Commissioner Sanghvi Responds to Blogger and Blogger Replies

Finance Office During Commissioner Madigan’s Term

Then Commissioner Madigan In The Finance Office
Michele’s Desk And Original Paint Job

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Office Currently

Right Side of Office
Left Side of Office

Introduction

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I emailed Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi inquiring about her transfer of $10,000.00 to an account for acquiring furniture. There is now $13,000.00 in that account. I also asked her about the decision to repaint her offices. The Finance office had acquired all new furniture and been painted two years ago after the fire in City Hall.

The following is her response to my emails and recent post and my reply.


Sanghivi: Dear Mr. Kaufmann, 

I will respond to the issues you’ve raised in a recent blog post. Please print this response verbatim. 

1. Furniture

When I joined office (sic)I realized Commissioner Madigan didn’t have a desk, per se. She had part of her desk and then a small conference table that sat at a right angle to serve as a desk. 

As we cleared up our deputy’s office, she needed extra storage so I gave her my storage units. We gave one of our cupboard storage to IT for their storage. One of the desks was given to Civil service for their use. We had a new position our executive assistant join (more on that later) and I gave the person Commissioner Madigan’s part desk. And I ordered an L shaped desk for my office and some storage shelves and drawers. 

Kaufmann: [As can be confirmed by the photos above, Commissioner Sanghvi has basically stripped the office of the Finance Commissioner of most of the furniture that existed when she took over occupancy of the space 8 months ago. Although the furniture was brand new, based on her response, there will be little if any of those furnishings remaining in that office.

Most troubling is her reluctance to be clear about exactly what items she will be replacing all this furniture with and the specific cost of each item. Here she refers to an L shaped desk and “some storage shelves and drawers”. Later she mentions wanting to change to a couch and a “seater setting”. When I asked her for specific information, she responded in an email, “Please feel free to FOIL the information.” Commissioner Sanghvi knows it routinely takes six weeks or more to get FOILed documents from the city.

These are figures one assumes that she calculated before she made the request to the Council to add $10,000 to her budget. They should be readily available.

This is a foolish and problematic response from her on many levels. I will eventually secure the figures so the public, in theend,will find out this information, and her reluctance to release the figures now only extends the life of the story, something she may regret. By denying me this information now and making me go through the FOIL process, she triggers concerns as to exactly how lavish her redecorating plan is. She also undermines her credibility about her commitment to transparency.]

Sanghvi: Commissioner Madigan also had a larger conference desk for visitors. When I set up an office, I found that style to be more confrontational than conversational. Not everyone is used to coming to city hall, many people are intimidated by it. So I wanted to change it to a couch and seater setting to make it more conversational, more inclusive. 

Kaufmann: [There is a reason that offices routinely have conference tables. While the Finance Commissioner occasionally meets informally with members of the general public, the vast majority of office meetings involve internal staff of the city to discuss fiscal matters. Such meetings require an efficient design to seat a number of people who commonly will need a surface on which to place laptops or writing pads.

Sorry to descend to snarkiness, but it is hard to imagine the city department deputies spread out over sofas and easy chairs engaging in discussions trying to resolve city fiscal issues while trying to balance laptops on their knees.

I spent a good deal of my career at meetings, and my priority was that they be as efficient as possible. The meetings I went to or ran were not social events designed to be “conversational.” They were supposed to be designed to minimize chit-chat and get stuff done.

Here again, Commissioner Sanghvi exposes her lack of understanding of the nature of her office. This is particularly troubling as she has been in her position for eight months now.]

Sanghvi: 2. Grants writer

I agree with Commissioner Madigan completely that we need more support with grant writing. We had spoken about this during our transition, and our plan was to consolidate grant management in Finance since it dealt with the management of reimbursements and such. However, other departments were not particularly receptive to the idea. This is the problem of the commission form of government. Sometimes good faith efforts by commissioners are seen as power grabs. That was not at all what she or I had in mind. She added the position, and we both fought for it but were told repeatedly that it was not supportable by some of the other departments. Finally, we worked with individual departments to help them with grant-writing monies that worked based on their needs. I still believe this is something that is of use to our city in finance, but I am only one vote. 

Kaufmann: [I’m having a hard time making sense of this. The position was adopted in the 2022 budget. Commissioner Sanghvi had the authority to simply hire the grant writer. She did not need approval from the current Council, and there was never any public discussion about who did or didn’t support this and why. Petty bureaucratic turf anxiety from unnamed colleagues (I understand Mayor Kim was adamantly opposed to the position) should not be an impediment to filling a position that even Commissioner Sanghvi admits is really needed.]

