On Tuesday, February 21, 2023, Saratoga Springs Mayor Kim announced his new schedule for City Council meetings. The meetings will now commence at 5PM not 7PM and the public comment period will be moved from the first item at Council meetings to the last.
This initiative is, according to the Mayor, to allow more public input.
Some of us are a little skeptical. It may have more to do with minimizing access by Black Lives Matter activists.
Unfortunately, it will affect more than the Black Lives Matter activists who have disrupted recent Council meetings. For one thing, it means that citizens who may want to address the Council about an agenda item will have to wait until the item has already been acted upon before they can address the Council.
I expect there will be some very unhappy people when they show up at a Council meeting to oppose something and discover they cannot address the Council until after the issue is voted on and done.
I corresponded with Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub about this plan, and he raised concerns over its adoption:
While I understand the idea behind changing the start time for the city council meeting, I think the feedback we received from constituents at the last council meeting was that we need to be more measured and thoughtful concerning community needs in making this decision. In particular, I’m concerned that the public comment start time will now be a moving target which will make it hard for individuals to know what time they need to be at the meeting in order to speak. In addition, for community members with jobs, beginning the meeting at 5PM will be problematic. I applaud the mayor’s decision to implement monthly community meetings to spend time working on solutions to significant community issues, I think we should perhaps reconsider the 5PM start time pending input from constituents before making any significant change.
I also think that placing the comment period at the end of the meeting is problematic. People commonly come to our meetings in order to try to affect proposed actions to be enacted at the meeting. Placing the public comment period at the end of the meeting would make their concerns moot.
Commissioner Jason Golub
Here is how the editorial in the Daily Gazette characterized it:
The move is designed purely to make the meetings less convenient for people to attend, to ensure fewer people are aware of the board’s actions. and to discourage public participation and criticism.
Daily Gazette Editorial February 23, 2023
The Mayor tried to put a better public spin on the plan by announcing that the time allowed for each public comment speaker would be expanded from two minutes to four minutes.
It was regrettable that when the Mayor announced these changes, there was no pushback from his colleagues on the Council. Hopefully, they will find their voices at the next meeting.
In September of 2022, the city of Saratoga Springs was served with legal papers by an attorney representing Marilyn Rivers, the city’s Director of Risk and Safety. The papers charge the city with creating a hostile work environment. This blog is based on documents released by the city under the Freedom of Information Law and from the Rivers legal claim. They document a pattern of Mayor Ron Kim repeatedly falsely accusing Ms. Rivers of misusing her office.
In just one example, Kim obsesses over an imaginary plot in which Rivers improperly interferes in a case brought against the city by an employee who had been fired. The documents show Kim wrongly convinced that Rivers attempted to hide the city’s co-payment required by the insurance company for the settlement of the case. Kim bizarrely even goes so far as to falsely accuse Ms. Rivers of practicing law without a license, a felony.
Who Is Marilyn Rivers and What Does She Do?
In considering Kim’s fears and charges, readers should understand Marilyn Rivers’ job and her career history.
Here is an excerpt from the city’s description of the position Marilyn Rivers has held for twenty years:
Director of Risk and Safety (COMPETITIVE)
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THE CLASS: This is important financial and operational management work involving direction, control and management of City’s Insurance, Risk Management, Compliance and Safety programs and includes responsibility to assist the City Council and each department in controlling claims costs and all applicable State and Federal Health and Safety Regulations. The work involves the identification and measurement of all risks of accident loss, the selection of appropriate risk management techniques for resolving exposure problems, the development and maintenance of an information system in coordination with existingsystems for timely and accurate recording of losses, claims, insurance premium and other risk costs to the budgetary units. The incumbent also administers the procurement of all insurance for, and in behalf of the City.
This is just a fragment of the document. The scale of responsibilities is extraordinary and worth viewing to understand just how challenging the job is. The position requires a college degree and experience. A more detailed list of the responsibilities and the degrees and experience required for the job can be found here:
Ms. Rivers was hired as the city’s Risk and Safety Director in 2003 and has served the city faithfully for almost twenty years. During this time, she has worked with multiple administrations. The practices that Kim now finds so threatening are the very same ones she has carried out with the city’s carriers and past city attorneys throughout her career. None of this is new. The testimonials about the quality of her work, as documented below, make Kim’s accusations all the more bizarre.
