Finance Commissioner Sanghvi: $13,000.00 for New Furniture and a New Executive Assistant but MIA for the Start of Budget Season

A Well Appointed Office

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:


Re: Furniture

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:

Heather Crocker, Deputy Commissioner of Finance – Heather.Crocker@Saratoga-Springs.org

Samantha Clemmey, Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance – Samantha.Clemmey@Saratoga-Springs.org

Thank you,

Minita Sanghvi

Commissioner of Finance

Saratoga Springs, NY


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.

Michele Madigon

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.

Michele Madigan

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.

19 thoughts on “Finance Commissioner Sanghvi: $13,000.00 for New Furniture and a New Executive Assistant but MIA for the Start of Budget Season”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong (pretty sure I’m not as I worked with her) did former Mayor Joanne Yepsen not identify herself as a grant writer in her personal business and did she not teach grant writing workshops? Is this not the position she repeatedly claimed to have applied to Saratoga Hospital – even though she never submitted appropriate writing samples and was not considered – by the hospital – due to a conflict of interest?

    So, Is she now not able to write one for her own committee and requires someone to be paid? Her delusion of her own skills astonishes me.

    “The annual salary of the position is $51,490.00. Including benefits, the position costs $72,000.00 annually.” Is this in line with the other Executive Assistants in City Hall?

    New furniture after two years? I sure hope all those (including some of the current commission) who inaccurately screamed and yelled about Commissioner Madigan’s “private (not) bathroom” for months on end stand up and say something. Yet, I, unfortunately, will not be surprised if we hear only ‘crickets’.

    It makes me sad as a former employee of City Hall and yes, a friend of Michele Madigan to see the hard work of her 10 years to build the safe and appropriate budget as well as amazing credit rating being trashed by a Commissioner who clearly has no intention of even meeting the minimum much less going above and beyond (rather spend money for someone else to do her job) and her comrades on the council. It Madigan several years to rescue the budget when she took office and it will take that long or longer when this commission is finished – hopefully in the next year and half.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Where did the old city council table and chairs go? When city hall was renovated, where did all the furniture and desks go?

      Like

  2. First off, my feedback would be given to any council member who demonstrates this behavior, not just Commissioner Sanghvi.

    With that clear, holy crap! Wait! What? No way! You must be making this up! Impossible! Get outta here! How is this possible?

    Having visited the recently rebuilt city Finance office last year, I am floored. I didn’t sit in a folding chair, and Commissioner Madigan was not seated at a folding table. I can not fathom how a $13,000 budget, let alone a $3,000 budget would be needed for redecorating an office that was just built!

    Mayor Kim has said, dozens of times, “This is your money, the Tax payer’s money” when he broaches a budget line he does not like. Yet, this?

    I think it would be important for some photos of the current office to be shared with the public. It’s our finance department – let’s see what we are working with. The $10,000 should be transferred back to a budget line that really needs it.

    Is Commissioner Sanghvi currently sitting on the floor at work? No, she is actually sitting in India right now.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Didn’t Finance also recently create a budget director position? If their deputy isn’t managing the budget, what are they so busy with that a $70k+ position is needed? Creating this person, rather than hiring a grant writer who could actually help the city bring in some money, is egregious.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John-

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light. Earlier in the year, Commissioner Sanghvi also made recorded comments to the other commissions and stated she would like the City of Saratoga to pay for the gifts she gives to her employees on special occasions, like birthdays. At the time, I thought it was just inexperience, but I now realize its consistent with her ideology of believing the public money belongs to her, not the residents of Saratoga Springs.

    I worked for the federal government and could never imagine the US Congress voting to fund agencies with line items for the purpose of giving gifts to their employees on special occasions, like birthdays and retirement. They don’t even pay for coffee, nor should they.

    While Commissioner Sanghvi seems like a nice person, I get the sense that she does not understand the concept of “public service.”

    Respectfully,

    Tim Coll

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Once again, thanks to John Kaufmann for exposing issues that otherwise would have been missed by most of us. It would be helpful if Commissioner Sanghvi would provide a public explanation when she returns of the need for additional employees in the Finance Department as well as greater detail about the $13,000 office equipment and furniture budget item. Deputy Commissioner Crocker should have at least acknowledged John’s e mail inquiry..

    Gayle Lasalle raises some important points about the City’s grant writing resources. It’s also interesting to see how much the City spends on employee benefit packages, though taxpayers should be pleased to see that, with the exception of the five underpaid Council members, our employees and staff have fair and responsible compensation.

    I know that many who read John’s blog are fans of the Commission Form of Government, but we continue to see reasons this year that should confirm for fair-minded citizens the shortcomings of this ‘broadly abandoned’ system of local government. Splitting up executive responsibilities among five Council members, none of whom can then adequately exercise their legislative responsibilities, continues to be problematic. Had an executive such as a strong mayor wanted to purchase office furniture to re-decorate or wanted to add a position in mid-year to a department, a full explanation would be required before the legislative body would approve. The strong mayor would also have reliable personnel available to provide consistent annual budget presentations with far fewer opportunities for conflicts of interest. And, the ridiculous attacks on Commissioner Moran and Marilyn Rivers over the past three Council meetings or the possibility of sudden, ill-advised changes being forced on the police department by a newly elected official would be much less likely under a more traditional form of City government.

