At yet another special Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, this one held on Friday afternoon, December 16, the law firm of E. Stewart Jones, Hackler, Murphy was hired to appeal the restraining order against the city growing out of the press conference Mayor Ron Kim, and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino held regarding the shoot out on Broadway the weekend before Thanksgiving. The law firm’s partners bill at $400.00 an hour.
This occurred at a special meeting that was improperly noticed, where Kim refused to let Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub attend via zoom as he himself had done only two weeks before, and where it was revealed that Montagnino, City Attorney Tony Izzo and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella had not yet met with Saratoga County DA Heggen as they had been directed to do by the Council. That meeting had been intended to try to resolve the differences over the restraining order and avoid going to court.
Montagnino and Kim Show Contempt For Their Colleagues on the Council
DA Heggen reached out to the Council, suggesting they meet to discuss the issues surrounding the restraining order. At their December 6, 2022, meeting, the Council directed Montagnino, City Attorney Anthony Izzo, and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella to meet with Heggen to try to find a way to resolve the TRO controversy. Kim told his colleagues he would write to DA Heggen to arrange the meeting.
That was at the December 6, 2022, Council meeting. The restraining order was scheduled to be reviewed by the court on December 22. So this allowed for sixteen calendar days before the hearing on the TRO for the city to meet with the DA to try to resolve their differences.
As it turns out, Kim never contacted Heggen, nor did anyone else from city hall.
Kim scheduled a special meeting for Friday, December 16. The legal notice for the meeting was not published until the day of the meeting, giving the public little, if any, notice.
At the last minute, Kim added a resolution to the agenda that would authorize him to hire outside attorneys for “legal services related to response to the TRO.”
In a Rush To Litigate, Kim and Montagnino Fail To Follow Proper Purchasing Requirements
On November 29, 2022, Kim sent out a Request For Quotes (RFQ) to area law firms to seek quotes for legal services to respond to the TRO. The deadline for responses was 5:00 PM, December 1, 2022.
A Request For Quotes required that the city receive a minimum of three proposals to make an award, and it appears that no firms responded by the deadline.
Undeterred, Kim and Montagnino apparently reached out to the law firm E Stewart Jones, Hacker, Murphy. That law firm then submitted a response on December 13, 2022, twelve days after the deadline. This was the proposal Kim and Montagnino pressed the Council to accept on December 16.
Did Montagnino and Kim Ever Intend To Carry Out The Wishes of the Council?
It was apparent that Kim and Montagnino never took seriously the Council’s directive to meet with the DA to try to avoid litigation. At the December 16 meeting, Montagnino informed his colleagues that he had already been in discussions with the E Stewart Jones law firm on the case, even though the other Council members were not even aware that the law firm had been contacted after the December 1 deadline for the response to the RFQ. Montagnino announced to his colleagues that the law firm was awaiting his text advising the law firm that the Council had approved the contract so that the firm could work on the case over the weekend (at who knows what cost).
At one point, Commissioners Moran and Sanghvi asked what had happened with the meeting with Heggen. Kim offered a rambling response. Unfortunately, neither Accounts Commissioner Moran nor Finance Commissioner Sanghvi effectively pressed for a clear answer. Kim runs a chaotic meeting that makes securing answers to unfriendly questions challenging.
Using their usual legal gibberish about the need for representation, Montagnino and Kim successfully pressured Sanghvi and Moran to join them in voting to authorize the contract with the law firm.
Moran admitted later that he had failed to scrutinize the contract, which contained a vague clause that, in effect, gave the Mayor broad authority to use the law firm even beyond the TRO case. The agreement was for a full year and allowed “for other services as assigned.”
Regrettably, Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, the most reasonable and articulate voice on the Council, was not there due to a cynical maneuver by Kim.
Kim Blocks Golub from Joining City Council Meeting
The December 16, 2022, City Council meeting took place on a day when a snow emergency had been declared, and schools had been closed, necessitating that Commissioner Golub remain home with his kids.
Golub contacted the city about arranging for him to participate in the meeting via Zoom as many Council members had done over the past year. Much to his surprise, he was advised that it would be illegal for him to participate. The Mayor had received a legal opinion from City Attorney Tony Izzo that the law required the city to provide the public with notice before the meeting indicating that a Council member would be zooming in.
Bear in mind that on December 2, 2022 (just fourteen days earlier), the Mayor used Zoom to participate in a Council meeting. There was no prior notice to the public advising them that he would be video conferencing as required according to Izzo’s opinion. At the time, Kim assured the public that his participation was legal and appropriate. So two weeks later, somehow, Tony Izzo provides Mayor Kim with a legal opinion that he can use to block Golub from doing the very same thing.
Here is Mayor Kim on December 2:
The reality is that Golub had been instrumental in blocking a previous resolution by Montagnino condemning DA Heggen and, more importantly, had played a key role in convincing the Council to meet with the DA to discuss their differences. Kim and Montagnino did not want Golub present as it risked disrupting their plans to do what they had wanted to do all along which was to litigate.
