who “conducted” the settlement is obviously Dillon Moran. Kim seems to have based his conviction that somehow Dillon Moran clandestinely influenced the multi-billion-dollar company Travelers Insurance to do him a favor and pay his friend Tim Wales $100,00 on the fact that Moran and Risk and Safety Director Marilyn Rivers attended a conference with the magistrate in the case that Kim claims he didn’t know about. I have seen emails to City Attorney Tony Izzo informing him of the meeting. I have seen emails from John Aspland, the attorney representing the city, confirming to Mayor Kim that Moran appeared at the court’s request. None of this seems to have satisfied Kim that there was plenty of notification of the meeting and that it did not involve Moran posing as a representative of the city to negotiate the settlement. I am FOILing for these emails but if history serves me, it will be many weeks before I can secure them if the city agrees to release them at all.
The Role of the City Attorney
The City Attorney is supposed to represent all the members of the City Council, but the reality is that the City Attorney serves at the pleasure of the Mayor. The job of the City Attorney is to give fair and unbiased advice even if it is not what city officials always want to hear.
As the following video clip shows, however, when current City Attorney Tony Izzo had the opportunity to end the controversy between Moran and Kim, he unfortunately chose instead to do his best to obscure the fact that Mayor Kim’s allegations were false.
After Kim once again claims that the city had not been advised of the settlement discussion and that Moran had attended this meeting without notifying the City Attorney, Moran calls Tony Izzo to the microphone. He asks the City Attorney if he had been notified about the conference and whether that notice included the fact that he (Moran) was among those summoned.
Rather than simply confirming that he had received an email stating that Moran had indeed been summoned, Tony responds that he received two emails and states obliquely that “individuals” were asked in one on the emails to attend.
Kim then quickly takes the questioning in another direction focusing on whether John Aspland attended the meeting. It’s hard to tell which meeting Kim is referring to or why any of that matters.
On some level, this is a very sad business. Tony is one of the nicest people I know, and he was put in the difficult position of being asked to give evidence that would contradict the Mayor’s assertions. Nevertheless, the city needs an attorney who can be relied on to give the Council correct information no matter who might be hurt or embarrassed by it.
The next video below follows a polemic by Mayor Kim claiming that he and the rest of the Council were excluded from any knowledge regarding the insurance settlement. In an earlier post, I provided readers with the notices that Izzo and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella received in July advising them of the settlement.
In response to the Mayor’s allegations, Moran asks Tony again to come to the microphone. He asks whether Tony received a notice from the insurer’s attorney about the settlement on July 11. Tony pauses. When he starts to respond, Mayor Kim tries to drown out the discussion, but Moran persists in asking Tony about a further email sent to him on July 18. Tony provides a qualified yes.
Mayor Kim Offers Rambling and Incoherent Defense Regarding His Failure to Adhere to a Council Resolution
The conflict between Moran and Kim continued at the Council table, with Moran raising the issue of the letter Kim had sent to the Judge in the Wales case asking that the case be reinstated.
At the August 2 City Council meeting, Mayor Kim had requested and received a resolution from the Council authorizing him to contact all the parties in the Wales lawsuit asking why the city owed a $25,000.00 deductible. However, the actual letter Kim sent went only to the judge in the case and contained no reference to the deductible. Instead, Kim asked that the Court reinstate the case. [This was explored in an earlier post]
Moran asked the Mayor why he felt he had been empowered to ask that the case be reinstated. Kim’s first reaction is to state incorrectly that the City Attorney sent the letter. (Only Mayor Kim’s signature is on the letter.) I will leave it to the readers to decide whether the rest of Mayor Kim’s defense against Moran’s charges makes any sense.
Kim Falsely Claims That the City Never Authorized a Source of Funding to Pay for the Wales Settlement
In the following clip, Kim alleges that the city never encumbered funds to pay for the Wales settlement. In the next clip, Moran reads from a January resolution that provided the funding and which Mayor Kim voted for.
Mayor Announces His Plan to Investigate Wales Case
This lengthy section of the Council meeting dealing with the Wales case settlement ended with Mayor Kim dramatically promising the city’s people that he would carry out an investigation into some unknown malfeasance associated with this settlement. It is unclear exactly who is going to carry out this investigation.
At the risk of sounding snarky, he might begin his investigation within his own department.
