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

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

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

*the proposal to increase wages and benefits for the Deputies

*the DA Heggen issue

*the Liberty Affordable housing proposal

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

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

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

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

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

Deputy Salary and Benefits Proposal

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

The DA Issue

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

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

Montagnino Ignores His Own Department’s Policy Manual

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

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

324.2 Policy

and

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

324.3 Responsibilities

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

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

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

The Liberty Affordable Housing Issue

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

The items were:

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

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

City Council to Deputies: Merry Christmas–City Council to All Other City Employees: Bah Humbug

With little notice, Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran has put on his agenda for Tuesday night’s (December 6, 2022) City Council meeting a resolution that will raise the salaries and benefits exclusively for the five city Deputies. I am certainly not opposed to fairly compensating employees, but his resolution is disturbing for a number of reasons:

  1. The timing

2. The increases in salary and benefits are only for political appointees, the deputies.

3. There is no rationale for these salary and benefits increases

The Timing

Past Councils traditionally addressed Deputy salaries and benefits in an annual resolution passed well before the city budget was adopted, as those figures would have to be included in projecting city expenditures. Commissioner Moran put this proposal on the Council agenda on Friday (12/2/22), less than a week after the 2023 budget was passed and the tax rate was set on Monday (11/28/22), thus avoiding any discussion of these salary increases at any of the budget hearings. Finance Commissioner Sanghvi raised no objection to this addition to the budget at this Monday morning’s (12/5/22) agenda meeting when it was discussed.

Deputies Only

Moran’s proposed raises and increase in benefits apply only to the Deputies, not to any other city employees.

In the past, the Council would annually pass a “Resolution for Non-Union Full-Time Employees” setting salaries and benefits for Deputies but also for a list of City Hall positions that included, for instance, the Executive Assistants, the Human Resources Specialist, the Director of Risk and Safety, the Civil Service Coordinator, the City Attorney, etc. The city’s policy has been to keep benefits and raises for these employees in line with those negotiated for CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) employees. So, for instance, non-union full-time employees have been given an annual 2% pay increase and the same number of vacation days as the CSEA union employees.

This resolution put forward by Moran is unprecedented in that it separates the Deputies from the other non-union employees and grants these raises and benefits only to the Deputies who are now identified as “Executive Employees.”

Hopefully, readers realize that the Mayor and Commissioners are only paid $14,500, so although the charter does not indicate this, they are considered part-time. The charter states, though, that each Commissioner is entitled to a deputy. While wise Commissioners in the past have chosen many outstanding deputies with the knowledge and skill set to effectively run their departments, there are no requirements in the charter for who can be appointed a deputy: no degrees, no prior experience, no civil service tests…nothing. The charter does allow the Council to “establish appropriate qualifications for any deputy,” but no Council has done this so far. So these positions are, in the end, all political appointments. Commissioner Sanghvi’s deputy, for instance, was her campaign manager.

Four of the five current Deputies have no prior experience working in City Hall, and four have not yet worked a year in their jobs. I am told by reliable sources that Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Jason Tetu and Deputy Accounts Commissioner Tracey O’Connor wrote the original draft of Moran’s resolution.

Moran’s Proposal as of Monday Morning’s Agenda Meeting

I understand that Commissioner Moran has revised his proposal, and I would direct readers to the city’s website to see the latest version. The following is a comparison between the Deputies’ current benefits and those in Moran’s original proposal:

  • Current Base Salary for Deputies = $77,680.00 | Proposed = $102,500.00 (+32%)
  • Currently, the deputy salaries are uniformly the same| Proposed a Commissioner may increase his/her deputy’s salary if there are sufficient funds (no limit).
  • Currently Starting Employees Vacation Days = 10 | Proposed 21 Days (+110%)
  • Currently, no vacation days can be carried over at the end of the year | Proposed any unused vacation days can be carried over into the next year.
  • Currently, employees can only redeem cash for unused vacation accrued during the current year of employment | Proposed all vacation days accrued since the person was hired can be converted to cash when that person leaves city employment.
  • Currently, an employee leaving the city is eligible to convert 25% of their accumulated sick leave up to a maximum of 200 days into cash| Proposed the employee will receive full value for every sick day, and there is no limit to the number of sick days.
  • Currently, employees receive 6 personal days | Proposed employees will receive 8 personal days (+33%).
  • Currently, unused personal days can be converted to sick time | Proposed employees can roll over personal time to the next year.
  • Currently, unused personal time is lost | Proposed employees can cash in personal time at the end of their employment.

Problems Remain –Where’s The Data?

In spite of the modifications in Commissioner Moran’s proposal, essential problems remain.

I admit I do not know how much Deputies should be paid nor what their benefits should be.

Unfortunately, Moran’s resolution was not accompanied by any documentation showing how these figures were arrived at. I would think that before such changes would be proposed, there would be some sort of salary/benefit study assessing, for instance, what other municipalities pay for comparable positions and how this compensation relates to that of other positions in city hall. As far as I can tell, these figures were grabbed out of thin air.

And these other questions remain-why have the Deputies been singled out for improved compensation, and why was this done after the budget process had concluded.

Another Blow to City Hall Morale

Multiple sources have described to me the anger and frustration that this proposal has generated among the other non-union and CSEA (union) employees.

The current rates of inflation have placed strains on most people. If the proponents of this resolution wanted to further undermine the morale of the city’s employees who are already suffering under current management, they couldn’t have chosen a better weapon than this proposed resolution.

Former Public Safety Commissioner Lew Benton Reflects on Violence in Downtown Saratoga Springs

Lew Benton served for eight years as Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner from 1988 to 1995. Here are his observations about the downtown bar scene then and now.

*************************************************************

I doubt that Gideon Putnam ever imagined when he platted the hamlet’s streets that the one he lent his daughter Caroline’s name to would become a modern day version of Deadwood’s Lower Main or Dodge City’s Front streets.

But the November 20 early morning gunfight on Broadway, reportedly prompted by a dispute in a Caroline Street bar, presents as a 19th century Dodge City shootout. Like Caroline Street, Front Street in Dodge was host to several ‘watering holes’ including the famous Long Branch Saloon.