I contacted the New York State Committee on Open Government for an opinion on both Kim’s and Golub’s right to have Zoomed.
The email correspondence with the Committee on Open Government (COOG) is included at the end of this post. They confirmed Izzo’s opinion that prior notice to the public is required for any council member to vote via Zoom.
Apparently, the way other municipalities deal with the problem of how to deal with unexpected and last-minute Zooming is to include in all notices for meetings that there will be “video conferencing” whether or not there actually will be video conferencing. Strange, but that is the law.
By affirming Izzo’s opinion, it also established that Kim’s December 6, 2022 Zoom violated the Open Meetings Law.
A Little Late…
Apparently, Kim, Montagnino, and Izzo learned that criticism was on its way for Kim’s failure to write to DA Heggen requesting a meeting as the Council directed. So today (December 19, 2022), City Attorney Izzo sent a letter to Heggen asking to set up the meeting. I cannot keep from asking, “Is this crazy?” Kim had agreed to send the letter on December 6. So now, sixteen days later, with the TRO hearing only three days away and the city spending money on legal fees, the letter is finally sent.
A Self-Inflicted Fiasco
This whole mess was unnecessary. Montagnino and Kim circumvented their colleagues on the Council and disregarded established city policy when they held their press conference about the shootout on Broadway. They have resisted every effort to address the ensuing restraining order without resorting to litigation. They may prevail in a court challenge of the restraining order, but this will be at great and unnecessary expense to the city. They have put their own egos before the city’s interests.
According to the city’s police manual, all contacts with the media regarding ongoing investigations must go through the police chief. This had served the city well. Had Montagnino and Kim followed this policy, the city would not be in the position it is in today.
Perhaps if they agreed to follow this policy in all investigations in the future, it would address the DA’s concerns.
Unfortunately, the bottomless appetite of Montagnino and Kim for media exposure blinds them from doing what is good for the city.
This level of deceit and manipulation by city leaders is hard to watch. I feel badly for the city’s employees who have to endure the same kind of behavior directed at them.
I have to admit covering local Saratoga Springs politics is beginning to take its toll on your blogger. I usually maintain a certain amused distance to maintain my sanity in observing and writing about our Council. Regrettably, watching the toxic carrying on of these people and the damage they are doing to our city and enduring listening to the self-serving and grandiose speeches is, to say the least, wearing me down a bit.
The Opinion From The Committee On Open Government
Assuming that a public body held a public hearing and adopted a resolution and procedures, Section 103-a permits members to attend and participate in a meeting through purely remote means under very limited circumstances. Relevant to your first question emailed on December 17, Section 103-a(f) states that for any meeting where a member will be attending remotely due to extraordinary circumstances, “the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, where the public can view and/or participate in such meeting, where required documents and records will be posted or available, and identify the physical location for the meeting where the public can attend.” Notice of meetings that are scheduled at least one week in advance must be posted 72 hours before the meeting. §104(1). Therefore, if the notice did not inform the public that videoconferencing would be used and did not include a link for the public to access the meeting in that same way, the advice provided by the attorney was, in my opinion, consistent with the requirements of the OML.
Remote attendance is permissible under Section 103-a only when a member experiences an extraordinary circumstance. While the body has some discretion in defining what qualifies as an extraordinary circumstance, it appears that the Saratoga City Council defines “extraordinary circumstances” to include “disability, illness, caregiving responsibilities, non-routine events or responsibilities of family or personal business, or any other significant or unexpected factor or event which precludes the Member’s physical attendance at such meeting.” In my opinion, a family wedding would fit within this definition.
While the OML does not require a public body to publish a legal notice informing the public of open meetings, it must produce a public notice (i) setting forth the time, physical location and remote access link (if a member attends remotely), and (ii) that notice must be sent to the news media, (iii) “conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations,” and (iv) posted to the webpage, if the body has the ability to do so. § 104. Since I am unable to locate a copy of the meeting notice, I cannot offer an opinion regarding whether the notice seems consistent with these requirements.
If you believe that the City Council has not complied with the requirements of the OML, you have the right to initiate a Civil Procedure Law and Rules, Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court.
Christen L. Smith
New York State Committee on Open Government
One Commerce Plaza, Albany, NY 12231
18 thoughts on “Kim and Montagnino Throw Their Fellow Democratic Colleagues and the City Under The Bus”
Today, like yesterday, and every other day, seems to be Ground hog day.
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Hang in there John, your work is much appreciated and will make a difference.
Please let us know how we can help you.
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Thanks for an informative report on these confusing events at city hall. However, I can’t help noticing that, as you say, things are taking a toll. I can see you are having difficulty maintaining the impartial language usually found in your reports. I hope that in the future your frustration and justifiable anger will be more restrained so that the comments I usually appreciate do not descend into partisan ranting.
