The recent video showing Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim in an uncontrollable rage shouting expletives at the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety has gone viral and exposed the darkness that overshadows our city.
For those of us who have been following the City Council’s antics, we know that every member of the current Council has contributed to the decline in civility. Accounts Commissioner Moran, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim have been the most bitter and aggressive. Still, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi’s and Public Works Commissioner Golub’s passivity have, in their own way, empowered the other three.
The reality is that if these three so easily indulge themselves in verbally abusing their colleagues at the Council table, think about what kind of liberties they must take when dealing with the employees who work under them. We have some proof of this in the expletive-filled emails directed at employees by Mayor Kim as revealed by recent FOILs that can be found at the end of this post.
It should be no surprise then that the regional president of the union to which most employees in the city belong has written the following letter to Mayor Kim with cc’s to the other Council members and the city’s Human Resources Administrator. It characterizes the environment in city hall as toxic.
There are also several lawsuits pending against Council members regarding the “hostile work environment.”
Can This Council Change?
Mayor Kim’s statement to Saratoga Today only serves to document how deep and intransigent the problem is. His toxic emails with their f-bombs threatening employees are chilling and are included at the end of this post.
Sadly, Mayor Kim seems to live in a kind of bubble removed from both facts and the pain his behavior causes. This is what he told Saratoga Today
“They asked for every single email that I ever sent. So, I think that’s a pretty low percentage. I’m not excusing myself, but sometimes you see something and that’s how I react.”Ron Kim to Saratoga Today May 12, 2023
As for facts, the FOIL that produced Kim’s ugly emails did not request all of his emails as he alleges, just as the police who he had encountered prior to the meeting were not wearing riot gear as he asserted.
Here is the actual FOIL:
More dangerously, in spite of the wide condemnation of his behavior, Kim obstinately reserves the right to cast away restraint in the future. (“…you (sic) see something and that’s how I react.”)
As our Mayor, Ron Kim represents the citizens of this city. Despite the stressful situations he encounters as Mayor, the people who elected him deserve to have confidence he will have the self-discipline to maintain his dignity even under the most trying circumstances.
With his position of power, Kim holds a special trust regarding those who serve under him. They must have confidence that they will not be subjected to scorn and humiliation. His behavior in his encounter with Deputy Commissioner Tetu and Commissioner Montagnino was simply inexcusable. Worse, the baseless and withering attacks he and Montagnino directed at former Director of Risk and Safety Marilyn Rivers (she is suing the city), a dedicated and highly respected employee, was not only reckless and cruel, but it also had to spread fear all through city hall with employees wondering whether they might have to endure what Ms. Rivers did.
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran also has an unfortunate record himself. He was successfully sued by one of his employees over workplace incidents. He routinely indulges in insulting remarks at the Council table. Calling Commissioner Montagnino a “psychopath” drew whoops and cheers from his Black Lives Matter supporters but only made the atmosphere required to carry out the Council’s deliberations impossible.
Similarly, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi played to the BLM people by complaining that Commissioner Montagnino had not informed her that there would be a risk at the meeting requiring the police. As Montagnino was the target of the night, this was an opportunity to show her credentials to her allies Kim and Moran by piling on.
In the meantime, the police quietly stood for hours in a stairwell. Far from the narrative put forward by BLM that they were all murderers, they were there to protect the Council, the public, and the BLM activists. In spite of the chaos in the Council meeting room, with BLM chanting and waving banners, the police waited patiently in the event they might be needed.
Sanghvi’s unfortunate remarks at the expense of the men and women who spent the night trying to protect her were just one more unfortunate aspect of the evening.
It is time to return order and civility to the Council table and to city hall.
Mayor Kim does not seem to have the skill set required to chair the Council meetings.
A responsible chair’s duty is to facilitate the thoughtful deliberations of the Council so they can do the city’s business.
To do this, he must constrain his colleagues from any behavior that would promote unnecessary hostility by insisting on the highest standards of conduct.
When a chair (KIm) fails to meet these obligations, he/she needs for others at the table to intercede and insist on courtesy. In fact, it is the responsibility of every member of the Council to do so. I have yet to see any member of the current Council play that role.
Black Lives Matter Issue
Given the sympathy of most people for black Americans regarding the violence nationally against them so tragically seen regularly on television and epitomized by the murder of George Floyd, it is understandable that the public would be supportive of a local group that characterizes itself as being dedicated to racial justice.
Up until recently, Black Lives Matter has shown great skill in shaping their narrative in the media to tap into this sympathy.
