In a previous post, I included a picture from the city’s Facebook page that included a link to Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim’s campaign page. As it turns out, that was not an anomaly. In fact, the city’s Facebook page includes other incidents in which a link to Kim’s campaign page appeared. On one of the Facebook pages, there is a link to Commissioner Sanghvi’s campaign site as well.
It is improper to utilize the resources of taxpayer-supported organizations to further the political activities of an employee or public officer.
The Facebook Pages
A Violation of the Federal Hatch Act?
The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits “Using official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of a nomination or election to public office.”
According to the website of the United States Office of Special Counsel, “frequently asked questions.”
Can a state, D.C., or local employee be covered by the Hatch Act even if his/her salary is not federally funded?
Yes, on questions of coercion or use of official authority (but not on the candidacy prohibition).
The Merit Systems Protection Board has held that the test of whether an employee is covered by the Hatch Act is whether, as a normal and foreseeable incident of his principal employment, the employee performs duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds. Special Counsel v. Gallagher, 44 M.S.P.R. 57, 61 (1990). If an employee meets this standard, the source of the employee’s salary is irrelevant. See Special Counsel v. Williams, 56 M.S.P.R. 277, 283-84 (1993), aff’d, Williams v. M.S.P.B., 55 F.3d 917 (4th Cir. 1995).
I am not a lawyer, but my reading of the act is that Mayor Kim and Commissioner Sanghvi are subject to it, given the federal funds the city receives.
The question remains, who put these links up, and what role if any, did Mayor Kim and Commissioner Sanghvi play in facilitating this?
From The Saratoga Springs Government Facebook Page
Kim’s Campaign Site
The first image above is from the Saratoga Springs official city Facebook page. As you can see, the post includes a link to Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim’s Facebook campaign page , “Ron Kim for Saratoga Springs.”
New York State law strictly forbids the use of public resources for political campaigning.
[The New York State Department of Transportation plans to widen Union Avenue from Henning Road to East Avenue. The state project will include adding bike lanes to this section of the street. With this in mind, the city has hired consultants to work on redesigning Union Avenue from East Avenue to where the street ends at Congress Park. The city project is referred to as Enhancing Union Avenue.
Not surprisingly, this has generated some controversy as Union Avenue serves as one of the gateways to the city, and changes will have an impact on the Saratoga Race Course.
The following is the first of two posts from different perspectives addressing the issues. For this community to come out of this process as a winner will require our citizens to inform themselves about the issues and engage in thoughtful and civil discourse.
On February 9, 2023, at 6:00 PM, the city will be convening a workshop to discuss proposals and seek feedback from the public. The location has not yet been determined. I would encourage the readers of this blog to attend. I will post the location once it is announced.]
[This first piece is by Jim Martinez. Jim Martinez is a registered architect and lifelong resident of this city. A stalwart preservationist and founding member of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, he has authored many articles about our surviving resources and their stewardship. “More offerings on the table cannot help but enlighten and satisfy a hungry and deserving diner’s conscience.”]
Cyclists are not tethered to Bike Lanes
New York Times sportswriter Red Smith’s answer to the question, how do you get to Saratoga Springs? was, “Turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years.” Mark Seal wrote in Town & Country magazine, “Going back 100 years, remains the key to the kingdom.” The fantasy world that Mr. Seal wrote about, from the perspective of the summer visitor, is that person, temporarily transported in time to a place that thunders every summer, providing a sense of the world that maintains, a quiet elegance of a hometown quality, unobtainable anywhere. For over 180 years, this migration has witnessed this almost sacred landscape we know as Union Avenue, which itself has been witness to the horse loving society and a community whose residents who have maintained their stewardship of the city entrance threatened occasionally by challenges of unbridled growth and novelty.
Turning right brings the visitor and residents not only to the only city entrance in those 175 miles from New York unadorned with bright advertising lights, but instead to an inviting forested corridor with a calming tree planted median strip. This National Register Historic District comprises of both the Racecourse Area District and the Union Avenue District. Beyond the Racecourse, this wide boulevard of apartments, condominiums, bed and breakfast and family residences survived the Skidmore and Verrazano Colleges withdrawal to miraculously maintain its wonderful residential quality which all of Saratoga can today be proud.
Today, we must consider yet another dubious bike lane seemingly to nowhere from nowhere, with targeted traffic studies and seductive promotional panels of how best to alter this two-block boulevard giving little actual thought to the bicyclist who must “share the road” according to NYSDMV (https://dmv.ny.gov/about-dmv/chapter-11-sharing-road), on the remaining approximately 95% of the other city roadways, including from beginning to end of this proposed bike route.