The city’s insurance broker is Amsure Insurance, and its president is Matt D’Abate. In this excerpt from an email exchange D’Abate had with Kim on May 8,2022, D’Abate tries to explain to Kim the importance of the job Marilyn Rivers does as Risk and Safety Director.
To bolster his arguments, D’Abate enlists Nora Murphy, who is senior counsel for Travelers insurance, the city’s carrier. She heaps praise on Rivers:
D’Abate credits Rivers with a success he characterizes as “nothing short of remarkable.”
Kim’s Campaign to Marginalize Rivers
Despite Ms. Rivers’ sterling record of service to the city and many awards and commendations, she somehow winds up in Ron Kim’s crosshairs. As Kim begins to obsess about a danger somehow posed by Rivers, he launches a campaign meant to threaten and marginalize her.
As the documents below will show, his aggressive rejection of thoughtful warnings only seemed to spur him to even greater irrational behavior.
Rather than attempting to restrain him, Public Safety Commissioners James Montagnino and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi have only encouraged his ill-advised actions.
In an email exchange with Matt D’Abate, the president of Amsure, the city’s insurance broker, Kim recklessly accuses Rivers of practicing law without a license, a class E felony in New York. He expresses frustration that D’Abate disagrees with him.
In undisguised, self-righteousness, Kim admonishes D’Abate:
In pushing back against Kim’s allegation Abate offers this opinion from Nora Murphy, senior counsel for Travelers Insurance. Ms. Murphy’s reaction is strong.
D’Abate Tries To Caution Kim
As part of his assault on Ms. Rivers, Kim comes up with a variety of plans to marginalize her. D’Amate offers several warnings in his email regarding the dangers of Kim’s plans.
Ron Kim: A Bankruptcy Attorney
Readers should understand the scope of Ron Kim’s legal background. He is a bankruptcy lawyer. Bankruptcy law is, in many ways, unique. It is a highly specialized area. For example, bankruptcy has its own special courts.
Mayor Kim has no background in municipal law or litigation. The world of a bankruptcy lawyer is extremely narrow.
As readers who follow this blog will be aware, since becoming Mayor, Kim has ventured into areas of law where his lack of understanding has led him to make statements that have subsequently been demonstrated to be wrong.
Rivers’ Lawyer’s Claim Against City
I have printed excerpts here from the legal claim against the city of a toxic workplace. In addition to Kim, the document chronicles the maneuverings of Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and the rude behavior of his deputy Stacy Connors, as well as the unwarranted attacks on Rivers by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi.
Here Commissioner Dillon Moran tries to take over Rivers’ position:
Rivers raises concerns about Moran’s role in an insurance claim pending against the city:
Kim enlists Izzo to investigate Rivers. It was not Tony Izzo’s finest moment. After working with Ms. Rivers for twenty years, he should have known that Rivers did not act as an attorney for the city.
Accounts Deputy Stacy Connors’ petty behavior. “Address me as Deputy Commissioner Connors!”
Dillon Moran warns that Kim was setting Rivers up to be fired.
Moran warns Rivers “the City Council members were out to get her.”
Kim tries to unilaterally change her job.
Yet more warnings. Moran tells Rivers on another occasion that Kim and Montagnino are trying to fire her.
Moran again tells Rivers Kim was maneuvering to fire her and tells her to “gather the troops” for a City Council meeting.
Rivers has a long history of training staff on safety protocols. Kim decides to cancel her training. As Ms. Rivers is by far the most knowledgeable staff person in city hall on safety and has done this training regularly for almost two decades, this was not only a petty act by Kim, but it undermined the city’s ongoing effort to protect staff and minimize the cost of insurance. Compromising training compromises safety.
Using the most hurtful and reckless language Kim, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, falsely publicly accuse Rivers of deviousness. What their remarks really illustrate is how embarrassingly ignorant Sanghvi and Montagnino were about the city’s insurance policy and how bills are processed.
Moran accuses Montagnino of, on three occasions in front of Moran’s staff, “screaming” at his deputy to fire Rivers.
Undermining Kim’s claim that Rivers tried to sneak the co-payment by the Council, Rivers’ attorney alleges that Rivers had informed City Attorney Izzo, Human Resource Administrator Spadaro, and City Labor Counsel Kremer of the settlement.