Most people assume that the local BLM tactics are an extension of the tradition of Martin Luther King’s non-violent tactics. But Reverend King always championed love and forgiveness in his militancy. I have written about the contrast between King’s approach and the current local leadership of BLM in previous posts.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King
While BLM frequently quotes King on the need to be prepared to say and do things that make people uncomfortable, they clearly eschew King’s dedication to love vs hate.
Lexis Figuereo, his sister Chandler Hickenbottom, and the other leaders have expressed disdain over calls for them to show restraint and courtesy. They clearly believe that the only way to make change is to pour taunts and insults on people in power. Their protests are marked by the profound anger they feel and by their sense of entitlement to unleash that anger.
For an example of just how intense that anger can be, I offer the following video clip of Lex Figuereo.
Here Figuereo engages in an expletive-laden and belligerent challenge to a black Schenectady minister over his participation in a “Back The Blue” demonstration. In this case, the police had to intercede to avoid what appeared to be potential violence. Figuereo refers to the minister as a “fu*&ing coon,” “fu*&ing house nigger,” etc. His fury is palpable.
In contrast to this kind of toxic outburst, the narrative BLM offers to the media is that they are simply exercising their right to free speech and that any attempt to limit them in terms of the City Council’s rules for public comment is an act of oppression.
One cannot deny their willingness to pursue this strategy in spite of the potential for arrest. They have the courage of their convictions.
With respect, I seriously question the effectiveness of this approach. I share King’s view that the tactics by which a movement struggles are as important as the ends for which it struggles. However laudable one’s goals are, the manner people choose to achieve those goals will be undermined by tactics that are inconsistent with those goals (“Darkness cannot drive out darkness”).
King was also ready to seriously engage his skeptics in thoughtful dialogue. He knew that change would only come by convincing skeptics of the value of that change. Without broad public support beyond his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there would be no progress.
Deja Vu All Over Again
So the central question for people like myself is, are the tactics employed by BLM expanding public support for change and achieving their goals?
My sense is that, to the contrary, they have squandered the support that existed initially in response to George Floyd’s death. The huge, diverse crowd that filled Congress Park following Floyd’s murder is gone. The small group that shows up to disrupt the Council meetings has not expanded.
While Figuerreo likes to boast that nothing they wanted got done until they returned to being disruptive this year, a closer look at what they say they’ve achieved doesn’t support this.
The Council finally did appoint a Civilian Review Board. Still, those appointments were ironically delayed when the Council meeting was shut down after Chandler Hickenbottom refused to give up the microphone during the public comment period and began addressing the Council by promising to “rip you a new one.” And while BLM has claimed victory for the passage of a Council policy on no-knock warrants, it was not the ban the Police Review Task Force had asked for but instead a restriction that is similar to the policy that already exists on the state and national level. Similarly, a proposal brought to the table by Commissioner Sanghvi to implement a Task Force proposal to apply assets seized in “controlled substance arrest and criminal activity” to “city-based programming for the treatment of addiction, homelessness, and other restorative justice initiatives…” noted that this was to be done “to the extent allowed by existing New York State statutory requirements”. The problem is, as the previous Council was castigated for trying to point out, NY state does not allow this kind of dispersal of seized assets. Commissioner Sanghvi’s resolution was essentially meaningless and subsequently withdrawn.
What BLM has evolved to instead is a groundhog day drama. The same people show up and indulge in the same practices and the same slogans. Other than disrupting the ability of the Council to transact its business and the occasional videos on local television, little is accomplished.
Time For A New Approach
The chaos and anger engendered by the BLM protests need to end. The disruption of the Council’s deliberations only contributes to the toxicity that is corroding city hall.
What is needed now is for BLM to adhere to the same rules of addressing the City Council that for years have been the standard: two minutes at the microphone plus silent courtesy for other speakers.
Commissioner of Public Safety candidate Tim Coll has observed that the state legislature and some cities in New York State employ a sergeant at arms to address disruptive behavior at public meetings. Trained, independent men and women who are not political and who are knowledgeable about the behavior allowed by the NY State Open Meetings law (comments should not be “abusive, threatening, profane, or in any way illegal”) are empowered to escort members of the public who become unruly from council chambers.
I agree with Coll that our City Council needs to incorporate a sergeant-at-arms into city meetings, and Mayor Kim needs to allow that sergeant-at-arms to fulfill his/her responsibilities.
- Mayor Kim needs to acknowledge that he has an anger management problem and needs to seek assistance.