Sanghvi: Finally, with the money we did have in our budget, we hired an executive assistant. This is more of an issue of parity – the Mayor’s office, DPW, DPS (I believe they’ve used this position differently for many years now) all have executive assistants. When I spoke to the city council (all except Commissioner Scirocco since he was unwell at that time), they agreed all departments should have one.

Kaufmann:[Parity? Because they have one, I should have one? This mentality is how budgets become bloated. Staffing is supposed to be about efficient management of resources and not the dividing of spoils.]

Sanghvi: Commissioner Madigan, indeed, was very fruitful in her time at City Hall and we are working on bringing a lot of those projects to fruition right now such as the NYPA project about our street-lights, SIFI project about fiber. In addition we’ve added one of our own projects with Participatory Budgeting. As you may know, my position is only part time and while many other Commissioners are retired or are able to work full time for this role, I can’t feed my family on $14,500. My full time job as a professor at Skidmore requires my time and efforts too. Hence, we decided to hire an executive assistant. The position was discussed at city hall and in the civil service committee, the ad was posted by HR. Kindly do you (sic) research and feel free to look up the ad to learn more about the position. 

Kaufmann: [Commissioner Sanghvi had a responsibility to assess whether she had the time to do the job of Finance Commissioner before running for the office. If she had told the public that, if elected, she would have to hire a position that would cost the city $72,000 a year to fulfill her duties, voters might very well have voted for someone else. Even worse, is it possible she didn’t even consider the problem of not having the time to do the job properly before deciding to run?]

Sanghvi: 3. About Travel

I have been meeting and discussing capital budgets with all departments long before August. We’ve been having good open communications on recession clouds and our capacity to borrow. I have been very transparent about city finances from Day 1. 

I have also been working with our team on all issues related to finance and our budget while in India, often at 2 am at night. However, you asked why I went. It was not for a children’s book (thank you for the correction). I wrote a novel, which is being released by Harper Collins India in what I’m told will be the first lesbian romance novel in India. SUrely, you get what a monumental moment this is for LGBTQ rigts (sic) in a country of 1.4 billion people. 

Kaufmann: [I never asked Commissioner Sanghvi why she went to India. She has publicized her travel on her Facebook page.

I congratulate Commissioner Sanghvi on the publishing of her novel. I am, however, surprised that she thinks it might be the first such novel published in India. There is already extensive literature published in this genre.]

Sanghvi: And while this trip is for work reasons, I do want to point out for all our future posts about my travel – I travel to India as often as I can. Which means, sometimes it is twice a year. You see, my father is 78 years old. Average life expectancy in India is about 69 years for males. Because I’m a business professor, I did some simple math. If my father lives to about 90 (about 1 year longer than this (sic) father), and I visit him once a year, I will see him about 12 times before he dies. I came out to my family 20 years ago – India and US, for that matter, was a different landscape for LGBTQ rights 20 years ago. They stood by me and supported me despite the criticism and ridicule they faced in their community. The least I can do is maybe visit them more than 12 times before they die. So when I go to India in December, you will know why. 

Kaufmann: [I have no problem with Commissioner Sanghvi taking time off to travel to India. I am glad for her that she has such a supportive and loving family. My problem with her trip was its timing. It was done during the beginning of the crafting of the city budget for 2023. The departments submit their requested budgets to her office in August. Readers should understand that crafting such a budget is extremely challenging and time-consuming both in terms of the very extensive reviews and research and in terms of the political tensions it generates. With respect to the Commissioner, this was not the best time to be away.

What troubled me most, though, was her decision to advise citizens writing her that she would not be allocating time while away to answer their emails. In all the years I have been covering politics, I have never experienced an elected official who would publicly advise the citizenry that for some three weeks, they would not be taking the time to answer email inquiries.]

Sanghvi: Thank you for your keen interest in the minutia of city hall. You also sent me another email about the paint in my office: “I understand that you have repainted your office.  What color did you paint it and why did you have it repainted?”

Kaufmann: [As her offices were only recently painted two years ago as part of the city hall renovation, it seemed odd that they would be painted again, thus my question to her. I knew the office had been painted using historic colors to compliment the carpeting. I suppose it was trivial of me to have asked about her new color choice.]

18 thoughts on “Commissioner Sanghvi Responds to Blogger and Blogger Replies”

  1. This post is so long it is unreadable. Clearly you have an axe to grind and no matter what Ms. Sanghvi said it wouldn’t be right. How about some positive words for our commissioners who work basically for free instead of just casting stones all of the time?