It was only when Kim had to appear in court over the insurance case that he was forced to admit that the accusations he had made about Rivers were false and that he had known they were false when he made them.
What is the Future of the Risk and Safety Position?
It is truly hard to understand Mayor Kim’s behavior in all of this. Only in front of a judge did he seem to acknowledge reality, but that moment seemed to have been short-lived.
Having driven Ms. Rivers into retirement, Kim now has apparently come up with a scheme to eliminate River’s position that he has not shared with the public or his colleagues on the Council.
There is no way to overstate the importance of the job of a Risk and Safety Director. In a litigious age, ensuring that all requirements by our insurers are met is critical to the city government’s economic well-being, both in terms of securing insurance and in protecting our bond rating.
Ron Kim’s Secret Plan
Ms. Rivers’s last day with the city will be April 8, 2023. Shockingly, Kim has yet to advertise for a replacement for Rivers. Instead, he has gotten the ok from the Civil Service Commission to hire a “claims manager position.” The job, which would assume some of Ms. Rivers’ current duties, only requires a high school degree. I believe that Kim plans to eliminate the Director of Risk and Safety position and replace it with this “claims manager” and the city attorney. This is a bad idea. There is no way someone with only a high school education and the already overburdened City Attorney can perform the duties and assume the responsibilities of this position. As the documents in this post show, the city’s insurance broker and the counsel for the insurance carrier have tried unsuccessfully to convince Kim of his folly.
The problem with this ugly business is not only the brutal treatment of Ms. Rivers but the jeopardy that Mayor Kim’s willful obstinance puts the city in regarding matters of safety and insurance coverage. It is just as troubling that the other Council members seem to be unaware of the seriousness of Kim’s move or unwilling to challenge him on it.
Beginning on February 28, petitions will be circulating among enrolled Democrats in order for candidates to qualify for the 2023 Democratic Party ballot line. We need help. Michele Madigan and I will be having petitions circulated without the help of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Michele will be running for the position of Supervisor, and I will be running for Mayor. I ask that concerned citizens sign our petitions so that we will both be able to give voters a viable alternative to the Committee-endorsed candidates. If we can get the required number of signatures, there will be a June Democratic primary for the position of Mayor and Michele will appear on the Democratic line for the position of Supervisor in November.
If you are willing to help circulate petitions, we can either email them to you or deliver them to you. If you simply are willing to sign our petition, please email me, text me, or call me. Myself or someone else will come by for your signature. My contact information is at the bottom of this post.
I joined the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee in the early 1990s as one of two representatives for my home, District 21. I served until the spring of 2008, when I reluctantly resigned due to the increased time commitments of my newly relocated dental practice.
My experience on our Democratic Committee was consistently positive. We were working to change our City for the better. The other major party had dominated for years in a manner that was neither open nor inclusive. We were the party of the future, a bright spot on the local scene that encouraged input from all our citizens and that worked to end the practice of back-door politics.
I was surprised and disappointed that Michele, who served for ten years as Commissioner of Finance, and I were denied the opportunity last week to speak to the full City Democratic Committee about our candidacy for office. A party that has stood for openness and democracy should be willing to at least listen to long-time party members who are committed to running as Democrats.
Please remember that if you sign the petition of our opponents first, you will not be able to sign mine. You can’t sign petitions for two different people running for the same office.
Also, if you believe that Michele Madigan and I would be viable candidates for the offices that we seek, please consider volunteering to circulate our petitions. We will supply the petitions, district walking lists, clipboards, pens, and instructions. You can reach me through my cell phone or my email address.
[Todd Kerner served as the Saratoga County Democratic Chair from 2011 until last year. He sent me the following comment.]
Thank you for updating the community on the current news about Democrats in our County.
I was shocked to see the Saratoga Springs City Democratic Committee make endorsements by virtue of a nominating committee alone.
First, many on the nominating committee complained boisterously over the years that there should be no endorsements before a primary (remember Madigan vs Morrison). Those same people criticized party leadership (both County and City) for allowing such endorsements. Now that these people are in control, they are doing the exact thing they criticized. Chutzpah! I guess now they have destroyed Democratic party structures and gained control, they can do as they please.