Several years ago, our city memorialized in their “Complete Streets Plan,” just how incomplete our public roadways are with respect to year-round pedestrian public sidewalk rights-of-way (ROW) and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, let alone, now promoting disconnected seasonal bikeways. One must consider how cyclists arrive at these lanes and what happens to them when the bike lane ends. I must wonder where these users of these bike lanes come from given most of our neighborhoods do not include one. It seems that bike lanes are only for Eastside residents, as none of them have been proposed for other neighborhoods of the city?
Furthermore, should our city have a complimentary mandatory educational program at the middle school or part of a public education strategy to instruct bicyclists that “sharing the road” with motor vehicles is now law, and that the cyclist now assumes all the privileges and responsibilities of a licensed motor vehicle operator, including, adhering to all traffic controls, pedestrian crossings, signaling intentions, equipment requirements and staying to the right of all overtaking vehicles in single file?”
Most recently, the new Excelsior Avenue Bike path oddly juxtaposes automobile traffic with a parking lane for cars and a bike lane that squeezes by the parked vehicles on the right alongside the curb. I would say it is a blind spot for someone coming out of the right front or back seat of a vehicle onto a cyclist’s sanctioned path. Then the rider “with all the responsibilities of a licensed motor vehicle operator” continues its journey by sharing with the pedestrian’s ROW, considering that partnership is most always prohibited on all other city sidewalks. What could go wrong? Additionally, should we question whether these pedestrian/bike paths to Excelsior Park are to be maintained year-round as required by the City Code?
During the public comment period at the 17 January 2023 City Council meeting, a presenter discussed traffic concerns and the volume of traffic during the seasons of Saratoga but failed to present a cogent argument that by altering this historic majestic broad avenue to three lanes, it would somehow provide a bucolic two-block boulevard for vehicles and cyclists with its “calming effect” of reduced traffic lanes. Double laned roadways with dividing islands provide a safer and have a greater calming effect than a proposed wide avenue with undivided two-way roadway. A proposed turning lane at either end would be fine and appropriate, as is the consideration that existing street parking afforded the many repurposed educational buildings to residences will be maintained and unaffected by the current proposal.
As NYSDOT plans to resurface Union Avenue, by widening the shoulders and creating bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks from the Interstate to East Avenue, there will be no parking along that section given its zoning, nor will the cyclist have a dedicated lane beyond that point. Where does the cyclist riding east go when the lane ends? Must they cross four lanes of traffic to return on the other side to utilize a bike lane? The traffic control stop light is hundreds of feet beyond the planned bike and sidewalk proposal at the junction of Henning Road and the entrance to Yaddo. Choosing to continue past the Interstate’s acceleration onramp to continue their journey beyond Yaddo, towards the Waterfront Park and points east within the municipality, cyclists will be on their own along the 45-50 mph highway.
I own four mechanical bikes, but because of my age, I only ride one at a time. I have always shared the road with vehicular traffic and schooled my children to realize that cars and trucks traveling at 30 mph are the bigger bears on the road. I find the current address of empowering cyclists to rightfully enter the roadways through a fractured plan of dedicated bike lanes along with the unenforced responsibilities that are promulgated by DMV in traveling with vehicles no less than dangerous.
I suggest instead that the city consider a tree planted median strip from Nelson Avenue to Circular Street, an extension of the heralded corridor treatment from the Interstate, with the appropriate openings at street cross street locations, providing the desired calming effect and maintaining traffic flow as it exists. Turning lanes at each end would be appropriate. Cyclists will simply share the road as they presently do on all the remaining city thoroughfares abiding by the rules established by NYSDMV.
Finally, should we also be addressing those stealthy electric bikes that need some regulations as they travel emboldened and unbridled on sidewalks when their bike lanes end or when the street poses more of a challenge be a part of the discussion? Enforcement and risk management should be a part of any discussion that places the potential liability on the municipality through potentially sanctioned overzealous and sometimes myopic proposals. Perhaps broadening the discussion examining the collateral issues and liabilities would be best than focusing on one desired objective.
[Ed Lindner has lived in Saratoga Springs for more than 40 years. He’s a semi-retired appellate attorney, working most recently as a Deputy for the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct. In 2010, he reluctantly began riding a bike for health reasons and found a passion.]
I was happy to see Jim open his piece with the Red Smith quote about how turning on to Union Avenue brings you back 100 years. It’s a really powerful argument for building a Union Avenue bike lane.