The following is the transcript of the telephone conference held on August 11, 2022, in response to a letter sent by Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim to Judge Mae D’Agostino, the federal judge who had presided over the settlement of the Tim Wale’s case, asking her to reinstate the case. I think the transcript speaks for itself. Readers will note an aside by Mayor Kim about dropping the city’s insurer, Travelers Insurance.
As the transcript shows, Mayor Kim continues to believe that Travelers Insurance, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, would allow Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran to influence their handling of this case.
I spoke to a number of attorneys about Judge Mae D’Agostino. They were universal in praise of her both as a judge and in her previous career as an attorney specializing in medical malpractice.
At a recent City Council meeting, Saratoga Springs Mayor Kim, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi made blistering attacks on Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and Director of Risk and Safety Marilyn Rivers accusing them of trying to hide a payment for a deductible owed to the city’s insurance company in a settlement of a lawsuit against the city (see recent post). Montagnino claimed he only became aware of the settlement by using his attorney skills to find information on the web. Kim and Sanghvi asserted that they were also not told of the settlement.
As it turns out emails below show that Marilyn Rivers advised Mayor Kim’s Deputy, Angela Rella, and City Attorney Tony Izzo of the settlement in an email on July 11, 2022, a month earlier.
So how is it that Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi were allegedly unaware of the settlement? Ms. Rella is Kim’s deputy. Did she fail to read the email, or did she fail to inform Kim? Was Kim advised of the settlement by her and cynically made accusations knowing they were untrue?
Did Izzo fail to advise Montagnino and Sanghvi, or had they been informed but, for some bizarre reason, chose to pretend ignorance in their reckless accusations of some kind of conspiracy?
Here is the email Marilyn Rivers sent to Izzo and Rella regarding the settlement and the deductible owed.
Attached please find correspondenc pertaining to Timothy Wales as received from Travelers Insurance. As discussed in previous conversations. This is the only correspondenc/information I will receive regarding the Timothy Wales Settlement. Additional information may be received directly from John Aspland – insurance counsel on this case file. The process at this juncture is that the City Council – in this case Tony Izzo – would share the settlement with the City Council . My insurance file is now formally closed with this email.
Marilyn Rivers July 11, 2022
Below is the full thread of the email sent by Rivers to Rella and Izzo.
The bill to pay Travelers Insurance for the deductible the city owes for the settlement in the Tim Wales case had seemed to have fallen into a black hole. The agenda for the August 16, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, sent out by Mayor Kim on Friday night, contained no reference to the outstanding bill. Readers will remember that that bill was unanimously removed from the consent agenda at the City Council’s August 2 meeting with Mayor Kim, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, and Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino raising objections to the payment. [ see previous blog]
Sometime this afternoon (Monday, August 15, 2022), Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran added a resolution to pay the bill to his agenda for Tuesday night. Assuming he can garner a second, Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi will be challenged to either approve the expenditure or explain what they plan to do about it. There is, of course, the possibility that the three officials will vote no and avoid addressing what their solution is by smothering the discussion with false allegations, misinformation, and invectives as they did at the August 2 meeting.
Conspicuously absent from Mayor Kim’s original agenda for this meeting was also any reference to his conference with the judge in the Tim Wales case on August 11, 2022. Here again, Commissioner Moran has placed on his agenda the letter that Kim sent to the judge in the case. Readers may remember that Kim had asked for a resolution authorizing him to contact the judge to inquire why the city should have to pay the deductible [see previous blog]. The letter he actually sent to the judge (attached by Moran to the updated agenda) asked instead that the case be reinstated.
Mayor Kim will be placed in the awkward situation of having to share the Judge’s rejection of his request with the public. He may falsely claim that the conference was privileged and that he is not allowed to discuss it. In fact, the conference was not sealed, and a summary of the meeting was placed on the federal judicial website. There is no reason he cannot be forthcoming about the meeting. [see previous blog]
The Saturday Morning “Emergency” Meeting Fiasco
At the August 2, 2022, meeting, the Council voted to remove the deductible payment to Travelers Insurance from the warrant on the consent agenda.
Subsequently, Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran asserted that the entire warrant that contained this bill would have to be redone. He chose to tear up the original warrant and had the pieces delivered to the Finance Department.
On Friday, August 12, 2022, according to Dillon Moran, at 11:35 in the morning, Stefanie Richards of the Accounts Department delivered the revised warrant minus the Travelers bill to the Finance Department for review so it could be sent back to him to sign and then be paid.