    We have limped along over many years of Commission government only because of the responsible and restrained behavior of the majority of previously elected officials. We are now seeing what happens under this system when five individuals who have entirely too much power with too few constraints fail to follow those traditions.

    I am not advocating for immediate charter change. But, once the Council is re-constituted and returns to normal function, our community needs to give serious consideration to its future.

    Chris Mathiesen

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chris,

      Would you really want to put the citizens of Saratoga Springs through another divisive and expensive vote to change our form of government? The voters have spoke three or is it four times to reject this idea. Only once was the vote close.

      I agree that there are problems here, one has only to watch a City Council meeting to see that the current commissioners are woefully unqualified. That’s why I like the idea of being able to vote for all of the commissioners and not just my district rep and the mayor. Hopefully not much more damage will be done over the next year and we’ll have a chance to clean our house.

      Like

    2. I’ve come around to the idea of changing the form of government as well, but I don’t know if this post reflects why. Using your own example, what would make any of the issues you cite less likely with a strong mayor? There are countless examples of traditional mayors (and governors) around the country using their power to push through their own projects, criticizing municipal employees who disagree with them, and brushing aside valid complaints about spending and policies (like in NYC). Our problem is that we’ve elected people who refuse to learn how the commission form of government works correctly, or who are too hungry for power/praise that they don’t care. During your time in office, how often were union agreements brought forward without a thorough review, or were unneeded positions created mid-year, or was frivolous spending done without any push back? Do you think Mayor Kim, if elected as a strong mayor, would be making more rationale decisions?

      In this case, it’s not the form of government that’s the problem, it those who have been elected.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Chris–

    I agree that John’s blog is very useful for informing the citizenry. However, abandoning the Commission Form of Government, before implementing tweaks as to how the executive responsibilities are performed (which I believe requires a public vote), is irresponsible.

    Take the person you like the least on the current City Council. Now, imagine them as your Strong Mayor. A Strong Mayor continually re-elected due to voter enrollment advantage, protected by the political machine and insulated from the voters.

    Like Albany, we could be sentenced to one party rule for over a century and a single individual for decades. This is no more unlikely a scenario than the one you describe where a virtual angel is elected and in charge. Your illustration of a strong mayor always assumes that the person elected is a virtuous, selfless individual that always thinks of the greater good. But we all know they will be human beings and sometimes the electorate makes mistakes, as has been done recently.

    To your points: “A full explanation” is not guaranteed in other forms of government – one only needs to look to a newly announced program through the executive branch where the full details are not available and are emerging. I do not know Marilyn Rivers personally, but to my knowledge, she was an example of reliable personnel that was “available to provide consistent annual budget presentations with far fewer opportunities for conflicts of interest”. And, “ill-advised changes being forced on” any department can happen under any regime change, regardless of the form of government.

    The Commission Form of Government, arguably the most traditional due to its age, remains the form of government that has the least amount of bureaucracy. All other forms dilute the voting power of an individual, increase bureaucracy and significantly increase costs – which taxpayers do not need right now. Nonetheless, I am certainly not against a reasonable raise for the commissioners. Perhaps doing so will cast a wider net of people willing to share their talents and run for a job that is so important. But those that take these positions on should service-oriented, not attracted by a dollar sign, and the increase should not be a significant burden to taxpayers.

    We are in agreement that changes are needed, starting with what executive responsibilities should shift under which commissioner. As far as blindly rubber stamping each other’s proposals and not asking responsible questions on behalf of the taxpayers, well, perhaps it is the people at the table that need to change. Right now, voters have the greatest amount of voting power to do that.

    Respectfully,
    Connie

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I would also like to thank John for this information.

    Chris is correct that our form of government needs to change. Sadly there are probably not many people left that will or want to serve our community in this form. For 30 years this town has been fantastic for my family but as I said before after seeing how the previous council was trashed I would not be interested for 15K per meeting let alone per year. If we stay here I do want to give back some how.

    That being said, imagine Chris as Mayor. (even is this form of government)

    We need leaders with integrity and common sense. Leaders that will make this blog an inspiring read as John details all the positive actions of the city council. Maybe the current council members can get their acts together.
    They need to read this blog with the comments and review their actions year to date.

    If not, we all need to be active and involved next election.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lots of interesting comments about our form of local government.

    In response to Duke; No, I would not want to put our citizens through another divisive and expensive vote to change our form of government. As I said, once we have a stable, thoughtful City Council, we should give serious consideration to the future of our local government. I don’t think that your only other choice would be a system where you could vote only for mayor and one legislator. A well-conceived alternative with full community participation and consideration might be achievable with minimized divisiveness and expense.