There one night in 1879 the ironically named Frank Loving shot and killed Levi Richardson over a dispute involving Loving’s wife. Loving was wounded in the exchange.

Of course such gun play in that time was not unusual, but it is specifically referenced because it may prove to be characteristic of what happened here a week ago Sunday in the wee small hours.

Now, as then, carrying a hand gun, legally or not, in public places where alcohol is consumed in excess, inhibitions diminished and rational thought trumped by bravado and irresistible impulse, present as ripe for trouble and unintended consequences.

Indeed, some would argue that today’s faster, lighter, higher capacity, more powerful, semi-automatic hand guns only increase the danger of an accidental shooting, the killing or wounding of innocence or a disproportionate response to a perceived slight.

The November 20 shooting was not an aberration, not a one and done. And we had been warned.

In June of 2021, a Caroline Street brawl, reportedly involving 15 to 20, resulted in the stabbing of a 26 year-old, the discharge of a “ghost” gun and the suggestion of possible “gang” involvement. Serious stuff and fraught with serious consequences, including potential injuries to police officers and bystanders, the risk of escalation, unwarranted allegations of police misconduct and the attended risk of municipal liability.

This is to say nothing of the municipal costs of such incidents.

Following that incident the then deputy chief of police urged the development and support of a comprehensive community based plan designed to stem growing violent downtown episodes.

Then it was suggested that following the 2021 summer season, with the benefit of recent experience, the type and number of incidents compared to corresponding data from previous years and knowledge of any changing influences driving outbreaks of violence, would seem the best time to develop such a plan.

To my knowledge, no such comprehensive plan was developed.

Over the years, as previous public safety commissioners have attested, there have been many, many violent incidents on Caroline Street and environs, several resulting in serious injury and, in at least three cases, deaths. The most recent a 2021 homicide resulting from a bar fight.

Different City administrations have attempted to keep the lid on the Caroline Street pressure cooker. Many years ago I implemented a 8 PM to 4 AM overlapping special patrol which, I recall, helped tamp down violent outbreaks. Such initiatives, however, do not address the root causes of the problem.

Other strategies were considered. A Public Safety initiative to close bars at 2 AM rather than 4 AM, strenuously resisted by some bar operators and the Chamber of Commerce, was ultimately dismissed by an indifferent, mulish County Board of Supervisors perhaps still cultivating some past pique.

Pre-peak season meetings with the police, bar operators, private security and the SLA, sponsored by public safety, sought to lessen the occasions of violent and other criminal behavior. And this year Public Safety and the SLA intervened to sanction Gaffney’s following yet another street brawl reportedly provoked by its “patrons.”

I recall riding, over 26 plus years ago, on patrol with late at night on Caroline Street during the height of the summer season. Then, as now, the goal was to roll back, calm dicey situations before they got out of hand. What I experienced then was good, ethical policing conducted with discretion, common sense and a cool demeanor.

And as far back as the late 1960s, as a young probation officer, I occasionally rode on night patrol with my father, a city police officer.

Still, even a greater police presence designed to deter such street crime begs the more fundamental question of cause and effect and how to prevent, or at least reduce, it.

What really drives the too frequent downtown lawlessness and occasion of violence? Booze, street drug use, diminished inhibition, alcohol fueled bravado, mob mentality, less fear of potential legal and social consequences, simple peer pressure. A “What Happens in Las Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas” mentality.

Now a new dynamic to consider and one I have not seen discussed: the carrying of concealed weapons in public.

On June 23, 2022, in a 6-3 ruling, the US Supreme Court struck down part of New York’s concealed carry gun law, a provision requiring an applicant to show “proper cause” in order to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun outside their home. (New York does not allow handguns to be carried openly at all, and that restriction was not challenged in the case.) The Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen removed a key element of New York’s gun laws, making it easier to obtain a license to carry a firearm in New York’s public spaces.

The Court ruled that the 109-year-old provision violated the Second Amendment, holding that States may not require otherwise responsible and law-abiding citizens to show “a special need for self-defense” in order to qualify for a license to carry a handgun outside the home. A license to carry a handgun may be denied for other reasons specific to an applicant’s background, character, or ability to use a firearm properly, but not for lack of a special need for self-defense.

The Court’s opinion focused primarily on history, relying on its view that there was no precedent for similarly restrictive laws limiting people’s ability to carry handguns in public for the purpose of self-defense when the Second Amendment was ratified. Consequently, the Court ruled that New York’s proper-cause requirement was not part of a “historical tradition” defining the “outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.”

Of course most thinking people know that the Second Amended conferred no such right, but for now communities and the police are left to deal with the irrational decisions of a compromised, activist court.

In the wake of the Court’s decision in Bruen, New York’s lawmakers were called back to Albany for a special session to pass new legislation clarifying and enhancing New York’s many public-safety-oriented protections for handgun licensing in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision. On July 1, 2022, the governor signed legislation expanding restrictions on access to guns in the state.

In relevant part the legislation made carrying a concealed hand gun, even if licensed, illegal in certain public places, including bars.

That state July action, which prohibits and criminalizes a licensed concealed carrier from bringing a gun into a bar, was, of course, almost immediately challenged but, at least for now, I believe, stands.

The insanity of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Bruen case is made evident by the November 20 gun fight on Broadway and untenable burden it places on the police.

If, as has been suggested, one of the young men shot that morning, was licensed to carry his concealed hand gun in public, but may have violated the penal law by possessing the gun in a bar, how will the DA proceed? The other gunman, reportedly an off duty Vermont deputy sheriff, was carrying a concealed non-issue hand gun in the same bar. Did he legally carry that gun into the Caroline Street bar?

Hey, two armed guys in a bar at about 3 AM get into a dispute. What could possibly go wrong?

It will be interesting to learn how the DA deals with all this. If, in fact, the two involved legally possessed their weapons, will she prosecute them for violating the stricture against carrying them in a bar? Will they claim self defense in the response to a self created threat? What if one legally possessed and carried is weapon and the other did not?

Will she even enforce the state prohibition against concealed weapons in bars? We will recall that the county sheriff vowed not enforce the state’s SAFE law regulating certain semi-automatic assault weapons.