Second, they did endorsements without allowing other interested candidates to address their full committee. That is undemocratic and Un-Democratic. This only demeans the committee members and deprives them of an opportunity to hear and pick the best candidates. We always allowed any candidates to address the county committee. This lack of transparency and the hidden process is appalling and hurts all the citizens of the City.
Third, these same people also castigated many of us for not finding enough Democrats to run for public office, especially county supervisors. Former Saratoga Springs Commissioner Michele Madigan is running, and the nominating committee refused to endorse her or allow her to appear before the full committee, thus leaving an open second spot against the GOP in the one jurisdiction with many more Dems than Republicans. A lost opportunity.
It is so unfortunate that the leadership of the Democratic Committee in Saratoga Springs has decided to act as undemocratic as possible. The old adage – do as I say, not as I do is so applicable here to them. I hope the voters in June and November remember this leadership. Most importantly, it is no wonder why it is also the same absence of good and professional leadership that you see in the mayor’s office.
Best wishes to residents of Saratoga Springs, but the rank-and-file Democrats in Saratoga Springs need to get involved in saving your city.
Todd M. Kerner Saratoga County Democratic Committee Chair (2011-2022)
On February 8, 2023, Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran warmly endorsed his fellow Democratic City Council members on his Facebook page. He portrays himself as a happy member of the team. One would assume that they enjoyed great respect from him for their work on the Council. But this enthusiastic endorsement is in sharp contrast to other comments Moran has made about his Democratic teammates-particularly Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino.
What Does He Really Think?
Consider what was revealed in papers submitted by the attorney representing Marilyn Rivers, the city’s Director of Risk and Safety, in her complaint against the city for creating a hostile workplace:
This is just a taste of what Rivers revealed about Moran’s unflattering characterization of his colleagues and, in particular, Mayor Kim, James Montagnino, and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi. (I will be posting in detail about the Rivers charges at a later date). Creepy best describes his depiction of these people.
The Private Moran vs. The Public Moran
And then there is this:
On February 1, 2023, I sent the following email to Commissioner Dillon Moran to confirm a conversation I had had with him regarding the violation of the city’s purchasing policy by Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. I just wanted to confirm some of the things we talked about.
I was pleased to hear that you considered the process of awarding a contract to E Stewart Jones’ firm was an egregious violation of the city’s purchasing policies and, if not challenged, poses an ongoing threat to the city’s financial controls. I respect your approach to dealing with this as expressed in our phone conversation.
You told me that at the February 7, 2023, City Council meeting you would bring a resolution forward that would ask Kim and Montagnino to acknowledge that the city violated its purchasing policy and that if they declined to acknowledge the error, that you would need to seek an outside authority for assistance. You told me that you would seek the assistance of the New York State Comptroller to keep this from happening again.
Email to Moran on February 1, 2023
Given my previous experiences with Moran, in the conversation to which this email refers, I made it clear to him that this time any remarks he made would be on the record.
My experience with Commissioner Moran is that there is a disconnect between what he tells me in private and what he actually says and does in public.
Contrast the email above to the meeting at which he had assured me he would confront his colleagues on their violations of the city’s purchasing policies.
It Doesn’t Get Any Uglier
The following is an email sent by Mayor Kim to Moran.
I know that some may dismiss Commissioner Moran’s behavior as shrewd political maneuvering and admire his moves to play both sides, but I am old school, I prefer my officeholders to say what they mean and mean what they say.
In a process marked by cronyism and secrecy the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee voted to endorse all the current members of the City Council. The endorsements took place on Saturday, February 18, in a meeting closed to other Democrats including the Saratoga County Democratic Chair. Elections for the city’s Mayor and four Commissioners as well as for two County Supervisors will be held this November.
The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee established a nominating committee to recommend to the full committee Democratic candidates to run in the upcoming 2023 local city election. The committee was chaired by Patty Morrison and included Joanne Yepsen, Al Ormsby, Pat Tuz, and Meaghan McEntee.
The process was fraught with cronyism from the very beginning. Before the nominating committee was even formed, Committee Chair Pat Tuz and others in leadership positions were casually openly sharing that the decision had already been made to endorse all of the incumbents (Kim, Moran, Sanghvi, Golub, and Montagnino) to run again for their City Council positions.