    In response to Mike; The issues I cite would be less likely with a strong mayor because a legislative/executive form of government provides checks and balances that are sorely lacking in the Commission from of government.
    Our problem isn’t that we have elected people who refuse to learn how the commission form of government works correctly, it’s that the commission form of government doesn’t work very well. That’s why this once popular alternative to traditional local government has been abandoned by nearly every municipality. I know of no municipality that has ever returned to Commission form of government after replacing it. During my time in office, no union agreements were brought forward without thorough review, no unneeded positions were created (at least in our department) and no frivolous spending took place. We had very tight budgets. I think that there is a problem both with the people who have been elected as well as the form of government. A body of legislators elected to represent the interests of the entire community would provide continual oversight .

    In response to Connie; Saratoga Springs and Albany are very different cities with very different histories. While it’s true that Albany has essentially one-party government, different factions have developed within the dominant party which have resulted in successful reform movements over many years. Many of those reforms originated in the legislative body, something Saratoga Springs doesn’t have. As someone who was born in Albany but grew up in Saratoga Springs, I can testify that our City is no stranger to one party rule. Republicans ran Saratoga Springs for many decades and did very well for themselves and for their special interests under Commission form of government.
    “A full explanation” is not guaranteed under other forms of government, true, but it is more likely.
    Marilyn Rivers doesn’t do budget presentations, but, in Saratoga Springs, the Commissioner of Finance does. The Commissioner, serving both as a legislator and an executive, also votes on the budget which is an obvious conflict of interest.
    A reasonable raise for members of the Council was proposed previously but was voted down. While the pay should be increased, that will not help much in terms of participation. It has been described by some as a part-time position which it is not. Nowhere in the Charter are any of the Council positions described as part-time or full-time. These are 24 hour a day, seven day a week, 365 day a year positions. According to the NYS Retirement System, they are described as at least 33 hour per week positions. I was only able to serve on the Council for six years because my kids are all adults now and because I worked for myself and could adjust the hours of my practice around my City Hall responsibilities. The average person with a 9-5 job or a person with a young family can’t possibly put in the amount of time that is necessary to ‘do the job well’ with the possible exception of the Accounts position. A separate legislative body would give citizens from all walks of life the opportunity to participate directly in local government.
    The Commission form of government is NOT the ‘most traditional due to its age’. It was a reform that was popular around the turn of the last century. The much older executive/legislative form of local government with its various versions preceded commission government and continues to be the dominant form to this day.
    Regarding the ‘rubber stamping’ the proposals of other Council members, that is a big part of the problem for commission government and probably contributed substantially to its demise. It is a ‘go along to get along’ system.

    In response to BobW; It IS a great City. Though it is very different from the City in which I grew up (Saratoga Springs, NY), it continues to be a great place to live and to raise a family. We are a remarkable success story because of many factors and the hard work of many people in government, in the private sector, Joe Dalton, etc., etc.
    I don’t know who will be running for office next November but I hope that there will be better choices.

    Chris Mathiesen .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chris–

      Perhaps those that changed from the Commission Form to another never changed back because…..they couldn’t. Once the power shifts away from the people, it rarely, if ever, goes back.

      I appreciate your comments – while we don’t agree on this – I generally find your comments very insightful.

      Connie

      Like

      1. Thanks Connie. I value your opinion too. In my opinion, the power shifted away from Saratogians in 1915.

        Chris Mathiesen

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Folks-

    I am new to the blog so will need to review the Commission Form of Government more thoroughly before I express my opinion. Having said that, Saratoga Springs City Government is simply not working as evidenced by the decay in the city and lack of leadership by the commissioners. We have verified gang members frequenting Caroline Street, panhandlers (many not homeless and some aggressive) on many street corners and graffiti on almost every block. Last weekend, I took a ride on my bicycle downtown and saw that at least two of the donation boxes for the Shelters were broken into. For me the topic is crime, crime, and crime.

    The Public Safety Commissioner who has expressed, but failed to implement, some good ideas should be fighting crime, not the Police Department. The narrative that the Saratoga Police Department needed reform is just false but gained political traction because of what happened Nationally. As Mayor Kim states, stick to the facts. Well, the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the FBI Civil Rights Division investigates corrupt police officers. Where have the cases been in the last fifty years? Yes, the facts matter Mayor, they have been in Schenectady, not Saratoga Springs.

    Back to Mr. Golub’s outrageous comments in the 08/02/2022 meeting. As an Attorney, Mr. Golub is an officer of the court, and his comments/ideology at the meeting simply tarnish his ability to practice law. Therefore, I filed an official complaint with the Attorney Grievance Committee -Third Judicial District. In fact, because of Mr. Golub’s bias, he would not even be allowed to serve as a juror in the court system.

    Respectfully,
    Tim Coll

    Like

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