One hundred years before Red’s time there were far more bikes than automobiles in Saratoga Springs. And those bikes were ridden not just on city streets, but on a network of city-built, dedicated bike lanes.
If you were in Saratoga Springs in 1905, the year Red Smith was born, you could have ridden your bicycle to the track to see Dandelion win the Travers on the Union Avenue bike path. As a 1900 Visitor’s Guide explains, the “citizens of Saratoga … have prepared several cycle paths especially set apart for the use of bicyclers.” One of those dedicated cycle paths ran along the south side of Union Avenue, from downtown all the way to the lake. That’s real Saratoga history that we can honor with an “Enhanced Union Avenue” today.
And it’s really the “enhancement” of Union Avenue that should be the focus here. Union Avenue is 70’ wide and if all we wanted was a functional bike lane, we could stripe a bike lane there now without losing travel lanes or parking. But the “Enhanced Union Avenue” plan proposes to do much more. A reimagined Union Avenue could:
Make Union Avenue safer for everyone by reducing speeding.
Make Union Avenue safer for drivers by reducing crashes and making it easier to turn on to Union from side streets and driveways.
Make Union Avenue safer for pedestrians by building bump outs and median tips to create shorter crossings.
Make Union Avenue safer for less confident cyclists – families with kids, seniors on e-bikes and other riders who are uncomfortable riding in traffic – by building protected bike lanes.
Make Union Avenue a beautiful gateway by using historically appropriate materials and adding greenspace to permit restoration of the iconic Union Avenue tree line.
Make Saratoga Springs more equitable, by providing a safe, functional transportation option for trackworkers and seasonal workers.
Make Saratoga Springs more sustainable by promoting nonmotorized, fossil fuel free transportation and using semi-permeable materials to help control stormwater flooding, and …
Make all of these improvements while maintaining street parking and keeping traffic flow constant (or even better!).
If you’re wondering how that’s all possible, consider the two preliminary sketches below. Please keep in mind that these are not final and not official. Appropriate colors, materials, plantings and trees will all be discussed at a later stage. But even with those caveats, the drawings do give a real sense of what an “enhanced” Union Avenue might look like.
Looking at the top sketch, you see immediately that the Clark Street pedestrian crossing is much, much safer. Instead of trying to race across four lanes of fast-moving cars, people can cross one lane at a time, with a safe median space in the middle. And narrowing the travel lanes with the curb extension and median will compel drivers to slow down.
Parking is already restricted at corners, so building these “bump outs” or curb extensions would have a minimal impact on parking. As you can see, most street parking remains. And the brown, brick material shown in the parking area is meant to represent semi-permeable materials that will absorb stormwater and reduce flooding.
Drivers pulling out on to Union Ave from Clark Street will also benefit from this design. Drivers traveling on Union will be going slower. And for drivers turning left, the reduction in travel lanes means that they need only cross one lane of traffic, with space near the median to pause before continuing.
As you can see in the sketch, reducing the car travel lanes creates a significant amount of new greenspace and a wonderful opportunity to restore Union Avenue’s iconic tree line. And, oh, yes, there’s also a protected bike lane (it won’t be green). The bike lane is an important part of the plan, but as you can see, there is so much more.
But what about traffic flow? It’s a legitimate concern. Anyone who’s ever left the track after the feature race and tried to drive downtown knows how slowly traffic moves. Drivers in both lanes are routinely stopped for people crossing the street. Drivers in the left lane are routinely stopped by cars turning left on Nelson and other side streets. And as two lanes of vehicles approach the park, one lane turning right and one lane turning left, they are slowed by cars backing up on Circular Street.
Take a look at the second sketch, looking east from Regent Street. You can see clearly there what’s known as a “road diet” – reducing four lanes of travel to three, with one lane in each direction and a center turning lane. If we drove downtown from the track using this roadway design the situation at Circular would be the same as it is now – one lane of cars turning right and a center lane turning left. Further back on Union, cars turning left at Nelson or other side streets would move into the turning lane, while traffic in the right lane continued unimpeded.
Is it really possible that three lanes of traffic could move as smoothly as four? Hundreds of similar projects around the country have demonstrated that it’s true. One year after a highly controversial road diet was built in Alexandria, Virginia, a follow-up study found that car crashes were reduced by 41%, peak travel times got better, and traffic was not diverted to neighboring streets. Extreme speeding was down a bit and cycling was up 75%.