Thank you. It is challenging to write about such gross abuses accurately without appearing harsh. The abuses of members of this council are like nothing in the past. There have always been petty and pointless conflicts at the council table but they never threatened the financial, legal, and management practices that we are now experiencing. With respect 3rdlakerobert, this city is in real trouble. We are on an unsustainable path. Throwing thousands of dollars at a law suit that could be resolved should worry all of us as to what other foolish things are probably occurring. The canary in our mine is the exodus of many of our best employees. It will be a while before the gradual degradation finally manifests itself so that it affects people directly but it is coming.
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I agree with all of this and share your concern for our city. In light of the partisan hostility we now find throughout the media however, I urge you to be careful lest you lose important support.
As I respond to 3rdlakerobert, I find myself re-reading John’s entry. I must be missing something because I don’t see partisan ranting. It is similar to the mainstream press trying to honestly report on the absurdities of Donald Trump without appearing partisan. I do see frustration.
I was very frustrating to see four members of the Council vote in favor of spending funds to represent the City regarding the temporary restraining order that was a direct result of irresponsible actions on the part of the City. For me, this is an absurdity followed directly by another absurdity.
It was very frustrating to hear that the City attorney suddenly decided that Commissioner Golub could not participate in the meeting via ZOOM while there had been no similar concern for following OML guidelines when Mayor Kim and Commissioner Golub (and others?) had done so in the past. In fact, it seems to me that an emergency meeting called at the last minute would be one of the best times to take advantage of the ZOOM technology for Council members who found that they could not attend in person.
It is very frustrating to hear that apparently no one in City Hall immediately followed up with the City Council’s
directive that DA Heggen be contacted in order to meet to attempt to resolve the current conflict. I am also frustrated that the City Council agreed, after much discussion on December 6, that Commissioner Montagnino should be one of the people to meet with DA Heggen. Another absurdity!
John’s frustration with City Government is quite understandable and justified. It is not partisan ranting. Join the chorus!
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I’m not sure what you mean by partisan ranting. If you have followed this blog at all you know that JK calls them as he sees them regardless of party affiliation. The situation in Saratoga Springs that is frustrating many of us is that many of the most thoughtful and ethical Democrats were driven off the Democratic Committee almost two years ago when they got fed up with the behavior of those who now control the committee. So this is not a partisan fight going on, but a continuation of that struggle amongst the Democrats themselves. Unfortunately given the current enrolment advantage the Democrats now have in the city and the tendency in both parties for voters to simply support whoever their party’s nominees are, the candidates these current Committee Dems put on the ballot are likely to win. This committee gave us this dysfunctional group now in office and there is no sign they won’t serve the same people up to us again in 2023.
The canary in our mine is the exodus of many of our best employees. It will be a while before the gradual degradation finally manifests itself so that it affects people directly but it is coming.
That is some fine writing skill from JK.
It is certainly food for thought. I am not aware of how many city employees have left, or intend to leave. But it concerning.
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That you would consider walking away from your blog would be the greatest gift to those whose malfeasance you expose. This reader would be heartsick if you did, and I would wager that most of your other readers would be too.
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John I too share your concern and frustration with this sitting council. Their egos, political motivation and lack of any true management/business/leadership experience is putting our city in a crisis situation. They think our tax dollars is there to spend as they wish – between Ms Sanghvi unnecessary office remodel to hiring a law firm to defend the city on something that, in my opinion is indefensible. Instead of working within the law they will work around it and instead of having any real meaningful dialogue with business owners, they threaten them with law suits and the SLA.
And the false narrative these council members and the democratic committee puts out is an insult to anyone that is paying attention. It is a sad state to say the least. These council members are the true threat to our democracy.
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The reporting in this blog is second to none, and extremely valuable to the community, so thank you Mr. Kaufmann. Last night’s meeting was a marathon and included many things which were simply not productive. The takeaway is our small city continues to have big city problems that are not being addressed. Mr. Montagnino made the point last night that there is a bar in the city with a liquor license mandating they close at 2am, and the license is currently not being enforced, so they serve until 4am. How can that happen? The city can pass all the resolutions they want but if you do not take enforcement action it is all a waste of time.
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If there is a bar in the City that is operating in violation of the stipulations set forth in their liquor license, the SLA should be contacted immediately. An establishment that is doing so is not only jeopardizing their liquor license but they would also be exposing the owners to serious financial loss since their liability insurance most likely would not cover the hours of operation not authorized by the SLA.
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For the benefit of the blog participants, the comments by Commissioner Montagnino start at 3:33 and go to 3:34:20 on the posted city council video. If this is true, it is a problem which should be addressed, as Chris Mathiesen noted.
First of all, Commissioner Montagnino is not the most reliable source in the world. If this is indeed true, however, why isn’t he as Commissioner of Public Safety doing something about it? After all, code enforcement is part of his department, and he certainly knows how to pick up the phone and call the SLA.
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In response to Straight Shooter…I could not agree more.
So embarrassing for this city. To operate this way shows pure incompetence and arrogance. Is it November 2023 yet?
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