    Like

    1. Jon Weilbaker is the husband of Pat Tuz, the chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee which delivered the slate of current City Council office holders. It would better serve the Saratoga Springs community if rather than just making ad hominem attacks, Mr. Weilbaker would specifically address the substance of the blog that he finds problematic.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My wife and I have different last names and different politics. I do not know what “ad hominem” means and am not wasting my time to look it up. I do know that this blog is about expenditures on office furniture when we should be coming together to solve Saratoga Springs’ larger issues like development, homelessness etc. Please stop your constant attacks and spreading negativity. Use your influence to contribute to something positive.

        Like

      2. I don’t think that I know Jon Weilbaker so I will have to assume that Fact Checker is correct about his relationship to Pat Tuz. I always liked Pat Tuz. City Council members do not ‘work basically for free’ as Jon stated. They ARE underpaid and significant adjustments are in order but they receive $14,500 per year plus fully paid family medical insurance policies which can be worth upwards of $20,000, plus fully paid medical insurance for life if they are able to stay in office for ten years (the craziest of benefits for a $14,500 per year position and a very unhealthy perk from a representative government standpoint) plus free parking, etc.

        There have been a number of less than complimentary remarks about John Kaufmann on a facebook site in reaction to his latest commentary on Commissioner Sanghvi (whom I also like). I don’t think that John deserves to be trashed for his efforts. Trying to destroy the messenger is an old tactic which hopefully will not succeed in this case. While I don’t always agree with John, he serves an important role in trying to compensate for our community’s serious ‘news desert’.

        I don’t think that John is doing anything terrible when he asks the Commissioner about expenses incurred for office furniture purchased. Suggesting that he be required to FOIL this information seems to be contrary to the Commissioner’s efforts to bring more transparency to City finances. I hope that she re-considers her response. As Mayor Kim repeatedly said to taxpayers over the last month, ‘that’s your money being spent’.

        I understand that the Commissioner may have a different leadership style than her predecessor and thus may have felt compelled to physically change the office environment. However, John’s point about the furniture being less than two years old is a valid point to be expressed.

        In fairness to Commissioner Sanghvi, John’s criticism of her for a ‘lack of understanding of the nature of her office’ is, in my opinion, over done. Every mayor, commissioner and deputy commissioner who thought they knew what they were ‘getting into’ when first elected or appointed found the reality to be quite different. We should give Commissioner Sanghvi more time to fully understand the complicated dynamics of her position. That includes fully appreciating the heavy pressure placed on the Finance Department as budgets are formulated for the following year.

        Commissioner Sanghvi’s statement about parity among departments to justify hiring a Finance Department executive assistant surprised me. The Public Safety Department must have been re-organized since I was in office because I didn’t know that an executive assistant position had been established in that department. I do know that the executive assistant in Public Works serves in a position similar to deputy commissioners in other departments because the DPW deputy actually functions as the department’s general foreman. I am assuming that the Finance department continues to have both an appointed deputy and a civil service protected director, something missing in Accounts, Public Safety and the Mayor’s office. Following the Commissioner’s logic, we soon will be seeing an executive assistant in the Accounts Department and three new directors. The fact is that the five departments in City Hall are very different from each other with very different personnel needs.

        I continue to have a problem with a statement made by Commissioner Sanghvi and others about their positions. She stated in her response to John about the need for an executive assistant that ‘as you know, my position is only part time’. That simply isn’t true. There is no mention of full time or part time in the City Charter. While the staff and even the deputies may leave their responsibilities behind at 4:30 PM, the Mayor and Commissioners never do. It is a 24/7 position. Through the miracle of modern technology, in my opinion, there should never be a time that Council members are not available with the possible exception of death, severe illness or deep anesthesia during medical procedures. While I had vacations from my dental practice while in office, I was never out of communication through phone or e mail with my department or our citizens.

        John Kaufmann congratulated Commissioner Sanghvi on her novel and I second that. Good luck trying to find the time to write another novel while teaching at Skidmore and serving as Commissioner of Finance. Both positions require a lot of time and effort and I wish Commissioner Sanghvi the best in finding her way through it all while continuing to enjoy time with her wife and son. It is doable but challenging.

        Chris Mathiesen

        Liked by 3 people

    2. I have never found John’s blog to be unreadable or uninteresting. Thank goodness for his blog; it is the only real news available for Saratoga Springs politics and government. TU coverage is ridiculous and the Saratogian stopped being a real newspaper years ago. Keep up the good work John !