Despite this, on Friday evening, August 5, 2022, Mayor Kim determined that he needed to call an emergency meeting to pay all the vendors (except Travelers) immediately and not wait for the next regular Council meeting on August 16, 2022. At around 5:30 PM Friday, he sent a notice calling for a special meeting to be held the next morning, Saturday, August 6. The agenda for the meeting had one item, a resolution from the Mayor. In an example of shrill overreach, the resolution characterized Commissioner Moran’s failure to sign the original warrant as “illegal” and authorized the Mayor to sign the warrant if Moran failed to do so by 8:00 AM Monday, August 8, 2022. Although it was unclear whether the Mayor could legally usurp the responsibilities of the Accounts Commissioner, the measure passed four to one.
The bulk of the Saturday meeting consisted of conflicting and inaccurate statements that I cannot begin to describe. I would encourage readers to view the meeting on the city’s website. It was ineptly run, and in the end, it accomplished nothing. No bills were paid. The bills will (hopefully) be approved and paid at the August 16, 2022, meeting. The meeting was an utter waste of time.
Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi Have Placed the City’s Insurance in Jeopardy
What insurance company will want to do business with the city of Saratoga Springs if the city refuses to meet its contractual obligations and pay its bills?
This is a totally unnecessary mess, and the trail of mismanagement is simply appalling, but there is no sign that any thoughtful strategy exists to resolve the mess.
At Mayor Ron Kim’s request, the Saratoga Springs City Council passed a resolution at their August 2, 2022, meeting authorizing Kim to write to the Judge in the Tim Wales case asking her to explain the deductible the city was being asked to pay to Travelers Insurance for the settlement of the case.
Instead, Kim sent the following letter to the judge asking for the case to be reinstated and for a meeting.
Judge D’Agostino granted Mayor Kim’s request for a conference and met with the parties including Kim on August 11,2022.
I have been told by several attorneys that Judge Mae D’Agostino is highly respected in the legal community.
The following is a web page from the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF). It is used by the federal courts for, among other things, providing public access to its activities.
This page records the progression of the Wales case ending with a description of the conference Judge D’Agostino held with Kim, Kevin Laurilliard, who had represented Tim Wales, and John Aspland, who had represented the city in the case.
The account of the meeting given here is brief. I take it from “The matter remains settled” that the Judge advised Mayor Kim that the case is closed and will not be reopened despite his request.
“The Mayor seems to agree and understands the terms – the mayor was seeking additional information regarding the settlement, which this Court does not have.”
I conjecture from this that Kim seemed to understand the settlement but was still seeking information about the deductible and the significance of the fact that the Council never voted to approve the settlement.
If this is the case, it would not be surprising that he was told by the court (the judge) that it does not have this information.
At the risk of appearing snarky, of course the judge does not have this information. The terms of the agreement between the city and its insurer have nothing to do with what transpired in the court case.
Any conflict between the city (the Mayor) and its insurer will have to be resolved between those parties.
I have FOILed the court for the complete transcript of the meeting. I was told that the transcript was not sealed, so it should be available. When I receive it, I will post it on this blog.
The nearly four-hour August 2, 2020, City Council meeting was marked by confusion and hysterical, baseless allegations against a fellow Council member and a long-time city employee made by Mayor Kim, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi. The meeting exposed the fact that these three elected officials do not understand the terms of the insurance policy that protects the city from lawsuits and that they have been unwilling to perform the due diligence necessary to learn about it. Their comments at this meeting also showed that they are embarrassingly ignorant of the city’s process for authorizing the payments of the city’s bills and of their responsibilities for monitoring the payments of these bills. These officials conjured up conspiracies where there were none at the expense of Marilyn Rivers, the city’s Director of Risk and Safety, who has served this city honorably for almost twenty years.
The kerfuffle arose over the payment of a deductible to the city’s insurance company for the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the city in 2020. Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi are apparently ignorant of the city’s agreement with Travelers Insurance Company that covers lawsuits brought against the city. The insurer has billed the city for a $25,000.00 deductible in the recently settled case. Instead of acknowledging the need to pay the charge, the three launched into an ugly attack at the August 2, 2022, meeting, making unsubstantiated allegations that there was some kind of conspiracy to secretly get the city to pay $25,000.00 toward the settlement, claiming untruthfully at times that they didn’t even know the case had been settled. The toxic discussion was rampant with dark references to unnamed persons attempting some sort of coverup. Despite Accounts Commissioner Moran’s urgent assertions that the bill was legitimate and needed to be paid, the three refused to acknowledge the city’s contractual obligation.