Presumably these and other questions will be answered in the course of the reported State Police investigation. Hopefully the findings of that investigation and any corresponding one conducted by SSPD will also serve to prevent future similar violent outbursts.

In the meantime the police are again left to keep the piece and babysit the Caroline Street crowd, not knowing who is carrying a concealed weapon, legally or illegally, but surely aware that guns, bars and alcohol are a toxic mix. Their lot cannot be a happy one.

The federal courts have predicated recent gun decisions on a contrived right of self defense in public places. But the November 30 gun play protected no one and placed police officers and others in grave danger.

If the Board of Supervisors, including are own representative, again negate an earlier closing time, let the city council ask for a Home Rule message to amend the pertinent state law. And every bar in the Caroline Street area should be required, as a condition of city licensing, to display a door sign reminding all that under current state law it is a crime to bring a concealed weapon prohibiting into the premises.

Local elected officials have suggested other steps. Perhaps now is finally the time to develop the community based strategic plan that Deputy Chief Catone advocated well over a year ago. For now the priority should be gaining control of bar closing times, developing a definitive policy regarding enforcement and prosecution of concealed carry laws and exposing the myth that carry a weapon in public makes anyone safer.

If not, the Dodge City analogy may just stick and the city will suffer for it.



12/01/2022
LJB

Exodus of Outstanding City Employees Is Troubling

Saratoga Springs has been fortunate to have attracted some outstanding individuals to work for the city in many capacities. This year some key people have either left or announced their plans to leave in the near future. The list includes:

Shane Crooks, Chief of Police

Lieutenant Laura Emanation, the highest-ranking woman in the Police Department

Lynn Bachner, the city’s Budget Director

Marilyn Rivers, Director of Risk and Safety

Tina Carton, Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation

All but one of the IT staff members

These employees have not only enriched the city with their knowledge and talent, but they have an institutional memory that has been important to the smooth running of the city and will be missed.

A Farewell to Tina Carton

One of those departing employees is Tina Carton, the Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation, whose last day in City Hall was Friday, December 2. As chronicled in the piece below by former Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, Ms. Carton has been at the center of many, many key projects dealing with the quality of life and sustainability of our city. It will be hard to fill her position with someone as capable as her.

From Ms. Madigan:

On hearing the news of Tina Carton’s resignation as the city’s Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation, a position required by the Saratoga Springs City Charter, I wanted to express my wholehearted gratitude for all the sustainable project work Tina completed on behalf of our great city. Tina consistently showed herself to be one of the hardest-working employees within City Hall. 

A few projects and memories spring to mind. Tina has been instrumental in the ongoing development of the city’s Greenbelt Trail, the Missing Sidewalks project, the Geyser Road Trail, the Municipal Smart City Street Light Conversion project, bringing EV charging stations to the city, energy benchmarking and bicycle lanes, to name a few. These are all massive projects with huge budgets typically associated with a NYS grant that often require matching funds with quarterly and yearly updates due to the NYS in a timely manner. For the city, Tina was practically a one-woman show. During my tenure, the Finance Office always tried to assist her regularly because we, too, were invested in the successful completion of her sustainable project work. though she very much disliked “Certifications of Sufficient Funds” (a private joke between Tina and me)! I am sure she is simply thrilled to be rid of this onerous task. 

In addition to all of Tina’s project and grant work, she was involved actively with running numerous official city committees: The Open Space Advisory Committee, Climate Smart Task Force Communities, and Compete Streets. She project-managed the city’s Natural Resource Inventory Plan and the Open Space Plan. Tina also prepared excellent website content for the city’s “Sustainability and Resiliency” and I strongly advise residents to review all this great content.

 Tina has a great personality, and I believe her passion for city sustainability projects will be regretfully missed. But we are lucky that Tina will continue to reside in Saratoga Springs, and I’m sure she will stay involved in some manner with sustainable efforts here locally. I wish Tina much success and goodwill in her future endeavors.

 Michele Madigan, Former Commissioner of Finance 2012 -2021

Montagnino Calls For the Council To Condemn DA Karen Heggen

In a Kafkaesque special meeting on Monday, November 28, the Saratoga Springs City Council attempted to pass a resolution crafted by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino that, in the most bravura rhetoric, denounces Saratoga County’s District Attorney Karen Heggen.

At the end of this blog is the full text of his resolution, along with a video documenting the confusion and ignorance on display at this meeting, something that seems endemic to the current Council. Montagnino’s resolution will be up again for discussion and vote at yet another special Council meeting this Friday (12/2) at 3PM.

There are many problems with the substance of Montagnino’s resolution, as well as the manner in which he tried to get it adopted by the Council.

Wretched Excess

Montagnino’s resolution was prompted by a court restraining order issued on November 23 restricting Council members and city employees in their official capacities from further releasing certain information regarding the November 20 shootings on Broadway. The order was issued after Kim and Montagnino held a press conference less than twelve hours after the shootings occurred, where they released footage of the incident and commented extensively on the event.

In his resolution, Montagnino focuses on DA Heggen, condemning her “in the strongest terms” for seeking the temporary order (TRO).

Item #4 of Montagnino’s resolution states the following:

“District Attorney Heggen knows, or has reason to know, that seeking a TRO which precludes every public employee of the City of Saratoga Springs, including elected officials, from exercising their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is a gross violation of her Oath of Office.”

While it is true that the order imposes significant restraints on the city’s elected officials’ and employees’ right to speak in their official capacity, I don’t think that it was unintentional on Montagnino’s part to add drama by adopting language that would lead people to believe that the order was all-encompassing. The order does not impose limits on the city’s officials or employees from privately talking about the case. In fact, even in their official capacities, it does not bar them from discussing the case except as regards comments associated with evidentiary issues.

The actual language in the restraining order states:

Ordered, that the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, the Public Safety Commissioner of Saratoga Springs, and all other elected or public employees of Saratoga Springs acting in their official capacity [my emphasis] shall refrain from making any further public comments characterizing any

  • evidence,
  • speculating as to the quality, quantity, or clarity of any evidence,
  • and presenting opinions or legal conclusions as to the ongoing investigation.”