That’s just one study, of course. But check out these fact sheets from AARP and the Federal Highway Safety Administration. AARP reports that “thousands of road diets [have been] completed nationwide” and “there are few reports of any being reversed. On the contrary, road diets are proving to be effective, safe and popular.” In Lewistown, Pa., the “road diet” was opposed by “95 percent of residents when it was first proposed; after completion, nearly 95 percent of residents are supportive of the changes.”
So, yes, let’s see what the traffic report being prepared by the City’s consultants tell us. But there’s good reason to think that we can have all the benefits of a road diet – slowing down cars, pedestrian safety, beauty & trees – and still maintain good traffic flow.
A few more of Jim’s points merit a response. His suggestion that cyclist’s “are not tethered to bike lanes” is badly out of touch with progressive urban planning. Consider the Designing for All Ages & Abilities guide, published by the National Ass’n of City Transportation Officials. As NACTO points out, that strategy favors “very confident riders, who tend to be adult men.” We can do better. We should be building a safe and connected bike lane network that everyone feels comfortable riding. We’re not building bike lanes for middle-aged men in Lycra. We’re building bike lanes for families with kids, seniors with e-bikes and anyone else who’s uncomfortable riding a bike in traffic.
There is one point, though, that I think Jim and I agree on. Our current “incomplete streets” patchwork of partial bike lanes serves no one well. Connected bike lane networks matter. But you don’t build a network all at once – you build it one project a time. And Union Avenue is an important part of our City’s Complete Streets Plan.
And it’s hardly a bike lane “from nowhere to nowhere.” The City bike lane from Circular to East will connect with the NYSDOT bike lane from East Avenue to Henning Road that’s being built this year. East of Henning, cyclists can and do ride on the very wide shoulder to the city neighborhoods east of the Northway.
And when the network is complete, the Union Avenue bike lane won’t dead end at Circular Street. The Complete Streets plan envisions a bike lane on Circular, crossing Broadway and heading west on West Circular to connect to Railroad Run.
But I think there’s a better plan. The roadway in the park in front of the Casino is not a “park road,” it’s East Congress Street, an official city street. Cyclists have the legal right to ride there now. So I hope the City will permit cyclists to cross the short stretch of pavement between Circular Street and East Congress, connecting the Union Avenue bike lane to East Congress Street to Broadway.
Because that’s where it gets exciting. City plans call for building a bike lane connecting Railroad Run with Broadway via Congress Street. Railroad Run connects to the Spa Park. Saratoga County is extending the Zim Smith trail from Ballston Spa to the southern end of the Spa Park. And the Zim Smith trail runs all the way to Mechanicville, where it connects with the Empire State Trail, a 750-mile bike trail from New York City to Buffalo and the Adirondacks. When these local projects are complete, a cyclist could ride from mid-town Manhattan to downtown Saratoga Springs and out to Saratoga Lake.
And as it turns out, we have history for that too. In the summer of 1879, Wentworth Rollins rode his high wheel penny farthing from 59th Street and 8th Avenue to Saratoga Springs. We know from various accounts that he stayed at the Grand Union Hotel and saw “all that was to be seen from the back of a bicycle around Saratoga.” According to the NY Times, his ride was the longest ever made in the United States at the time. Which is to say that Wentworth Rollins, described elsewhere as the “king of American bicyclists,” was among the very first American bike tourists. And he chose to ride to Saratoga Springs.
In July of 1899, the Troy Daily Times wrote that, “As in many things, Saratoga excels in bicycle paths.” We have a chance to reclaim that history, on Union Avenue. We can build an “Enhanced Union Avenue” that slows down cars, promotes safe walking and cycling, and makes Saratoga Springs a more equitable and more sustainable community. We should make the investment to create a truly bike and pedestrian friendly city.
In Defense of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik Against Fake News
I have resisted the temptation to enlighten your good readers, certain members of the newly convened 118th Congress and the majority conference members of the New York State Assembly and Senate regarding the misplaced furor spawned by the seating of now Congressman George Santos.
But the din has become such that I am compelled by patriotic fervor and duty to the country to intervene lest the very integrity of the US House of Representatives be compromised.
Yesterday’s cynical CNN attack on Congresswoman Stefanik simply because she orchestrated the election of Santos was more than I could bear.
As you know, Madison and I wrote rather tautologically, as was our custom, in Federalists 51 – 60, on the authority of the national legislature to regulate, in the last resort, its own members. So it wounds me, almost as much as Burr did, that our efforts seem to have been tossed in history’s dustbin. My Lord, do your 21st Century schools not teach history!