Adding to the madness, Mayor Kim got his colleagues at the table to authorize him to write to the insurer, the attorney who litigated the case on behalf of the city, and to the judge in the case, Justice Mae D’Agostino, “…asking them for a detailed explanation of how this deductible arose, why we were not informed [we had to] to pay $25,000.00.”
I am happy to answer Mayor Kim’s questions:
Mayor Kim, the attorney in the case advised you that there had been a $100,000.00 settlement. It was reasonably assumed that you would be aware that in the event of a settlement, your agreement with the insurer required the city to pay a deductible of up to $25,000.00.
If you were surprised to be told that there was a deductible, it was incumbent on you to either review the agreement yourself or to have the City Attorney do so.
It is hard to understand how you would engage in a public controversy over the matter before educating yourself on the contents of the city’s agreement with the insurer.
Here is the video of Mayor Kim asking for approval for the letter he wants to write and denying that a deductible is part of the city’s contract with Travelers. Accounts Commissioner Moran tries unsuccessfully to set him straight. Kim also inadvertently acknowledges that he was actually advised of the settlement in an email he received from the lawyer who litigated the case.
The letter Kim sent did not adhere to the resolution the Council adopted but instead asked the judge to “…reinstate this case and set a time for a conference with the parties.” This failure by the Mayor to properly carry out a resolution passed by the Council would normally be considered a serious breach, but very little this Mayor and Council do these days seems normal anymore.
Jeopardizing the City’s Insurance
During the Council meeting, Mayor Kim not only repeatedly complained about paying the deductible owed to the insurance company, he also attacked the settlement reached in the case. He claimed the city should not have to pay anything. In a piece of demagoguery, Kim indignantly appealed to the public, telling them the settlement was costing “you” $25,000.00.
Aside from being baseless, this was a gratuitous and reckless public attack on the city’s insurer. It is reasonable to assume that Travelers will be most unhappy that the city is unwilling to abide by their contract and pay them. It is reasonable to assume they will not be happy being accused in the Capital District media of failing to protect the city.
This is a total mess and completely unnecessary. It remains to be seen how Travelers will react to the Mayor’s accusations. Several attorneys who practice law involving insurance companies told me that they believe this could lead to Travelers dropping the city’s coverage in the future.
So what is the story behind this settlement that is causing so much consternation at the Council table?
In March of 2020, Tim Wales, who had worked in the Public Works Department as the city’s engineer, sued the city, claiming he had been wrongfully terminated. Mr. Wales had been fired for alleged abusive behavior. Wales claimed that he had been terminated because he had supported Dillon Moran’s 2019 campaign for Commissioner of Public Works against then Commissioner of Public Works, the late Skip Scirocco.
Mr. Wales lost his lawsuit before the U.S. District Court, Northern Division of New York, along with his appeal to the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department. He then sued again in federal court. Regrettably, before this suit could go to trial, the two key witnesses (Skip Scirocco and Jen Merriman) died. Without these witnesses, the attorneys representing the city decided to settle the case for $100,000.00.
This settlement triggered the city’s obligation to pay its insurer, Travelers, a $25,000.00 deductible.
In June, I wrote about Mayor Kim’s false claim that the insurer was required to seek city approval for any settlement. The city’s contract with its insurer, Travelers, is quite clear. The agreement with the insurance company the city has contracted with cedes all authority over handling suits (including frivolous ones) to the insurer. For this authority, the insurer agrees to accept all legal costs in defending the city and to pay any settlement reached by the parties or any award from a trial. As the insurer is burdened with the high costs of attorney fees and paying the bulk of any settlement or judgment, they understandably require having exclusive control over any litigation. This approach is standard for the insurance industry.
In fact, the city’s attempt to interfere in the settlement demonstrates why the insurer requires sole control over the litigation.
As documented in the video clip below, Kim cited the fact that the city had prevailed in the original suit and in the appeal of the suit (Kim inaccurately referred to the latter as arbitration) as evidence that the settlement was unnecessary, ignoring, as stated earlier, that the two key witnesses against Wales are now deceased. I will leave the readers to consider how Mayor Kim thinks he is qualified to weigh in on this case.