- Mayor Kim needs to insist that his colleagues maintain a civil and respectful manner in addressing each other. In the event that there is a breach of etiquette, he needs to use the power of the chair to intercede and insist on decorum.
- The council needs to employ a sergeant at arms with the authority to remove members of the public who violate the protocols for city meetings.
Documenting The Toxic Environment In City Hall
A Letter From The City’s Union
This letter is from the regional president of the CSEA to the members of the City Council expressing concern about the environment in city hall.
The following emails from Mayor Kim target a city employee for some kind of retribution using profanities.
The following email from Tony Izzo clarifies that the email above was directed to at an employee.
Kim had apparently asked a DPW employee about the cost and availability of the casino and of High Rock Park for some kind of event. The employee sent him the pamphlet that includes the fees. The following email documents Kim’s reaction.
In any other institution behavior like this would be grounds for termination.
Kim’s Profane Riddled Meltdown In City Hall
By now most everyone in the city has seen the video of Mayor Kim’s outbursts against Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Tetu. The police had advised Kim, in effect, that he had exagerated the threat of emails he had received and they did not merit police action.
23 thoughts on “Time To End The Toxicity In City Hall”
Thank you John, I could not agree more with this assessment.
I too noted that Commissioner Sanghvi has been pandering more to the BLM anarchists. She appears to be commenting more in meetings now. Hopefully someone is monitoring the city’s finances, she may be more of an issue than the mayor.
One family, with a few friends are holding this city hostage. Skidmore students are recruited now and again to improve their numbers for protests. Crazy times and not good for our city.
Hopefully Chris and Tim will be elected and the changes you outlined above can happen.
I watched most of last night’s meeting and I would invite everyone to review the video. Note the comments of “Anthony from Albany” during the public comment. Who thinks this is productive or positive for our city.
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As toxic as it is, the Republicans and conservatives refused to run anybody against Manita, Dillon and Golub, so therefore even if Cole and Mathiesen win it won’t change anything. After seeing the school board election last night I lost all faith in this city.
We did not refuse to run anyone against them. That is incorrect.
Unfortunately with our system of government and the utter nastiness prevailing in the media and among certain groups, it’s very hard to recruit qualified candidates.
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This is the best thing you’ve written in a long time.
Other than the reaction that John Kaufmann received during public comment, everyone was a little more civil last night which is a step in the right direction. We could do without the profanities that some of the activists continue to voice. Sam Brewer was extremely civil.
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It’s unanimous: Ron Kim is the worst mayor in the history of Saratoga Springs.
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I agree with Chris, and I add that a gentleman named Bill who spoke during the public comment period, was impressive with his remarks. Except for his direct criticism toward Comm. Montagnino.
Mayor Kim should remind speakers that they should address the entire Council instead of having back and forth during the comment period. No other Mayor has been this uninformed, nor as negligent.
Agree also about stationing a Sergeant-at-Arms. Long overdue.
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My name was mentioned by Chris Mathiesen – I generally do not post comments about local political matters. However, this Mayor is conducting himself in a criminal manner. Given the challenges ahead, I can not fathom why the city would spend capital money on a shelter for homeless sex offenders in preference to other priorities. It is obvious he came into office with an agenda to terminate people within the civil service – and now the city is on the hook for a hostile workplace lawsuit (Marylin Rivers). Looking through the information John has been able to FOIL, it seems that Ron Kim has been abusing his office since he was seated. In reference to his breakdown in city hall on May 4th – this is an indication of an extremely fragile psyche. I hope everyone can take the time to oppose every single initiative he undertakes until he is removed from office.
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I think Kim should be voted out for multiple reasons, but do you have a source for “why the city would spend capital money on a shelter for homeless sex offenders”? That’s a bold claim, and not something that should be thrown out frivolously.
Andy – the past several months have seen the creation of a ‘Homelessness Task Force’ that rubber-stamped a vote to recommend to the city council the construction of a large ‘No Barrier Homeless Shelter’. By definition, low barrier includes all sex offenders.
If the city moves forward, the creation of this facility will attract more homeless people and sex offenders who want to stay in the year round shelter with services. This is simple supply and demand.
Saratoga should not build anything beyond what is legally required. Homeless people have dozens of government and charity options for obtaining shelter and services. The congregating in the parking garage will get worse with a shelter.
Mayor Kim is doing the opposite of the right thing.
Suggest people get signs that say “No Sex Offender Shelter in Saratoga” printed up…
Mr. Brewer wrote, “the creation of this facility will attract more … sex offenders who want to stay in the year round shelter with services.”