I devoted weeks to Federalist No. 59, which I titled Concerning the Power of Congress to Regulate the Election of Members, as an antidote to and a warning against those who would expel on some petty pretense such men as Representative Santos.
Congressman Santos was duly elected, thanks to the overreaching gerrymander of the Democrats in the state legislature and, of course, the endorsement, campaign support, and fundraising acumen of your own Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.
I had anticipated when I penned Federalist No. 59 just such ill-begotten attempts to remove a Santos. Fortunately, I convinced the People of the State of New York then that the power to expel must rest, in the interest of its self-preservation, with the House of Representatives itself
“ … upon the evidence of this plain proposition, that EVERY GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO CONTAIN IN ITSELF THE MEANS OF ITS OWN PRESERVATION. Every just reasoner will, at first sight, approve an adherence to this rule, in the work of the convention; and will disapprove every deviation from it which may not appear to have been dictated by the necessity of incorporating into the work some particular ingredient, with which a rigid conformity to the rule was incompatible.”
So it is that your Speaker McCarthy and Ms. Stefanik must be allowed the means of preserving their majority by resisting those self-servers who would kick Santos to the curb simply because he may have lied, cheated, and stolen his way into the House. When it comes to driving America into default later this year, McCarthy and Stefanik will need all the votes they can garner, and they will be able to rely on Congressman Santos.
But, in my old age, I regress. Let us return to yesterday’s CNN slander of Congresswoman Stefanick, an attack so ugly that it must be met with the strongest retort. In fact, so profane were the accusations against the congresswoman that in my day, a duel (a subject I know much about) to restore her honor would be in order.
While it is true, as CNN reported, that Stefanik was so giddy about the prospect of electing Santos that on August 11, 2021, more than a year before the election, she tweeted out her endorsement of Santos. One of the posts included a link to a WinRed online fundraising page asking for donations that would benefit both her and Santos.
“MAJOR ENDORSEMENT ALERT Excited to endorse my friend and fellow America First conservative George Santos for Congress in #NY03,” Stefanik wrote.
“@Santos4Congress will take on NYC liberal elites and bring a new generation of GOP leadership to NY and America. He has my full support!”
How prescient she was. Santos has only been in office a mere three weeks and has already become a member of the “ … new generation of GOP leadership … “ As a freshman, he dominates every news cycle and was instrumental in elevating McCarthy to House speaker.
Instead of praising Congresswoman Stefanik for her heroic efforts to elect Santos, CNN and other outlets slander her.
But her endorsement of now Congressman Santos was only the beginning.
On May 23, 2022, Stefanik reported on Twitter that she had helped raise more than six figures in campaign cash for Santos.
“WOW! Great lunch event for @Santos4Congress! We raised over $100,000 to help George FLIP #NY03 George has my complete and total endorsement and come November, ”tweeted Stefanik, borrowing the Trumpian phrase. “New Yorkers will send George to Congress! #SaveNewYork #SaveAmerica”
So why is Stefanik now castigated by the fake news for helping #SaveNewYork#SaveAmerica?
John, I hope you will encourage your loyal readers to come to the defense of Congresswoman Stefanik as she leads Santos and others in the never-ending fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.
Thank you for allowing me to get this off my chest.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim’s section of the January 3, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council agenda included an “announcement” regarding paying attorneys representing past Mayor Meg Kelly and past Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. Materials related to the “announcement” included invoices from the respective attorneys. Kim asserted that publishing the invoices was necessitated by his commitment to “transparency.” Unfortunately, this commitment does not extend to the Mayor’s own pursuit of engaging legal counsel.
Kelly and Dalton had secured legal representation after Attorney General Letitia James initiated an inquiry into a number of upstate New York municipalities regarding possible civil rights violations. In the case of Saratoga Springs, the inquiry related to the city’s response to actions taken by the local Black Lives Matter group. James had subpoenaed the cell phone records of Kelly and Dalton and had advised them that they would be deposed.
Kim’s publishing of the invoices from the lawyers was unprecedented as it was not related to any resolution to be adopted by the Council or any other action to be taken.
As Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran pointed out, the Council had previously approved the hourly rate being charged by the attorneys and had authorized paying them up to $10,000 each, although that amount was less than what was now required.
Kim told his colleagues he would be bringing forward a resolution at the next Council meeting to pay the bills. New York State Public Officers’ Law requires that municipalities pay for the legal defense of elected officials should they be subject to legal liabilities associated with actions that had been performed in their official capacities.
Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino told his colleagues that he would need to review the bills. This seemed most odd as the bills were part of the published agenda. Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran pointed this out to Montagnno, who ignored him.