The contract between Travelers and the city requires the insurer to pay the full cost of settlements and judgments. In turn, the city must expeditiously pay its deductible to the insurer.
The contract between Travelers Insurance and the city reads:
“If we [Travelers] settle a claim or “suit” for damages, or pay a judgement for damages awarded in a “suit,” that are subject to a deductible, we may pay any part or all of the deductible amount. You [the city] will promptly reimburse us for such part of the deductible amount as we have paid.”
Insurance Contract Signed By City
“If you do not reimburse us [Travelers] for a deductible amount and we are awarded the deductible amount we sought, or any part of that amount in any legal proceeding against you, you agree to pay us the amount of the award and the following:
a. Our deductible recovery expenses; and
b. Interest, from the date of the notice of payment to you on the deductible awarded to us.”
Insurance Contract Signed By City
The Consent Agenda
At the August 2 meeting, much was made of the fact that the authorization for payment of the deductible was included in the city’s “consent agenda.” This was a sure sign for Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi that some nefarious plot was underway to sneak the insurance deductible payment through without their knowledge.
The consent agenda is a tool used to streamline meeting procedures by collecting routine, non-controversial items into a group whereby all are passed with a single motion and vote. This method has grown in popularity in recent years and there are many variations on the theme to meet specific needs.
The city has adopted no formal rules of its own as to what items should go on a consent agenda. Instead, the city relies on the vaguely defined definition in Roberts Rules of Order.
The city packages the vast bulk of its outstanding bills each month into its consent agenda, allowing the Council to authorize payments in one resolution. The August consent agenda ran some eighty-two pages listing all the bills to be paid. If the Council had to approve each payment separately, it would take a great deal of unnecessary time. As discussed in the white paper linked above, efficiency is the driving force.
To be included on the consent agenda, the invoices to be paid must reference the line item in the city budget from which the funds for the bill will be drawn. In addition, every bill must have adhered to the city’s procurement requirements.
There is extensive evidence that the city has routinely included the payment of insurance deductibles on the consent agenda. A cursory search showed that the payment of insurance deductibles was authorized through the consent agenda at Council meetings on October 1, 2015, December 4, 2017, and July 7, 2020.
They have been included in the consent agenda because, up until the August 2 meeting, previous administrations have seen nothing controversial regarding the city’s obligation to pay these deductibles.
1. The city had properly executed contracts with the insurer for the service (litigation liabilities).
2. The insurer had fulfilled its duty to represent the city in litigation.
3. The insurer had documented the total cost of the settlements to the city and appropriately invoiced the city for their share (the deductible).
With a saner Council, paying the deductible would not be controversial. The city has a signed agreement that requires it to pay the deductible. End of story. Previous Councils understood that their contract with Travelers required payment, so there was no point in making it a special, separate agenda item. There was nothing really to discuss. The city had to pay the bill.
Montagnino Is Wrong About the Consent Agenda
The consent agenda is not just for minor expenses, as Montagnino and Kim claim in these video excerpts from the Council meeting. It is not just for “mops and buckets.” As noted earlier in this post, it is for all expenses that have been properly funded by the Council and have met the procurement requirements.
At one point in the video, Commissioner Sanghvi asks why she had to put an item for $20 on her department’s agenda rather than include it in the consent agenda. Her question demonstrated her basic misunderstanding of the consent agenda. The purchase of the item she referenced had violated the city’s procurement policies and so could not be included in the consent agenda. The Council was required to act on it separately.
Having been in office for seven months, the fact that neither Montagnino nor Sanghvi nor Kim (who previously served two terms on the Council) understand how the items that go on the consent agenda are selected, is quite a sad and troubling admission.
Similarly, Montagnino’s assertion that only minor items are supposed to go on the consent agenda is demonstrably false.
Consider that the city’s payroll of over one million dollars is on the consent agenda. A payment request for $702,165.28 to Amsure for insurance is on that consent agenda.
Or consider these two pages from the warrants for the consent agenda.
This highlighted service contract is not a minor expense at $15,771.00. It is for a service that was properly contracted for and apparently delivered similar to the legal insurance deductible.