ORDERED, that the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, the public Safety Commissioner of Saratoga Springs, and all other elected or public employees of Saratoga Springs, acting in their official capacity, shall refrain from releasing any further

  • street camera footage
  • police officer body camera footage
  • surveillance footage
  • private video footage
  • audio footage
  • audio transcript
  • or any other information that would tend to identify witnesses, their statements to law enforcement, or describe in detail any physical evidence or resulting scientific tests associated with the ongoing investigation

There is a very real and thorny issue here of 1st amendment free speech on the one hand and disclosing information that might be harmful to individuals and endanger the 6th amendment right to a fair trial with an impartial jury on the other. How should the right of elected officials to discuss ongoing criminal investigations without restraint be balanced against the need to effectively bring to justice those who violate the law?

This is the kind of issue that courts often must deal with.

Unfortunately, rather than addressing these issues soberly and professionally to seek accommodation between the city and the county District Attorney, Montagnino, Kim, and some of the other members of the Council have gone into attack mode.

It is important for the city’s police to be able to work cooperatively with the county’s District Attorney. The police rely on the county DA to prosecute the criminals they apprehend. A thoughtful City Attorney would have reminded Kim and Montagnino of the importance of this relationship. I expect such a lawyer would have advised sitting down with the DA and trying to find a way to work together constructively rather than raising the temperature by publicly denouncing the DA using the most extreme language. And, of course, city officials would then have had to listen to such a lawyer.

Disinformation

To begin with, while DA Heggen applied for the restraining order, it was Supreme Court Justice Dianne N. Freestone who issued the restraining order and is responsible for its content, not DA Heggen.

I am not sure why, in his resolution, Montagnino has selectively attacked only Heggen, and not Freestone. It might be tactical, as it is unwise to verbally abuse a judge. Given his history of vindictive behavior and misogyny, Montagnino may simply be angry that DA Heggen, a woman, had the temerity to ask him not to release the videos just before his press conference. It could, of course, be both.

In response to a question by the Daily Gazette, Montagnino indulged in this sexist comment, reinforcing the personal and unprofessional nature of his conflict with DA Heggen.

…oh well, it’s under investigation and now are we going to have the DA step in and stomp her foot and say, ‘you can’t talk about that either?’”

Daily Gazette November 29, 2022

It is worth noting that DA Heggen, in contrast, has demonstrated a much higher level of professionalism by not indulging in similar statements.

Ignoring the City Charter’s Transparency Requirements

Equally problematic was the way Montagnino brought this resolution before the Council.

The City Charter clearly states:

“Agendas for regular meetings shall be finalized and filed in the City Clerk’s office for public review no later than noon the day preceding such meeting.”

Article 2.2 City Charter

In addition, the charter states that new items cannot be added to the city’s agenda during a Council meeting without the following actions:

“Matters not listed on the agenda for a meeting may not be finally acted on at that meeting, unless one or more Council members shall propose an unlisted matter be finally acted upon and shall state on the record the reason why such matter was not listed on the agenda, and the Council shall, by motion and vote, find that immediate final action on the matter is necessary.”

Article 2.2 City Charter

There is a good reason the charter established these requirements.  It allows for a reasonable amount of time for citizens to become informed about what the Council plans to discuss and act on at a meeting.

Both of these provisions have routinely been violated by this City Council. The procedures followed (or rather not followed) by Montagnino at this special meeting were no exception.

Commissioner Golub Raises Concerns

The special meeting called for November 28 was supposed to primarily be to vote on Commissioner Sanghvi’s 2023 proposed budget, but that night Commissioner Montagnino added his resolution to the agenda. When Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub expressed concern at this last-minute addition to the agenda, Commissioner Sanghvi casually observed that the Council had routinely amended the agenda during Council meetings.  She didn’t see what the problem was. (see video)

Golub observed that because the resolution had not been included in the Council’s published agenda, not only was the public unaware of what Montagnino was proposing, it was unaware that the issue would even be discussed.

Golub told his colleagues that he had not had an opportunity to properly review Montagnino’s resolution as it had only been handed to him that afternoon, and there were some serious accusations made against Heggen. In the course of the discussion, it was revealed that not only had the City Attorney, Tony Izzo, not read the resolution, but Izzo had not been consulted at all about the crafting of it. (see video)

Commissioner Sanghvi oddly asked Izzo if he would like to comment on Montagnino’s resolution. As he had just told her and the rest of the Council that he had not read it, it was hardly surprising that he said: “no.” (see video).

Golub asked Montagnino to table the resolution until the next meeting.

Mayor Kim then offered a rambling commentary about why it was urgent to pass Montagnino’s resolution immediately.  As best I could make out, the gist of his argument was that it would somehow strengthen the city’s case by demonstrating how quickly the city objected to the court order.

He argued that delaying adopting Montagnino’s resolution would undermine the city’s argument that it was an emergency to have the temporary restraining order lifted.

I asked a number of attorneys about Kim’s argument. They uniformly dismissed Kim’s claim as without foundation.  They noted that the court would only be interested in the strength of the city’s legal arguments and whether any legal action the city took was timely as required by law.

As Commissioner Golub had asserted that he could not vote for Montagnino’s resolution without further review, the Council agreed to table the motion and to consider it at yet another special meeting they scheduled for Friday, December 2, at 3:00 PM. in spite of the fact that there is already a regularly scheduled Council meeting on Tuesday, December 6.

Double Standard?

In defending Montagnino’s resolution, Mayor Kim was dismissive of withholding information from the public on the basis of an ongoing investigation. As the video shows, Kim was adamant that the right of the public to know trumps concerns about investigations.

In April, the city received a FOIL request asking for documents associated with an alleged forged signature on one of Kim’s petitions for mayor. It was denied. The reason for the denial? “There is currently an open investigation.” Below is the denial letter.