Department of Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub then offered that “having been a government investigations lawyer for fifteen years, these bills are not unreasonable. Reviewing documents, and preparing depositions take a lot of time, and so a thirty grand bill for two people for several months…I looked at it, and I didn’t find anything that was extreme…for what it’s worth.“
Gollub’s remarks ended the discussion.
Interestingly, the Council’s discussion of Kim’s announcement was unusually bland and thankfully without drama. That was yet to come.
Sloppy Work Violates Privacy
First, it turned out the Mayor had failed to vigorously review the legal invoices before putting them up on the city’s website. They included the home address of Meg Kelly. Kelly’s attorney brought this to the attention of the City Attorney, and the invoices were removed from the city’s website.
“…I will continue to be fully transparent and accountable to Saratogians as to the status of our financial commitment via periodic reports at the City Council meetings.”
TU January 4, 2023
Kim then contended incorrectly that some of the attorney costs were high because Dalton had returned her IPad “mangled” and that the password Dalton provided “didn’t work.”
Dalton said she returned the device as soon as she left office and that she didn’t have a discussion with anyone at City Hall regarding a password. Furthermore, she said, the city is the administrator of the device and could have reset the password and that all the information on it would have been in the server.
TU January 4, 2023
Kim Casts Doubt About Paying Fees
Kim also told Liberatore he was interested in capping the fees the city would pay.
“Obviously, we went above it [JK: The original amount approved by the Council],” Kim said. “Normally, this is not an adversarial process. They [JK: The Attorneys?] provide information and that’s all. But this is turning out to be expensive.”
TU January 4, 2023
The article ended with the following:
When asked if the city will likely have to pay Kelly and Dalton’s legal bill regardless, he said “it’s an open question.”
“It depends on what the AG’s office alleges,” he said.
TU January 4, 2023
These remarks continue Mayor Kim’s regrettable tendency to engage in legal conjecturing untethered to what the law actually requires.
The readers of this blog may recall the debacle when Mayor Kim opposed the city paying the copay for the insurance settlement in the Tim Wales case. This pointless conflict went on for some time. Eventually, despite Kim’s obstinant opposition, payment for the copay was finally authorized by the Council.
A News Story Was Not Enough
But Mayor Kim was not done. The city allows citizens to sign up to receive emails regarding city activities and advisements.
Kim next decided to utilize this vehicle to email his remarks regarding these bills and copies of the invoices to the public. Announcing the bills at a Council meeting, posting them on the city’s website, and going to the press was not enough.
Kim Reneges On His Promise To Authorize Payments Of Bills At January 17, 2023, Council Meeting
For some reason, the Mayor failed to place a resolution to pay the legal bills of Dalton and Kelly on the last (January 17) City Council agenda as he had announced he would do.
Why is anyone’s guess. For the Mayor, the concept of transparency is fluid.
Kim’s Strange Untransparent Request For Quotes (RFQ)
While Kim has claimed his handling of information about Kelly’s and Dalton’s legal bills was all about his commitment to transparency, he has been less than forthcoming about using public money for his legal pursuits.
On January 10, 2023, the Mayor’s office issued a Request for Quotes ( RFQ ) for legal services. The scope of work requested was:
“Responding to a Subpoena Duces Tecum from the Office of the Attorney General in connection with an investigation under New York Executive Law 75(3); and”
As the Mayor does not answer my inquiries, I am unclear, though, exactly why this RFQ was issued and why these tasks could not be handled by the City Attorney. Responses to the RFQ were due by January 17, 2023, which coincidentally was the date of the most recent Council meeting, but none of this was on the Mayor’s agenda.
Has something new developed with the AG investigation?
Has this RFQ some kind of relationship to the Mayor’s issue with paying for Kelly’s and Dalton’s attorneys? Who knows?
Just as odd is the extremely vague and open-ended section of the RFQ which states the Mayor is seeking counsel for “Performing other legal services as assigned.”
As this RFQ has no stated limits regarding what is sought in terms of time or how much money will be spent, it seems to provide the Mayor carte blanche to hire attorneys for whatever purpose he wants.
It would seem that in the interest of “transparency,” the Council would be asked whether they thought the city needed additional legal representation in the form of an RFQ before seeking bids. This is especially appropriate here as the Council might find the lack of limits regarding the scope of work, cost, and duration problematic.
Should the Council decline to approve any agreement growing out of this RFQ, this will do little to improve the city’s growing reputation for the questionable manner with which it handles legal matters.