This payment of $489,517.94 was apparently for a capital project that had been properly contracted for by the Council and carried out consistent with the agreement. Again, basically the same as the insurance deductible.
No one would characterize these expenses as minor purchases.
Montagnino’s self-righteous rant is so clearly false that it is rather stunning and embarrassing. I guess he thought that no one else would actually look at the documents he was talking about.
The Consent Agenda and Due Diligence: Montagnino Complains about What, in Fact, He Is Responsible for Doing
In a bizarre twist to this story, Commissioner Montagnino bitterly and unashamedly complained that because of an alleged conspiracy to use the consent agenda to hide an allegedly inappropriate bill, he would now be burdened by having to scrutinize all the items in the consent agenda in the future. In effect, he admitted he had been failing in his fiduciary responsibility for the previous seven months. (see video).
Commissioner Montagnino appears unaware that he or his Deputy is supposed to review the consent agenda before it comes before the Council for a vote and not just blindly approve it.
The fact that the consent agenda combines most of the city’s outstanding bills does not relieve the City Council members from reviewing the items on the consent agenda. After all, Council members must go on record with their vote approving the payment of the bills. I spoke to past members of the Council and their deputies regarding these obligations. In each case, I was told that either the elected official or the commissioner’s deputy always reviewed the consent agenda before it came up for a vote. “It goes with the job.,” one told me.
Montagnino Goes Operatic
Notwithstanding Montagnino’s boast about how, using his skills as an attorney, like Sherlock, he had discovered the settlement at issue, there is a trail of emails that show he was advised about the settlement weeks before his alleged sleuthing. On May 20, 2022, Mayor Kim sent out an email that included a thread of exchanges that the case was to be settled for $100,000.00. As documented earlier in this post, Kim acknowledged receiving an email from attorney John Aspland advising him of the settlement.
Additionally, in May, Marilyn Rivers had advised City Attorney Anthony Izzo of the impending settlement suggesting he contact John Aspland.
In that context, Montagnino’s claims indicate that he either did not bother to read his emails or he cynically made his accusations knowing they were unfounded.
It is also worth noting that the City Attorney could have stepped in during this controversy and admitted that he knew about the settlement.
The City Council Goes on a Witch Hunt: Montagnino as the Grand Inquisitor
Having convinced themselves falsely that a grand conspiracy was afoot to cheat the city out of $25,000, Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi turned to the question of who was responsible for this supposedly nefarious act that the three “uncovered.” Montagnino leads the charge:
So Who Put the Deductible Payment in the Consent Agenda?
This is a particularly grim example of the disingenuous nature of this witch hunt. Everyone at that table knew that Marilyn Rivers, as Director of the office of Risk and Safety, had put it on the agenda. There was no secret.
This video clip exposes that everybody at the Council table knew this.
A Cruel and Gratuitous Attack on a City Employee
Marilyn Rivers was hired as the first Director of the Office of Risk and Safety Management on April 4, 2003.
During her nineteen years of service, Ms. Rivers established a national reputation as one of the leading voices on municipal risk and safety issues. She has been selected numerous times as a featured speaker at conferences here in New York and nationally and has received numerous awards in recognition of her expertise.
Many of the programs she has initiated here in Saratoga Springs have been adopted by other municipalities in New York as “best practice.”
In speaking to former Mayor Meg Kelly, and former Commissioners Michele Madigan, and Chris Mathiesen, all were unanimous in their praise for her, and all agreed that over her tenure, the city has saved millions of dollars due to her work. Ms. Rivers deserves some of the credit for the high credit ratings the city has received.
As the Risk and Safety Management Director, Ms. Rivers oversaw the Travelers contract. The contract required that Travelers be paid expeditiously upon settlement, and she processed this deductible payment for the Wales settlement as she had processed others over the years.
The public attacks on Ms. Rivers, who is due to retire next April, have been cruel and unconscionable. I have heard from a number of sources that Ms. Rivers has been devastated by the false allegations made against her. On August 9, 2022, I learned that Ms. Rivers went out on medical leave. Kim, Sanghvi, and Montagnino seem oblivious or indifferent to the harm they have done to Ms. Rivers and to the effect their behavior has had on the morale of the city’s employees.