      Liked by 4 people

  2. ad ho·mi·nem
    [ˌad ˈhämənəm]
    ADJECTIVE
    (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining:
    “vicious ad hominem attacks”
    ADVERB
    in a way that is directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining:

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mr. Weilbaker, Just one question. Is addressing the potentially irresponsible expenditures and poor transparency of a council that had screamed about both in their candidacies mutually exclusive to addressing the other issues you mentioned? And, if so, why? (I guess that was two questions)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris —

    I am indeed lucky enough to be the husband of Pat Tuz which gives me a ringside seat to see how much time the volunteers and the commissioners are required put in. As a former commissioner you know this well; and as the city continues to grow the workload only increases. The $14.5K hasn’t been adjusted since Mr. Kaufmann’s wife ran for Ms. Sanghvi’s position in 2007. Probably longer. After taxes maybe it covers your National Grid and phone bill.

    As the owner of a small business I have always focused on increasing revenue and not on cutting expenses. Saratoga Springs is a fountain of riches and our city coffers should reflect this but they don’t.

    In the last 20 years the handle at Saratoga racetrack has increased significantly as a result of internet wagering. Has the city’s take increased proportionately? This is the sort of subject I would like to see Mr. Kaufmann take on instead of making a big deal over a couple of thousand dollars in office furniture.

    – Jon

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    1. Jon,

      Your are fortunate to be the husband of Pat Tuz. I might be wrong but I recall the Council salary increasing from $14,000 to $14,500 in the early 2000’s. Since then, there has been no increase which is unfair. The salary should al least be adjusted upwards to reflect today’s equivalent value and then include an annual cost of living adjustment so that this never happens again.
      City coffers do reflect the increase in economic activity in the City. The cost of running the City increases every year but the tax rate remains the same. There are a number of things, both small and large measures, that could add to revenue while guaranteeing that Saratoga Springs continues to be a good place in which to live, to do business and to visit.
      I too was a small business owner but I succeeded only by trying to reasonably increase revenue while at the same time controlling expenses. I learned to be very careful about spending. Just ask my wife and kids!

      Chris Mathiesen

      Liked by 2 people

    2. “Politicians need to be paid more” is quite the take.

      Good luck getting sympathy from Saratogians, who have watched these idiots spend more money every year while allowing the homeless and BLM run the streets with no repercussions.

      Like

      1. But this is a new set of ‘idiots’. Just kidding. In all fairness, neither this Council nor the previous one are populated by idiots. They definitely deserve to be more fairly compensated for their efforts.
        Our‘street people’ problem is complicated though I would like to see existing laws and ordinances enforced to curb some of their misbehavior.
        The BLM activists have every right to demonstrate but should be held responsible for violations committed as would any other citizen.

        Chris Mathiesen

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Do you think the city should spend less every year, and if so, on what? The biggest part of the budget is the people, and I can’t imagine there should be less of them given everything that goes on in this city. Do you think there should be less spending on city infrastructure, or IT, or on rec? I’m not a big fan of this City Council, but aside of this most recent shopping spree from finance the biggest issue is rarely “the city spends too much.”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jon,

    As a small business man increasing revenue and controlling costs are not mutually exclusive.

    With that being said, one way to increase revenues would be to increase grant revenue. We don’t have a grant writer, Finance does now have a $70,000 admin.

    I think Commisioner Sanghvi is going to have a very difficult time cutting $15 million of fat out of the requested budgets, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on an admin and a office makeover.

    I also don’t believe it’s a necessarily a local blog writers responsibility to develop systems or ideas for Saratoga to increase revenue. If the you believe the track handle could be a golden goose for the city, don’t you think that would be a subject better suited for our city council and not a blog writer? Perhaps you should ask them to pursue that idea and not raise taxes as suggested by Commissioner Sanghvi at the last city council meeting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Adam: If not for this blog writer (JK) would you have known about furniture-gate? I think not.
      Yes, it the City Council’s duty to oversee ALL expenses, but JK has shown that this is FAR from the actual case.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. John,

    Reference is made to the following comment posted above: “In the last 20 years the handle at Saratoga racetrack has increased significantly as a result of internet wagering. Has the city’s take increased proportionately?”

    The City’s “take” of the track handle is the same now as it was then, ZERO. The City does not and never will directly from increases in handle.

    The does receive an on track admissions tax which increase as attendance rises. This year the City budgeted $430,000 in anticipated admission tax revenue. Of course, the City benefits greatly from on track and off track taxable purchases made by track attendees, particularly since it invoked its prior right to levy its own sales tax.

    Since that time City Sales tax revenue has essentially doubled from $7.4 million to a budgeted $14 plus million this year plus its continued share of County tax collections required by law.

    Lew Benton

    Liked by 1 person

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