Would that the Mayor applied his rigorous standards of transparency to his own actions.
I received the following from a group that has recently formed in response to a proposal being developed by the Mayor’s office for, according to the city’s website, a”streetscape improvement project to enhance Saratoga Springs’ signature street-Union Avenue between East Avenue and Circular Street.” There will be a public hearing and a presentation on this proposal at the Tuesday, January 17, City Council meeting.
The Historic Union Avenue Neighborhood Association (HUANA) is a large group of concerned citizens who live on or near Union Avenue. It was specifically formed so that property owners, residents, and businesses could have a voice in any proposed changes to Union Avenue ( the beloved street we call home ).
The Saratoga Springs City Council is preparing to vote on a concept that has broad implications for Union Avenue and one that could set an unwanted precedent for other areas of the City.
The “Enhancing Union Avenue” plan was revealed to the public by the city’s Complete Streets Advisory Board at a meeting held at Empire State College last October. It became quickly apparent that the sole focus of the plan was the addition of bike lanes along Union Avenue.
We, the members of the Historic Union Avenue Neighborhood Association, are a group of concerned citizens who live on or near Union Avenue. We assert that no changes to Union Avenue should take place without a comprehensive plan that simultaneously addresses the safety and the historic integrity of this grand boulevard. We further believe that the plan should be developed within a process that allows for detailed discussion with ALL stakeholders, including the New York Racing Association, the National Museum of Racing, the Saratoga Historic Preservation Foundation, Empire State College, the business community, and area residents.
Union Avenue, on the National Register of Historic Places, is a vital gateway to our city and the first impression many have of our beloved town. As noted sportswriter Red Smith once famously said, “From New York City, you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue, and go back 100 years”. We cannot afford to play high-stakes poker with one of our community’s greatest assets. We respectfully request Mayor Kim and the members of the City Council suspend this project until a comprehensive plan that addresses all concerns and answers all questions is in place.
According to an article in this week’s Saratoga Today, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim told the paper that Tony Izzo will stay on with the city even though Kim has posted a job vacancy for a City Attorney, a position currently held by Izzo.
“It’s for a new position,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said, adding that longtime current city attorney Tony Izzo will be staying on.
My sources indicate that as of Thursday (January 12), the Mayor had still not discussed the solicitation for the position with Mr. Izzo nor explained exactly what Mr. Izzo’s role will be in the future.
There is a certain irony that Mayor Kim was highly critical, upon taking office last year, that the city was paying full and parttime attorneys.
On Friday, January 6, 2023, Saratoga Springs Deputy Mayor Angela Rella delivered the above notice to the City’s Human Resource Office advertising an opening for a City Attorney. The salary for the new City Attorney is listed as $95,000 to $120,000 for an average work week of thirty to forty hours. (It’s a salaried position so what is the story with thirty hours?)
It is unclear what the posting of this position means for the future employment of Tony Izzo, the Saratoga Springs’ current City Attorney.
Neither Kim Nor Rella Bothered To Advise Izzo
After delivering the position posting, Ms. Rella left early on Friday. Izzo only learned about the posting because other people in City Hall happened to see it.
Izzo, who served as the city’s Assistant City Attorney for almost thirty-five years before Ron Kim appointed him City Attorney in early 2022, is well-known and well-liked in City Hall.
Neither Mayor Ron Kim nor his Deputy Angela Rella had the courtesy of meeting with Tony Izzo to inform him of his status which now seems to be up in the air with this posting.
Commissioner Sanghvi’s “Right Sizing” Budget
A look at how Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi has designated money for City Attorney positions makes this situation particularly confusing. There is $93,600 for a City Attorney in the current 2023 city budget that was adopted in November. Tony currently fills this position. Finance Commissioner Sanghvi also set aside another $70,000 for a City Attorney in an attachment to the budget.
Finance Commissioner Sanghvi set aside money outside of the 2023 budget for six new positions in the city. One of these six positions is identified as being for a City Attorney. Money for these new positions was allegedly not included in the city’s budget because it was supposedly unclear as to when these new positions would be filled.
The use of this device conveniently minimized the size of the budget increase from 2022 for the Mayor’s office as it did not include money for another City Attorney nor the funding for a second new position in his office.
This budgeting device is often used when estimating a starting date for a position is hard to predict. It is useful if filling a position first requires the candidate to acquire special training, for instance at the Police Academy, and it is unclear when that training could occur.
In the case of hiring another City Attorney this makes little sense, though, especially since the position was quickly advertised at the beginning of this budget year.