It’s ironic that Catholic School parents killed the proposed Williams St. homeless shelter. While I’m not alleging any acts of pedophilia on the part of the staff at the Church of St. Peter and its adjacent school located across the yard from the former Senior Center, that quote sounds like an apt description of other Catholic churches across the country, including ones in Albany, NY. I’m willing to bet that there are more sex offenders in rectories and parish dorms than at homeless shelters. Lest you think this is an unfair accusation, see:
Furthermore, this article in Psychology Today talks about the sad truth that most sex offenders are family members or persons who are otherwise known to their victims.
The idea that a sex offender, staying at a nearby homeless shelter, is going to be hiding behind a bush on South Broadway waiting to pounce on some innocent tyke coming out of school, most likely into the arms of their parent or onto a bus, is basically a fiction. Abuse happens, but it’s more likely going to be behind the alter after Sunday school or in an upstairs bedroom when Mom’s out shopping. And sex offenders are hardly limited to Catholic clergy:
Quoting Sam Brewer, “Suggest people get signs that say “No Sex Offender Shelter in Saratoga” printed up…”
The proposed shelter is a “low barrier” facility, not a “no barrier” facility. The concept includes some level of discrimination, as well as in-house counseling and other services to get the residents back on their feet and out of their homeless situation. It’s not intended to be permanent housing.
Equating the homeless with being sex offenders hearkens back to the days of equating homosexuality with pedophilia. Unfortunately, the social stigma (of homelessness) is worsened by the most extreme cases, who are camping out in the city garages and sleeping on Broadway. There are 10 times as many who are well-behaved, but have fallen on hard times and just need help to get back into productive society. They’re the invisible ones. And, as a point of information, a least $1 million in private money, not public, has been pledged for the project.
An article from the California Health Report provides some insight into the issues. To quote from it:
“According to last year’s point-in-time count, only 15 percent of Orange County’s [California] homeless population had been released from jail or prison in the past 12 months…
“County Probation Department officials also told the nonprofit news site Voice of OC [Orange County, California] in March that only one convicted sex offender was among the 700 homeless people in the Riverbed—and that he would not have been eligible to stay at the proposed shelters.
“Instead, economics are the primary driver of homelessness, according to a 2017 report by researchers at UC Irvine, with forty percent of those surveyed cited difficulty finding a job with sufficient wages, and 36 percent cited an inability to find affordable housing.” See the full text here:
Saratoga has the same economic imbalance, too. It has the 3rd greatest income disparity in NY State and is 28th in the entire country.
When I moved here in the early 1970s, there were only two known homeless men in the city and both were looked after by the restaurateurs and barkeepers on Caroline St. Over the decades, Saratoga has become a victim of its own success and with success comes unintended consequences, like the ones frequently addressed in this blog.
Mr. Levy – your points about homelessness are very cogent and thoughtful.
I do not want sex offenders in Saratoga Springs. Let them find another community with a low barrier shelter to live in. Or, better yet, obtain services from the State.
People behave rationally – if there is a shelter that accepts sex offenders, they will gravitate to the facility.
Building a homeless shelter is an investment in future homelessness. Once you divide the operating budget for the homeless shelter by the number of occupants, you will see it will be more economical to get everyone into an apartment. A homeless shelter with a budget of $80,000 a month could house 60-70 people in their own apartments. You will see, it will be more expensive to run a shelter than it will be to house people in apartments.
It makes no sense – the Mayor wants to instead shift the money to a contractor’s payroll and not invest in actual housing people.
Building a homeless shelter is an investment in future homelessness. Is this true?
Are there examples where a Public/Private homeless shelter eliminated or reduced homelessness and was considered a success. So successful that is was closed or had to be scaled back. Prove that Sam is wrong.
One option could be to partner with Skidmore College. Build the shelter on their campus and employ students to run it. Give them course credits and actually show how progressive liberalism can work. Grade success on how many people that take in and then make independent. Simple metrics.
Win / Win for everyone?
And let’s look at the income imbalance differently.
We have some very nice and expensive neighborhoods. The maintenance and repair of the houses is huge. Skilled craftsmen can make a nice living servicing this homes. (I not talking lawn cutting). Ramp up the BOCES programs and work with local firms to supply workers that can grow their skills and incomes. With time and the right work ethic you can own one of these homes and afford it by doing most of that maintenance yourself. Ask me how I know this.
