The Tuesday, September 20, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was full of more contentious behavior on the part of the Mayor and some of the Commissioners. The conflict this time was precipitated by an error made by Council members at the previous meeting on September 6.
As readers will recall, Mayor Ron Kim recently marshaled support from a majority of the Council to move the Director of Risk and Safety out of the Accounts Department and into his own department. Unfortunately, the Mayor failed at the same time to provide for the funds necessary to pay for the position once it was transferred to his office.
Probably as a way to jerk Kim around and to expose the Mayor’s inept handling of the matter, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran decided to move the money that was left in his budget from the empty Risk and Safety position to fund other items in his department thus leaving the Risk and Safety position unfunded. As required, he submitted his request to the Finance Department.
At the September 6 City Council meeting Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi read out Moran’s reallocation of money request, asking for and receiving Council approval. The vote, in fact, was unanimous. Thus the members of the Council became complicit in Moran’s move, something they quickly came to regret once they discovered later what they had voted for.
It is important to note that Commissioners have traditionally had wide latitude to move money around their own department’s annual budget to address changing needs. While some may criticize Commissioner Moran for this ploy, there was nothing illegal in his actions. Nothing was hidden, although Moran did nothing to alert his colleagues to its implications.
By the September 20 meeting, some Council members had become aware of their involvement in Moran’s move and sought to reverse their vote. True to form, Mayor Kim was outraged over the matter and was quick to claim there had been nefarious goings-on and dramatically suggested a forensic accountant should look into the matter. He was supported in his suspicions by his current ally, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, who wanted to know how this could have happened without a Council vote, apparently unaware that there had been a vote and that he had voted yes.
Another Faux Crisis
All of this drama was rooted in a simple oversight. No one in the Finance Department, including the Commissioner, picked up on the problem with Moran’s requested transfer, and no one on the Council spotted it either. It would seem that this Council pays no more attention to budget changes than they have to the consent agenda. Readers should consider also that under the previous administration, City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis enjoyed the trust of the entire Council, and he regularly went through the agenda to make sure everything was correct and in order. I suspect the current Council does not have the current City Attorney, Tony Izzo, fulfill a similar duty.
The whole thing could have been quietly corrected if people of good faith had worked together prior to the meeting to address the problem. Commissioner Moran, in fact, voted with the rest of his colleagues to reverse his budget changes.
This whole business should never have become a major public fight at the Council table.
Commissioner Sanghvi’s Unfortunate Behavior
Earlier this year, Commissioner Sanghvi shared with the Council an incident in her office she found disturbing. Commissioner Moran had sent to the Finance office an envelope containing a shredded warrant that he was challenging. At a City Council meeting Commissioner Sanghvi described to her colleagues on the Council how the member of her staff who opened the envelope experienced this as a source of trauma, and she took Moran to task for being insensitive and upsetting a member of her staff.
Her concern for the feelings of one of her employees in this instance is in sharp contrast to her recent treatment of another member of her staff.
Regrettably, at both the City Council table and in comments made to the media, Commissioner Sanghvi chose to single out and blame one of her employees for not catching Moran’s budget changes even though the changes had also been missed by other Finance Department staff members and the Commissioner herself not to mention every member of the Council. At the Council table, she identified the position in her department the individual she was blaming held. In the case of her comments to the Foothills Business Daily, Sanghvi called out the employee by name.
One would have thought that Sanghvi, given the previous concerns she expressed about Commissioner Moran upsetting a member of her staff by sending an envelope of shredded paper, would have been sensitive to the devastating impact her public blaming and naming of one of her employees would have on that individual. Apparently not.
This is unfortunately another example of incidents we are hearing about that are contributing to what we are told is an increasingly toxic workplace environment in City Hall.
Below is a link from the Saratoga Podcast in which Adam Israel offers a thoughtful critique of Commissioner Sanghvi’s handling of the matter. (Note that apparently Adam was unaware that Sanghvi named the person in the Foothills Business Daily article.) Ms. Sanghvi would do well to listen carefully to Adam’s remarks about leadership and all that that entails in terms of taking responsibility for whatever may happen within an organization. Adam argues that a thoughtful executive recognizes that the buck stops with them and they take responsibility for any errors that occur within the organization they head. They do not subject their subordinates to public embarrassment.
The following are some excerpts from the Council meeting as background.
In this clip, Commissioner Montagnino piles on after the Mayor alleges some sort of impropriety by asking how this happened. He is, of course, oblivious to the fact that he had voted to approve the problematic transfer.
The mayor characterizes the transfer as “mysterious.”
Kim wants to hire a forensic accountant to do an investigation.
Commissioner Golub points out that this issue was the result of a minor oversight and pushes back that nothing that could be characterized as serious was involved.