The Video

Montagnino’s Resolution Denouncing DA Heggen

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SARATOGA SPRINGS:

That the actions of Karen Heggen, District Attorney of Saratoga County, in seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) directing that “The Mayor of Saratoga Springs, the Public Safety Commissioner of Saratoga Springs, and all other elected or public employees of Saratoga Springs acting in their official capacity, shall refrain from making any further public comments characterizing any evidence, speculating as to the quality, quantity, or clarity of any evidence, and presenting opinions or legal conclusions as to the ongoing investigation [into the events of Sunday, November 20, 2022],” are condemned in the strongest terms for the following reasons:

  1. District Attorney Heggen obtained the TRO illegally, in violation of 22 NYCRR §202.7(f), by failing to provide the City with notice and an opportunity to be heard;
  2. District Attorney Heggen acted improperly in presenting the proposed TRO to a Judge in the afternoon of the day before Thanksgiving, thereby depriving the City of the opportunity to respond in a timely fashion;
  3. District Attorney Heggen acted improperly in seeking to prevent the City from being heard on the TRO for a full month; and, most importantly,
  4. District Attorney Heggen knows, or has reason to know, that seeking a TRO which precludes every public employee of the City of Saratoga Springs, including elected officials, from exercising their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is a gross violation of her Oath of Office.

Chris Mathiesen, Past Public Safety Commissioner, On the Continuing Crisis of Violence in Downtown Saratoga Springs

One of the problematic aspects of allowing bars in Saratoga Springs to stay open until 4AM that has not been focused on is the impact this has on the city’s police department. In addition to the verbal abuse police suffer, officers are routinely placed in a volatile and dangerous situation as they try to cope with crowds of drunks in the downtown bar area. It is only a matter of time before more people, including police officers are hurt. In addition, officers who must routinely respond to the eruptions on Caroline Street are not available to quickly respond to other incidents that may occur simultaneously in other areas of the city. If this situation is not addressed, the city will find it increasingly difficult to attract and keep officers.

Chris Mathiesen served as the Public Safety Commissioner in Saratoga Springs from January 2012 to December 2017. During his time in office Chris visited Caroline Street at three in the morning to observe firsthand what was going on there. Here is a recent interview I did with him where he describes this experience.

Below is a piece Chris wrote for this blog.

Caroline Street Nightclub Scene

It is much too early to make any definitive pronouncements regarding the November 20 shooting in the Caroline Street Nightclub District.  As this incident is fully investigated by law enforcement professionals, there will be more details to consider.  It is hoped that all injuries sustained will not be too serious and will allow for a full recovery.

It was just a matter of time.  Gun violence has become commonplace in the cities surrounding Saratoga Springs.  There was an incident in June of 2021 where a gun was discharged multiple times on Caroline, though it was assumed that no one was injured.  Other forms of violence have gotten worse in this district, with ubiquitous fist fights giving way to knives.  A stabbing took place this past summer on Phila Street.  Two fatalities occurred when individuals were punched and then suffered fatal head injuries as they hit the ground, once in 2014 and again in 2021.  There was a death in 2010 when a brawl turned into an assault by a motor vehicle.

Over the years, there have been relatively frequent incidents of altercations between police and inebriated patrons of the many drinking establishments in the nightclub district.  Usually, the incidents have occurred on weekends after midnight.  Some have resulted in injuries to police officers.  Due to the over-consumption of alcohol and other excessive behavior, Caroline Street has been out of control during late-night weekend hours for years.  It has to be observed to be believed.

The success of Saratoga Springs is stunning.  It has become a year-round destination City for weddings, conventions, meetings, and other less formal occasions.  Skidmore College attracts resident students from all over the world.  Downtown continues to thrive with numerous successful stores, offices, and businesses, while inner City condos and apartments have high occupancy rates.  Our good fortune is the result of many years of efforts on the part of those both in government and the private sector.

Success is fragile.  The success of a city like Saratoga Springs depends upon a reputation as a safe, fun place in which to live and work or to visit.  That all-important reputation is being undermined each and every weekend by the late-night bad behavior in our nightclub district.  

Some improvement took place in 2012 when, after a horrific incident in the summer of 2011, the pressure was brought to bear on all parties, which resulted in better cooperation between police and the establishments.  There was more focus on the problem of over-serving alcohol to inebriated patrons and on required background checks for bartenders.  Training standards for ‘bouncers’ were enforced.  The increased presence of police officers on the street helped to significantly subdue those engaging in openly aggressive behavior. 

Unfortunately, other measures proposed to help tame the nightlife problems were met with fierce resistance.  The most obvious issue has been the 4 AM last call for serving alcohol.   While the NYS SLA was supportive of our efforts in 2012 to limit the hours of alcohol sales, and the City Council did vote 3-2 to support these changes, the Chamber of Commerce and the owners of the nightclub district bars were adamantly opposed.   The County Board of Supervisors has the final say on this issue.   Our attempt to change the last call to a compromise driven 3 AM failed when that board failed to provide any support for our efforts.

Since then, both Warren County and Essex County have passed legislation shortening the hours of alcohol sales to 3 AM.  Police officials in Glens Falls and Lake Placid reported an immediate reduction in weekend calls for service.  The police officials in Lake Placid were so pleased that they were seeking a further reduction to 2 AM to reflect the last call hour in neighboring Clinton County.

It should be noted that Saratoga County is in the minority in New York State.  Most counties have last call hours of 3 AM or 2 AM, with some as early as 1 AM with more severe restrictions Sunday through Thursday.  As anyone who travels knows, alcohol in most other states cannot be served as late as in New York.  The 4 AM last call is extremely late.  In fact, the best solution to this problem would be for New York State to revisit this issue.  There is no good reason to continue granting permission statewide for bars and clubs to be serving alcohol until 4 AM.

Members of the previous City Council supported efforts to change the last call to 2 AM.  Mayor Kim and Commissioner Montagnino now seem poised to seek ways of doing so.  We should all support their efforts.

Chris Mathiesen   

Kim and Montagnino Fire Back at Judge’s Temporary Restraining Order

As reported in my last blog posting, at the request of Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, New York Supreme Court Justice Dianne Freestone issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, November 23, restricting Saratoga Springs city officials from further releasing certain kinds of information surrounding last weekend’s shootings on Broadway.

It didn’t take long for Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino to appear in multiple media outlets misrepresenting the judge’s actions.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has become a media favorite. It is not surprising. He is poised, self-confident, and dramatic in his delivery. He enjoys dropping legal terms that appear to give his remarks a certain gravitas. And he makes himself endlessly available, especially to TV reporters. Unfortunately, given their scarce resources, the media rarely has the time to fact-check his pronouncements.