Why Commissioner Sanghvi did not just include the position in the regular budget is unclear.
Current City Attorney Izzo’s Status
It is unclear what the status of current City Attorney Tony Izzo is now.
Are we going to have two attorneys on staff again even though Kim began his term in office swearing the city didn’t need any City Attorneys? Is Tony Izzo going to be demoted? Is he going to be terminated? Where does Tony Izzo fit into this configuration? Who knows? There is only silence from the Mayor’s office.
It’s About Human Decency
The idea that neither Kim nor Rella bothered to inform Izzo on Friday of the posting for a City Attorney position is just shameful. Kim has every right to employ whomever he wants as the City Attorney, but his office also has a responsibility to treat Tony Izzo with respect and courtesy by making clear to him what his status is or will be.
This incident was not an anomaly. It is reflective of an attitude that pervades City Hall these days. Employees are routinely ignored or dealt with rudely particularly by Mayor Kim and Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino. The treatment of Izzo simply amplifies publicly what is going on in City Hall daily under the current administraion.
Apparently, three public hearings were supposed to be held at the January 3, 2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. For some reason, only one was listed when the agenda appeared on the city’s website, but all three took place anyway.
According to an opinion offered by City Attorney Tony Izzo at the Council meeting, if the city publishes a legal notice for a hearing in an area newspaper, the city can go ahead and hold the hearing even if the hearing notice does not appear on that meeting’s agenda. I know that I do not have the time to scour the legal notices in newspapers every day to educate myself as to what business will be transacted at City Council meetings. I rely on the agenda published on the city’s website.
On the agenda for the January 3, 2023, meeting, only one hearing was listed. As the following videos document, City Attorney Tony Izzo is called to the microphone and assures the Council that because the legal notices in the newspapers were published, the Council can ignore the fact that they were not all on the agenda published on the city’s website.
The Mayor’s office is responsible for putting the Council’s agenda together. Of course, no one on the Council asks how the items were left off the agenda and what actions the Mayor’s office will take to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Nor did Mayor Kim apologize for the lack of transparency about the evening’s agenda.
The Mayor’s Office Couldn’t Even Get All the Legal Notices Up Properly
To add insult to injury, not only wasn’t a public notice of the hearings put on the agenda but it turns out the city also failed to correctly publish the legal notice for one of the three hearings.
As Izzo is explaining how the Council can proceed with the hearings, a voice from off-camera advises him that he is wrong about the publishing of the three hearings because one of the legal notices was late.
Izzo apologizes, saying he was misinformed.
Again, no one on the Council asks how this happened and what procedures will be implemented to avoid this in the future.
The Mayor never acknowledges the failure of his office in this matter and simply proceeds with the meeting as though there were no issues.
Complicating matters was a confusing discussion about which hearing wasn’t properly noticed. I have listened to the video repeatedly, and I have been unable to figure out how the Council still had three hearings when the legal notice for one was not published in time.
The Mayor Seems Oblivious To The Importance of the Agenda
The Mayor’s cavalier attitude to failing to effectively notify the public regarding public hearings is very troubling. I distinguish here between what is legal and what is effective. It may be legal to have a hearing without it being published in the city’s agenda, but no one can reasonably argue that the public was provided with an effective notice.
Part Of A Broader Problem
This Council has an unprecedented number of last-minute additions regularly added to their agendas during meetings. Such an occurrence was rare in past administrations.
Agenda items are only supposed to be added during a Council meeting because they are so urgent they cannot wait until the next scheduled meeting. Our charter allows for new items to be added but requires a public explanation as to why they were added at the last minute and requires a vote by the Council to allow the item.
This Council never requires a member to defend a last-minute addition to the agenda.
This repeated abuse of adding items at the last minute deprives the public of knowing before the meeting what the Council plans to act on.
With respect, Mayor Kim constantly talks about transparency but demonstrates an unfortunate selectivity in his application of this important value.
When Is a Contract Not a Contract?
Since the Council did away with their pre-agenda meeting this month, another embarrassing item slipped onto the Mayor’s agenda. Item three on Kim’s agenda called for a discussion and vote to authorize the Mayor to sign a lease agreement with the Saratoga County Arts Council. Unfortunately, no such organization exists as their new name is Saratoga Arts Inc. As an attorney (as the Mayor so often reminds us), you’d think Kim would understand the importance of having the correct title on a lease agreement. So while the Council approved a lease with an organization that does not exist (Saratoga County Arts Council), there is currently no legal agreement with Saratoga Arts Inc. Maybe they’ll get it right at the next meeting?