This Was All Unnecessary
The hysteria generated by Kim, Sanghvi, and Montagnino is unmerited. There had been previous discussions on this litigation in June, so everyone knew about it. The insurance carrier was authorized by a signed contract to have full authority over the litigation. The city was legally obligated to pay a deductible should the case be resolved by a cash settlement with the claimant. Travelers paid the $100,000.00 settlement and sent the bill for the $25,000.00 deductible that the city is required to pay expeditiously. End of story.
The idea that Marilyn Rivers or anyone else tried to hide anything is both unfounded and grossly unfair. Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi owe Ms. Rivers an apology.
This is a prime example of a politician responding to an intransigent problem with the illusion of a solution.
As stated by Commissioner Montagnino, this code enforcement language was taken from one adopted by the City of Rochester. He told the media that the language of the code had withstood numerous court challenges.
He conveniently passed over the history of Rochester’s code, however. It was adopted in 2004 and included special fines, but Betty McBride, a clerk in the office of the Rochester Chief of Police, told Saratoga Today:
It’s a city code, but they don’t give tickets. They choose not to. What we do is we try to help out; offer resources to get shelter, get clothing and food.
So if they do not actually use the code to give tickets to enforce limits on panhandling, it doesn’t sound like Rochester’s code has any record of impacting panhandling.
At the July 2, 2022, Council meeting, Commissioner Montagnino presented his proposed code. At the public hearing, speakers spoke for and against the proposal. Most of those speaking against the proposal focused on the vagueness of the term “aggressive” and expressed concern over criminalizing the homeless and the lack of affordable housing.
When the proposal came up on the agenda, there was a rambling discussion among Council members over whether to table the proposal, fund a study, or put a sunset clause on the code. Usually, Council members in the past who wanted support for an initiative would have one on one conversations with their fellow Council members to explain their proposal, listen to and try to address any concerns before taking it for a vote at the Council table. This is a useful strategy that can result in a better proposal coming to the table that will have majority support or maybe the dropping of a proposal because these discussions made clear that it wouldn’t have the votes to pass. Listening to Council members ask the most basic questions about this legislation made me wonder if Montagnino had bothered to do this.
The most thoughtful comment came from Public of WorksCommissioner Jason Golub:
The resolution failed with Montagnino and Mayor Kim voting yes and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, Public Works Commissioner Golub, and Accounts Commissioner Moran voting no.
Mayor Kim and Chamber of Commerce Executive Todd Shimkus Repackage a Failed Policy
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus and Mayor Kim drew extensive media coverage for a plan to hand homeless panhandlers a card rather than money. The card lists the services available to homeless people.
I ran the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (now re-branded as LifeWorks) for sixteen years and had plenty of interactions with homeless people over that time. Many homeless people often suffer from mental, alcohol, and drug problems. Still, it is the rare homeless person who has not learned through their network about what community services are available.
This card policy is especially aggravating because this same program, carried out during the Joanne Yepsen administration, was a resounding failure, and Mr. Shimkus knows this.
I have talked to one of the downtown business owners who told me that, as far as they know, no businesses are using the cards. When you think about it, how are they supposed to use these cards? Are they supposed to give a stack to each customer?
I advise anyone that handing one of these cards to an unknown panhandler is not a good idea. Giving them one of these cards rather than money invites a potentially very unpleasant interaction.
How About Deploying a Police Officer on Foot to Patrol the Downtown?
Unless a police officer observes a crime, it is difficult to successfully ticket anyone. As Commissioner Montagnino conceded during the August 2, 2022, meeting, an accusation is hard to prove without supporting evidence such as witnesses or video.
One owner of a downtown business told me there was a time when the city assigned a police officer on foot to patrol downtown. They noted that while it wasn’t a panacea, it did act to lessen the general aggressiveness of panhandlers. If Commissioner Montagnino really wants to do something, he should find a way to deploy officers on the street again.
A notice was posted tonight for a special City Council meeting to take place tomorrow, Saturday, August 6, 2022, at 10 AM (see below). There is no indication of what is on the agenda.
Although the New York State Open Meetings Law requires the public be notified at least seventy-two hours before a regularly scheduled meeting, this specially called meeting apparently does not have to meet this requirement nor is an agenda required to be posted.
Nevertheless, as far as I know, it is unprecedented for the City Council to set a meeting without notifying the public of what business will be transacted.
Setting meetings without advising the public of what the Council plans to do is bad practice. As noted in many posts, the current members of the Council consistently fail to meet the transparency standards they continually claim to embrace.