In spite of this, three other Democrats filled out the committee’s questionnaire and were interviewed by the nominating committee. They were:
Former Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen who interviewed for Mayor
Retired FBI agent Tim Coll who interviewed for the Commissioner of Public Safety position
Former Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan who interviewed for one of the two County Supervisor positions
None of the three were endorsed by the nominating committee. All three requested the opportunity to address the full Democratic Committee. All three were told no.
Here is the email Madigan sent to Pat Tuz requesting the opportunity to speak to the full committee:
I received a call today from Patty, on behalf of the endorsement council, that I will not be recommended to the full committee for an endorsement. I am disappointed and was hoping to present to the full committee. I have heard that I was presented to the county committee to run for supervisor, but I’m not sure if this means anything to the city committee.
Basically, I’m asking if I may please present to the committee. I am a 5 time endorsed democratic candidate who has won all my general elections overwhelmingly. I truly believe I am a benefit to the committee versus running on my own as a free agent.
Additionally, I think Chris Mathiesen should be allowed to present too. He is a lifetime democrat, 6 years elected and endorsed city commissioner, and 11 years and chair of the zoning board of appeals.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you, Michele
Pat Tuz did not reply to Madigan’s email.
Jane Weihe (full disclosure-Jane is my wife) emailed Pat Tuz regarding other Democrats attending the Committee’s endorsement meeting.
When and where will the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee be meeting to make endorsements for candidates for this year’s City Council races? I know the County Committee meetings are open to all Democrats although only Committee members can participate in the meeting of course. I am assuming your committee follows the same procedures. A number of Democrats would like to observe your committee’s endorsement process. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Jane was the chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee for over a decade. She also served as Saratoga County Chair and was a member of the New York State Democratic Committee. She twice ran for local office on the Democratic ticket. Pat Tuz did not reply to her email.
In addition, multiple sources have told us that Martha DeVaney, Saratoga County Democratic Chair, showed up for the meeting and was turned away.
The past practice of the city committee and the current practice of the Saratoga County Democratic Committee has been to allow any registered Democrat to attend their meetings. Only committee members can participate in the meeting, but any Democrat is welcome to observe. In addition, past city committees have not only allowed all candidates, whether endorsed by a nominating committee or not, to address the full committee, but nominations from the floor were also allowed. In fact, Patty Morrison, who chaired this year’s nominating committee, was allowed a few years ago to address a full committee meeting and ask for support to run for Finance Commissioner even though she had not bothered to go through any of the nominating process.
All this is particularly ironic given the last local campaign when Democrats portrayed themselves as the bulwark of democracy defending the city against an alleged threat posed by our local Republicans. Remember their campaign signs that said, “Defend Democracy-Vote Democratic.” It is an interesting phenomenon that self-righteous groups tend to take on the characteristics of those they see as their enemies.
A Word about the County Supervisor Race
Saratogians elect two Supervisors to represent them on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. The Democrats could nominate two people to run but decided to only support Gordon Boyd, rejecting Michele Madigan as a Democratic candidate to run for the second seat. This makes no sense. They have basically decided to allow Republican Matt Veitch to run unopposed. For a group that likes to portray local Republicans as evil incarnate, this is a pretty interesting move on the part of the Democratic Committee.
A Cautionary Word About Signing Petitions
Anyone seeking to run for a political office must circulate petitions to get on the ballot. Voters cannot sign more than one petition for the same office.
In spite of rejection by the Democratic Committee, Chris Mathiesen intends to still run for Mayor, Tim Coll will still run for Public Safety Commissioner, and Michele Madigan will run for Supervisor. They will need to gather signatures on petitions to get on the ballot to give voters a choice.
Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee members will also be circulating petitions for these offices at the same time. Their petitions will have the names of the current office holders -Kim, Moran, Golub, Sanghvi, Montagnino, plus Gordon Boyd for Supervisor. If a voter signs this petition, they cannot sign the petitions of Tim Coll, Chris Mathiesen, or Michele Madigan.
YOU CAN ONLY SIGN ONE. Petitioning begins on February 28 and will continue into the spring, with Republicans and Democrats circulating first. Petitions for candidates running on independent lines will follow later.
