Another Marathon City Council Meeting: Bar Closing Hours, Deputy Salaries and More

The Tuesday, December 6th Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was notable for its length –about five hours–but also for the number of contentious items on the agenda. I will be writing more extensively about the events at this meeting once I can review the video. For now, I will rely on my less-than-perfect memory to post this synopsis of some of the main items that were acted on. These include (not necessarily in the order they were dealt with by the Council):

*the proposal to pressure the bars to close at 2 AM

*the proposal to increase wages and benefits for the Deputies

*the DA Heggen issue

*the Liberty Affordable housing proposal

Public Safety Proposal to “Amend City Code Chapter 136-37 Regarding Revocation And Suspension of Permits”

Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino had an item on his agenda designed to pressure the bars in town to close by 2 am by threatening to revoke the permit of any eating or drinking establishment if, for example, “a patron or guest of the establishment in question left the establishment after 2:00AM and, within one hour of leaving the establishment, committed a criminal offense.”

The public hearing on this item was long and contentious. Many persons associated with the bars around Caroline Street turned up and spoke against closing the bars at 2:00 AM in general, and this proposed ordinance change in particular. While some members of the public spoke in favor of a 2 AM closing, none addressed the problematic nature of this particular ordinance change.

The resolution failed on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Kim and Montagnino voting in favor and Commissioners Moran, Sanghvi, and Golub voting against the motion to adopt the proposed regulations.

Putting aside the issue of a 2:00 AM closing, to say that the proposal was flawed is a gross understatement. I will be writing about this in a coming post.

Deputy Salary and Benefits Proposal

There was a heated exchange over the proposal submitted by Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran to increase the salary and benefits of the Deputies. {see the previous post for details} The proposal was tabled for two weeks. There appeared to be a consensus that Public Works Deputy Joe O’Neil’s situation was unique and deserved special consideration. In his role, he is on call basically 24/7. He is called out at night for infrastructure emergencies, for instance. O’Neil has also held his position for a number of years as opposed to the other Deputies who have been employed for a year or less. Commissioner Sanghvi offered to work on revising the proposal to try to find a consensus on how to handle the O’Neil issue.

The DA Issue

Earlier, before the meeting on Tuesday, county District Attorney Karen Heggen responded to a letter sent by City Attorney Tony Izzo at the direction of the Council. The Council had decided they would take the DA up on an offer she had made to meet, but they had attached a demand that first Heggen ask Judge Freestone to drop the restraining order against them. In her reply, Heggen declined to apply to the court to drop the restraining order. She did, however, offer to modify the order and invited representatives of the Council to meet with her in her offices to discuss the issues.

The Council decided that the Mayor should not go to the meeting but instead that Deputy Mayor Angela Rella, along with Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino and City Attorney Tony Izzo, would meet with Heggen. There was some discussion about having the city’s Chief of Police attend, but it was not clear to me how that was resolved, if at all.

Montagnino Ignores His Own Department’s Policy Manual

As an interesting aside, it came to light during the public comment period that the Saratoga Springs Police Department Policy Manual contains the following:

It is the policy of the Saratoga Springs Police Department to protect the privacy rights of individuals, while releasing non-confidential information to the media regarding topics of public concern.  Information that has the potential to negatively affect investigations will not be released.”

324.2 Policy

and

“The ultimate authority and responsibility for the release of information to the media shall remain with the Chief of Police.”

324.3 Responsibilities

Obviously, had Mayor Kim and Commissioner Montagnino followed the policy manual of their own police department, the debacle the city is dealing with now could have been avoided.

Given the manual, it is clear that the Chief of Police should attend the meeting with Heggen.

As Commissioner Montagnino never responds to my emails, I cannot verify what the plan is.

The Liberty Affordable Housing Issue

The Accounts agenda included two items related to the Liberty Affordable Housing proposal for the parcel at the corner of Crescent Avenue and Jefferson Street.

The items were:

  1. Discussion and Vote SEQRA Liberty Affordable Housing
  2. Discussion and Vote Council Approval of Zoning Map and Comprehensive Map Amendments for Liberty Affordable Housing

Commissioner Dillon Moran explained that these two items would not actually be voted on at the meeting. He had placed them on his agenda to provide the public with a link to the documents related to Liberty’s proposal, something that he said couldn’t be done otherwise because of some kind of limit to the city’s IT system.

4 thoughts on “Another Marathon City Council Meeting: Bar Closing Hours, Deputy Salaries and More”

  1. I want to comment specifically on the policy violation. As some of you know, I am retired from the FBI, and I want to explain the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) policy regarding press conferences. All FBI press conferences related to criminal matters need to have concurrence from the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO), who are the prosecutors. This is DOJ policy and is done so to protect the integrity of the prosecutions. The FBI is an investigative agency and the USAO prosecutes so the policy is logical. Normally, the pressers are done with both the FBI Agent in Charge and the USAO so nothing gets disseminated improperly and, by showing they are unified, the public will have confidence in their leaders. I can tell you the release of information in these press conferences is measured and done so cautiously. Moreover, sometimes, the United States Attorney (USA), also a politician, who is not elected but appointed, and the FBI Agent in Charge, strongly dislike each other but the policy supersedes personal relationships.

    In fairness, this is the federal system, not the state system, but the general principals are the same. When this dispute occurred, I searched for a policy or MOU between the District Attorney’s Office, and the City of Saratoga, and other municipalities, related to press conferences, but could not find one. Thereafter, I was told by City Hall there was another policy to have the Police Chief conduct the press conferences, not the politicians, and on this blog, Robin Dalton graciously provided that policy link to all your readers/participants.

    Like JK said, the presser should never have happened with the Mayor and Public Safety Commissioner. It should have happened with the Police Chief, the expert on crime in the City of Saratoga Springs and, as I am told, has an excellent, professional working relationship, with the DA’s Office.

    Tim Coll

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Tim is right. As I said before, I attended numerous press conferences while I was DPS Commissioner. I usually sat off to the side or in the audience while the Police Chief, assistant chief or SSPD spokesman conducted the media event. The content would be pre-determined with all parties, including the DA, in agreement about which information can be released without jeopardizing the privacy of individuals involved, the potential criminal charges being considered or the active investigation itself. The Mayor and the Commissioner acted without regard for the strongly worded advice of the DA, an unprecedented action.

      Chris Mathiesen

      Liked by 3 people

  2. The Council scheduled six public hearings. And then the Mayor tried to hustle everyone away from the microphone. Then the same with the public comment period.
    Something is drastically wrong here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Watching this meeting and how these people interact with each other and the public is an embarrassment to our city! They can’t even produce a workable agenda. When they first were elected they said they would get everything done because they are all democrats. They may be from the same political party but they are not the right people. These people only care about their personal interests and every decision is based on how it will affect them politically. Wake up Saratoga!

    Liked by 2 people

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