Nowhere is this more problematic than in the coverage of Montagnino’s response to the judge’s decision.

Montagnino quickly issued a press statement making the following claims:

  1. His constitutional right to free speech was being violated by the order.
  2. The action by the judge issuing the restraining order was “jurisdictionally defective.”

Commissioner James Montagnino issued the following statement to WNYT:

“While the District Attorney claims to be seeking to protect Constitutional rights, she has blatantly violated the First Amendment by obtaining a jurisdictionally defective order, without notice to the city, which deprives elected officials of their right to inform the public of profoundly important events unfolding in their city. I have spoken to Mayor Ron Kim and the city intends to fight this in court promptly and vigorously.”

Commissioner Montagnino

Channel 6 news has a video of their interview with Montagnino. The following is an excerpt from the transcript:

“I find it beyond offensive that the district attorney has somehow managed to get a court order preventing the elected officials of this city from discussing the circumstances surrounding that incident,” Montagnino told CBS6. “We’ll be in court as soon as possible to attempt to see that this is lifted or at least narrowed to a reasonable scope. It’s facially unconstitutional to bar an elected official from commenting on a matter of significant importance to the city that he or she represents.”

Channel 6 News November 24, 2022

Mayor Ron Kim issued a similar, if less artful, statement:

“We have a responsibility to the public to make sure that they know what has gone on and that’s all what we were doing when we initially made the presentation and showed them body cam video,” the mayor added.

Mayor Ron Kim

Unpacking What the Judge Actually Ordered

In fact, the actual order sought by Karen Heggen, the Saratoga County District Attorney and approved by Judge Dianne N. Freestone, was carefully limited in its scope and much more specific than was represented by Kim and Montagnino to the media. It states those city officials, including the Mayor, Public Safety Commissioner, and public and elected employees acting in an official capacity:

“shall refrain from releasing any further street camera footage, police body camera footage, surveillance footage, private video footage, audio footage, audio transcripts, or any other information that would tend to identify witnesses, their statements to law-enforcement or describe in detail any physical evidence or results in scientific tests with the ongoing investigation.”

Restraining Order

According to the Channel 6 story, the judge also ordered that the same people named in the temporary restraining order:

“refrain from making any further public comments characterizing any evidence, speculating as to the quality and quantity or quality or clarity of any evidence and presenting opinions or legal conclusions as to the ongoing investigation.”

Restraining Order

In other words, the judge ordered that Montagnino, Kim, et al. avoid making public statements that might hinder or undermine the investigation of the shooting incident and any potential prosecution that may ensue.

While this definitely restricts Montagnino and Kim and other city officials, to a layperson like this blogger this order does not seem “overly broad,” as claimed by Montagnino nor does it bar them from “commenting on a matter of significant importance to the public”, but only from making comments that could interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation of the shootings and potentially future prosecutions.

Violating the Right to Free Speech?

One of Montagnino’s and Kim’s objections to the judge’s order was that they claimed it violated the First Amendment to the Constitution by limiting their ability as public officials to “inform the public of profoundly important events unfolding in their city….”

In an interview with the Times Union, Kim went even further claiming “It’s unfortunate Karen Heggen couldn’t carry out her duty in a free society, to allow people their right to freely speak….Certainly it’s [the judge’s order] not consistent with our constitution. There is just no reason to seek a gag order of public officials who have a duty to the taxpayers.”

James Montagnino and Ron Kim often remind their audiences that they are lawyers. As such they are no doubt aware that there are ample examples regarding the limits of free speech. There is the classic “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre” restriction, for instance, and slander is not protected speech.

I will acknowledge that there is no simple line that can be drawn in these matters, and I do not have the full text of the judge’s order, but the precipitous release of evidentiary materials such as videos before the investigators have had time to process the information in them, including the identifying and contacting of witnesses, seems problematic. This is especially true in light of the fact that Montagnino had been asked by “other organizations” (his words) not to release this key evidence.

City officials should be careful that they take no actions that might jeopardize the Constitutional right of defendants to a fair trial by an impartial jury or that will undermine the ability to properly determine culpability.

Montagnino’s Dubious Claim

Montagnino’s other complaint was that the judge’s order was “jurisdictionally defective.” I spoke with a number of lawyers, all of whom expressed puzzlement as to what Montagnino meant by this phrase since the NY Supreme Court clearly had jurisdiction over this case, and the order was temporary. I have written to the Commissioner asking him for a definition of the term he used. I will let you all know when I hear from him.

Kim and Montagnino also complained that they were not notified that Heggen was requesting a restraining order and therefore were not in court to make their arguments before the judge.

The several attorneys I talked with dismissed this complaint.

The DA had the right to seek a temporary restraining order. That action can be taken “ex parte” (even this blogger can throw around legal terms). This means that the law does not require both parties to be present for a judge to issue the order. This is a temporary order, and according to channel 6 news, the city will have an opportunity to challenge the order at a hearing on December 22, 2022.

Yet Another Vanity Suit

I am not a lawyer, and while my sources say Montagnino is wrong on the law, Montagnino and Kim have made it clear they intend to challenge the order. We will only find out who is right when and if there is an appeal with a decision.

For me, the question is, why would the city spend money on appealing this decision?

One has to ask, what do Montagnino and Kim want to say, or what evidentiary information would they want to release that this order would restrict?

I guess we will learn more when the city pays for attorneys to represent it at the December 22 hearing.

Judge Issues Restraining Order Against Montagnino and Kim

Earlier today (November 23, 2022), your blogger posted a story criticizing the press conference held by Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim regarding the shootings on Broadway early Sunday morning, November 20.

According to WNYT news tonight, a supreme court justice has issued a restraining order barring Montagnino, Kim, and all other Saratoga Springs public officials “…from releasing any more information, video or audio, and from commenting on evidence in the case.”

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen says the unprecedented release of information regarding the Sunday morning officer involved shooting has had a chilling effect on witnesses and could taint the jury pool.

Heggen said, “I didn’t want to do this, but felt compelled to ensure the integrity of the investigation and protect the constitutional rights of all involved.”

WNYT 4:33 PM November 23, 2022

Commissioner Montagnino Inappropriately Intercedes in Shooting Inquiry

Montagnino Is In Charge!