Sam’s language that implies helping the homeless will result in an increase in sex offenders is very ugly, and I’m surprised John has allowed it in all honesty. If you’ve ever spoken with some of the homeless members of our community, you’d see many have just been a victim of bad luck, whether is be health, family, and/or work related. We’re all a lot closer to being a similar situation than many of us what to admit.
Using your same logic, there have been public cases of abuse being done by clergymen and teachers. Should we get rid of all of our churches and schools as well?
I agree housing for the homeless is ideally the goal, but that runs into the very real issue that homeless people often can’t just get a market apartment due to their lack of credit/steady income, there lack of affordable apartments, and you discounting all of the work done by staff to actually help those in need.
Very surprised that such an anti-homeless stance is allowed here, especially one so crude.
I agree with Sam.
A low barrier shelter funded by city taxpayers is not in our best interest. Neither is having it next to a school or within easy walking distance for them to panhandle on Broadway. (see the report on Albany business’s having horrible issues with aggressive panhandling) Our priorities should be the business owners of our city, the people they employ, their customers and city residents.
This makes our city successful and able to afford what we have.
The mayor has now gone beyond incompetent to being dangerous. Either he will snap or some of the crazy’s that dominate public speaking will, someone will get hurt.
Finally, though it might have been sarcastic, I agree we could use a mental health expert attending our council meetings to help those with obvious issues. (the stolen land lady for starters).
Chris, please note: Add a sergeant-at-arms and a Mental Health expert to the budget in 2024.
As long as the majority of the negative public comments are directed at the council members the Mayor doesn’t like, I doubt he will lift a finger to try to regain control of the public comment period or meetings in general – just his personal and political animus towards Commissioner Montagnino alone has allowed for an obscene amount of disruption and chaos. At the end of the day, Mayor Kim is motivated by many different factors, none of which include what is best for the city or residents of Saratoga.
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Determination of Mayor Kim’s motivating factors and misalignment of goals with the citizens of the city is something that should be undertaken. This includes investigation and can also include interrogation. Promises of emoluments or future opportunities to undertake unpopular actions like locating a shelter that includes all sex offenders within the city may have a foreign origin.
The RFP for ‘Homeless Shelter Services’ is here. Note the RFP stipulates two paid staff 24/7 and does not specify the number of beds required or anything about facility standards. This is not cogent RFP. Two paid 24/7 staff on duty with overhead may run $750,000 – $1,000,000 per year alone.
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Two paid staff equals “at least” six persons. Three 8 hour shifts. The staff will need to be trained, and trained well. These positions will not be easy to fill. There are many vacancies throughout our city. I doubt people will be lining up to put in their applications.
On a different subject: Who determined that we need 16 new fire fighters for Station #3? Last I heard, the minimum shift is 3 firefighters. That equals 9 new firefighters, not 16. The Chief (soon to be ex-Chief) was the former IAFF Union president. Naturally, if he were asked the question, he would go for the maximum, hoping to get nine. Next up, bids for new ambulance and new fire trucks. Yes, the money is there now, (not for trucks) but looking to the future, let’s try to be more fiscally prudent.
Henry37 you have it backwards. Chief Dolan was running three person engines. The union wanted 4. Commissioner Sanghvi & Montagnino sided with the union. Also, I wouldn’t be so quick to call him the ex-chief…
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Overkill Robin, regardless of who authorized the 16 new firefighters. I respect your knowledge, but Commissioners are supposed to support the taxpayers by standing up to the IAFF and the PBA. Simply agreeing with the Unions, and leaving the running of the departments up to the respective Chiefs, is the easy way out.
Henry37 I agree, which is why I agreed with the Chief’s recommendation and started running 3 person engines while I was in office. I did not see how it would be fiscally possible to run 4-person engines going into expansion with the 3rd station. Obviously, this administration disagrees with me and thinks the money is there?
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Interesting shift in conversation to staffing ratios.
The tax base in Saratoga Springs is basically flat – the population hovers around 30,000 people and net real personal incomes are not really going up. Property tax burdens continue to escalate. By the time pension and health care costs are taken into account, each new police or firefighter costs well over $100,000 per year – perhaps a lot more, depending on how you calculate.
Intelligent dispatch with the third EMS station should be able to improve response times (which is the goal) while keeping staffing basically flat. This involves heat mapping service call history and good scheduling. You have to look at backfilling the service territories of each EMS station with another EMS station after a first call goes out from another. I have no comment on 3 or 4 person engines, other than the safety and effectiveness of the engine crew is the determining factor. It is generally not good to run skeleton crews for normal operations because you lose your labor surge capacity. There is a reason we carry more police and fire than we actually need on a normal day.