On Sunday afternoon, November 20, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim held a hastily called press conference to discuss the shootings that occurred early Sunday morning, November 20, in downtown Saratoga Springs. At the event, they released videos of the incident in spite of a request from authorities to not release the videos at this time.

As most people now know, an off-duty Vermont deputy sheriff and someone from Utica exchanged gunfire early Sunday morning, November 20, 2022, on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Police arrived, and when the deputy sheriff refused to drop his weapon, he was shot by Saratoga Springs officers. Here is a link to the WNYT story.

The issues with this press conference called by Kim and Montagnino are emblematic of the problematic leadership in this city in general and of Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim in particular.

Grabbing Headlines at the Expense of Pursuing Justice

At the beginning of the press conference, Commissioner Montagnino made the following statement:

As a result of my reflections of the various questions posed by a number of officials in this investigation, I’ve decided in the interest of transparency to release at this point certain information that some of the authorities would not like to see revealed.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino

As the New York State Police are in charge of the investigation, it is reasonable to assume that it was they who requested that the city not release the videos of the incident at this time.

It was simply stunning that Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim chose to ignore this request.

To begin with, their act of indiscretion has to have strained the relationship between the city and the state police at a time when the two have the greatest need to cooperate closely. How can the state police comfortably share sensitive information with the city in the future when two city officials have made it clear that they are perfectly capable of ignoring the state police’s concerns in order to publicize whatever they want to the media?

The Abuse of “Transparency”

I fully support the need for the city to have promptly convened a press conference regarding the shooting. People needed to be apprised that there was no ongoing threat to the public associated with the incident. They also needed to be provided with a general description of what occurred in order to limit the damage from the usual trash and confusion on social media.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Montagnino, with the support of Mayor Kim, went way beyond this. They acted recklessly and unilaterally in ignoring the requests of those conducting the investigation, justifying their action by invoking the buzzword “transparency”.

Marginalizing the City’s Chief of Police

With the epidemic of violence in this country, most of us are all too familiar with the talking heads that appear in the media following such incidents.

The normal protocol is to have the chief of police address the press. There are many good reasons for this, but foremost is the professional knowledge and experience of the chief. As the top law enforcement officer, the chief would be sensitive to the dangers of tainting an ongoing investigation by revealing anything that might undermine the identification of witnesses or otherwise create obstacles for the investigators, or risk compromising subsequent prosecutions.

Instead, Montagnino and Kim, who have no law enforcement credentials, monopolized the press conference and marginalized Police Chief Shane Crooks, who spent the press conference off-camera and was never called on to speak.

This Is Not the First Investigation Montagnino Has Undermined

As readers of this blog may recall, earlier this year, Commissioner Montagnino injected himself into the ongoing investigation of an alleged assault incident that involved some youths at a party. He chose to repeatedly go to the media as he has now done again in this case. The coverage resulted in the family of the alleged victim asking that the matter be dropped, halting the investigation.

Past Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen Offers His Thoughts

Chris Mathiesen served three terms as the city’s Public Safety Commissioner. I asked him for his thoughts on how this press conference was handled.

The incident that took place in the Caroline Street nightclub district in the early morning hours of November 20 is one of the most serious acts of violence to have taken place in our City for many years.  Apparently, shots were fired by a group of civilians, by an off-duty sheriff deputy, and by three Saratoga Springs police officers.  Especially since members of the Saratoga Springs police department were actively involved in the gunfire, it would have been important to have their department superiors conduct the press conference that took place later that day.  Instead, the press conference was conducted by Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim, with the chief of police relegated to a minor role.

The police chief and the lieutenants serving under him have years of law enforcement experience.  They are in the best position to provide the public an accurate perspective on a police activity such as this.  They know well the officers involved, the problems that officers have historically faced on Caroline Street and the guidelines to be followed when an incident of this sort occurs.  Other municipalities usually have the police chief or a senior police department spokesperson handle press conferences involving serious crime or police action, for good reason.

It was a good idea to have an initial press conference so soon after the incident.  It might have been better to hold off showing graphic video recordings so soon and instead give a verbal summary of what the videos showed.  It definitely would have been better to have law enforcement officers conduct the press conference rather than two elected officials with no law enforcement experience. While the Commissioner of Public Safety has important oversight duties regarding the police as well as fire and code enforcement departments, the public needs to feel confident that it is actually the professionals that are in charge of their perspective agencies.

Rushed Release of Video Exposed Police Officer’s Name

In Kim’s and Montagnino’s rush to release the video, the name of one of the officers involved was inadvertently included putting the officer at risk. This is a screenshot from the city website. I have edited this to hide the officer’s name.

This oversight is just another example of this administration’s repeated indifference to details that has alienated much of the city’s employees.

Our Outstanding Police Department

While we still know relatively little of the full details of the shooting incident, based on the videos and the reports, the officers involved showed great courage, discipline, and professionalism.

Their first response to hearing gunshots was to run to the source without hesitation. Upon arriving at the scene, rather than simply firing upon a man standing pointing a gun, they called out eight times for him to drop the gun. Only when he failed to comply did they fire.

In addition, they immediately went to the aid of both wounded persons. Kudos too to the dispatchers and firefighters who also performed their duties that night with exceptional calm and professionalism.

It is worth noting that this kind of discipline in the face of mortal danger begins at the top. Chief Shane Crooks and his lieutenants have established the standards that make this kind of courage, discipline, and sense of service possible.

Commissioner Sanghvi, You Appear to Be Unaware that Your IT Department Is in Crisis

There appears to be a breakdown in the Saratoga Springs information technology (IT) department. This department is under Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi. As will be discussed in this post, the Commissioner appears strangely unaware that there are any issues.

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, something went very wrong on the city’s servers. City employees were unable to access the city’s documents on their computers for that entire day. City staff was severely hampered in carrying out their work due to the breakdown. The problems had still not been fully resolved on the following Monday when Mayor Kim discussed the issue at the City Council pre-agenda meeting.

The city’s agendas posted on the city’s website are supposed to have supporting documents available through links for each agenda item. The links to documents on the agenda for the Monday, November 14, 2022, pre-agenda meeting did not function.

I cannot recall this kind of breakdown in the past. I contacted former Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and asked about her experience. She told me that in the ten years that she served as Commissioner overseeing IT, the servers were never down, including following the fire that closed city hall.

I asked if the servers were “mirrored?” This is a standard practice whereby everything going on on the prime server is updated on what is basically a backup server. Ms. Madigan confirmed that they were.

I wrote to Commissioner Sanghvi, asking what is going on? In fact, given the history of our email problems, I wrote her twice (November 10 and November 14). The second email asked that, at a minimum, she acknowledge having received them. When I did not hear from her, on November 16, I called Samantha Clemmey, her Executive Assistant, and asked if their office had received my emails. Ms. Clemmey was very nice. She confirmed that they had received them and assured me she would bring them to Commissioner Sanghvi’s attention and that she would respond.

Videos Of Meetings Not Being Posted

The city’s IT department is responsible for posting videos of the City Council and its land use boards on the city’s website. This function has apparently broken down. As this is a key responsibility for keeping the public informed of what is transpiring with city government, this failure is particularly disturbing.

One of the followers of this blog, Henry37, pointed out the video of the October 27, 2022, meeting of the Planning Board has not been uploaded to the city’s website (I am writing this on November 20, some twenty-four days later, and it is still not up). At this meeting, the controversial Liberty Affordable Housing, Inc. proposal was the subject of review. On Thursday, November 17, 2022, the Planning Board met again, and it is my understanding that there was no live stream of the meeting on the city’s website. Presumably, they will be discussing the Liberty project further, but without the benefit of knowing what went on at the Planning Board’s October 27 meeting or the November 17 meeting, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. I am concerned that as the November 17 meeting was not live streamed over the web, it may not have been videoed at all.

City’s Website Goes Down

On Thursday night, November 17, 2022, I tried to get on to the city’s website. I was unable to access the site at all this time. I got the message above.

City Council Meeting Video Link Fails

The city’s website has a section for agendas, minutes, and videos of Council meetings. Normally when the video of a meeting is available, there is an icon that looks like a tiny television on the city’s website that links to it.

On November 18, I tried to access the City Council meeting video by clicking on the icon. I got the error screen displayed above.

This is yet another unprecedented problem.

Staff Turnover

All but one of the IT staff from the previous administration have left city employment this year. I expect this has contributed to their problems. Of course, one has to wonder why there has been such a turnover.

An Odd Response from Commissioner Sanghvi

On November 18, 2022, I received a very odd email from Commissioner Sanghvi. At the end of this post, I am including my two emails to her that apparently prompted this response.

Strangely, Commissioner Sanghvi’s email seemed to indicate that she had no idea that there was a city-wide breakdown of the IT system resulting in the city’s documents being inaccessible for days.

This is particularly odd because, as documented by the following video. At the Monday, November 14, pre-agenda meeting Mayor Kim began by apologizing to the public for the problems with the city’s computer system. He references that the resolutions on the agenda are inaccessible. He confirms that the problem extended from Wednesday evening through to Monday.

With this background, I found it very strange that in her email, she asks me for the names of city employees affected by the breakdown as though she was unaware that there were any problems. After all, in the video, she is sitting next to the Mayor. This is all particularly odd as this problem would have affected her Deputy, her Executive Assistant, and the Budget Director, as well as what she was able to post on her agenda.

This is the excerpt from her email in which she asks me to assist her by identifying which employees had experienced problems:

I’m not sure what city employees you’re referring to? Could you kindly give me more details. I am happy to set up meetings with the employees you’re talking about and our IT staff to help them resolve their issues.

Commissioner Sanghvi

Coffee?

In a further odd twist, the Commissioner reminds me in her email that her office had reached out to me in response to my original request to meet with her about the city’s budget and then graciously offers to have coffee with me.

As documented in an earlier post, I had advised her that the point of the meeting was to discuss her pending budget, and as she could not meet with me until December, there was no point in our getting together.

It is quite odd that she appears to have forgotten my response to her.

Commissioner Sanghvi Cancels Blogger

At the November 15, 2022, City Council meeting, there was a discussion as to whether having a public hearing at 10:00 AM on Monday, November 21, 2022, on the budget was fair to the public as it was not only in the morning of a weekday but it was the week of Thanksgiving.

Commissioner Sanghvi observed that there had been repeated public hearings, and no one from the public had been interested in commenting.

Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran pointed out that this blogger had attempted to ask budget questions. Commissioner Sanghvi dismissed his point by observing that she does not read right-wing bloggers. Commissioner Moran reminded her that the blogger had tried to address her at a meeting. She retorted that it was not at a public hearing (I asked her about my questions during the public comment period and not during the public hearing portion of the City Council meeting.). When Commissioner Moran attempted to respond, he was cut off by Mayor Kim.

Putting aside that I am not a person of the right, to claim transparency, as Commissioner Sanghvi routinely does, an elected official should answer courteous questions no matter what the political persuasion of a citizen.

The Emails


From: Minita Sanghvi
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2022 11:57 AM
To: kaufmann
Subject: Re: Servers

Hello Mr. Kaufmann, 

Thank you for your email. I’m not sure what city employees you’re referring to? Could you kindly give me more details. I am happy to set up meetings with the employees you’re talking about and our IT staff to help them resolve their issues. Usually a reboot is a good way to start but if there are any other issues, we’re happy to resolve it (sic). Our IT staff works with all departments 24/7 to ensure our city stays safe and humming along. 

I believe we’ve also reached out to you about setting up a meeting – please do reply to that too. I’m looking forward to coffee with you. 

Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org


From: “kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2022 5:38:47 PM
Subject: Servers

I wrote to you this weekend inquiring about the apparent problem that city employees are unable to access their documents on the city’s server.  Given our history, I am not sure if you received my inquiry.  Could you please explain what is going on?  At a minimum, could you acknowledge my email to at least affirm that you received it?

Thank you,

JK


John Kaufmann <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>Thu, Nov 10, 7:59 PM (8 days ago)
to Minita

I understand that the city’s network was down on Thursday, November 10 all day.  My understanding is that the city has mirrored servers.  Could you explain how this happened?
Thank you
JK