Anyone interested in supporting the three candidates (Mathiesen, Coll, Madigan) challenging the endorsed Democrats should decline to sign the petitions circulated on behalf of the incumbents.
Lieutenant Robert Jillson has retired after serving on the Saratoga Springs police force for thirty-three years. His record was exemplary. He brought a considered and restrained tone to his work which was reflected in his thoughtful leadership within the department and in his role as spokesperson for the department. He enjoyed wide respect for his dedication to service from within the department and beyond.
The current Chief, Shane Crooks, has announced plans to retire in June. While Jillson scored a 99 on the civil service exam for chief, it was clear that there was no path forward to that position for him. The very professionalism Jillson brought to the job had alienated him from the city’s Public Safety Commissioner, James Montagnino, who eliminated Jillson’s former position of Assistant Chief. Montagnino will appoint the next Chief of Police.
Retiring officers are honored in a moving tradition called a “walkout.” Members of both the Saratoga Springs Police and Fire Departments, representatives from other law enforcement agencies including the State Police, friends, relatives and community members lined up along Maple Avenue to offer a farewell. This is a link to the WNYT video of the event.
Who Was There
Many employees from city hall turned out in the cold to honor Lieutenant Jillson and wish him a farewell.
It is emblematic of the state of our city that all the members of the previous City Council, with the exception of the late Skip Scirocco, were there (Kelly, Franck, Dalton, and Madigan). In addition, the three announced Democratic candidates running against the incumbents were there as well (Chris Mathiesen, Tim Coll, and Michele Madigan).
Conspicuously absent from the event were all the members of our current City Council.
How odd that the solicitor has chosen to continue this important discussion by getting personal.
I would have welcomed an address to the questions raised in my responses rather than be made aware of the resumes of consultants who found their way to our small city, charged with providing its sponsors with an alleged improvement of our streets for cyclists. In implying ulterior crafty motives and dodging the questions that I posed by pivoting to safer promotional materials and challenging professional experiences is beneath this discussion. This used to be called, “shooting the messenger” – I think it still is. Can we now expect the authors of all blog commentaries to be challenged to dismiss their concerns and opinions against those hired to promote their concept of life in our community? I certainly hope not.
With a program that includes a small percentage of our city roadways while the remaining roadways have been legislated to share the pavement, I must ask those questions that any resident or consultant hired to analyze the complete street dynamic might seek answers for. Has there been any celebration and recognition of the NYSDMV Chapter 11 legislation anywhere in this proposal? I imagine it created a bit of a headwind to have to recognize the opportunity to now share the road with other modes of transportation had addressed a long standing concern, only now with stated rules and regulations for all.
In my experience, when solving problems, one starts with the large scale working down to the small scale. Before problem solving, the approach has always been problem seeking. Naming the problem and all its parameters is key to developing a successful solution.
Have the proponents considered everyone in their approach to developing their solution? Suggesting that it is the collective we, who must now settle for a “share the road” reality is an odd reaction to an approach that the state has issued for all municipal streets in New York State. Are we somehow to believe that the proposed bike lane loop will collect all the cyclists of our city, so they do not have to settle for sharing the pavement as proclaimed? Can these cyclists be expected to venture beyond these lanes untethered to other destinations along the shared roadways?
Suggesting the health benefits of cycling alongside the concerns of a warming climate under the umbrella of greenhouse gases while overlooking the larger picture of how most all sides of our existence on this planet contribute to them, is simplistic and patronizing. In referencing studies, it is always important to evaluate the criteria for that research.
Choosing to ignore the inconvenient truth of vehicular traffic in the 21st century is delusional. The symbiotic relationship between where we live, how we get there and our dependency on that form of transportation for supplying us with most all our needs is nothing short of denial.
Many of us cycle for health and pleasure part of the year, and others with the proper accessory boutique kit can extend their season a bit longer. I believe that this myopic rationalization that cyclists will go from point A to B by first challenging the shared roadways to travel instead on a circuitous bike lane at best is part of this folly. Being indulged with selected data suggesting that retailers will increase their business along with the explosion of bike tourism is nothing less than targeted promotion.
I should not have to repeat my earlier comments on the Complete Street Plan, but the latest response suggesting it creates a “safe, bikeable, and walkable” community sorely misses concerns for the pedestrian both ambulatory and non-ambulatory to navigate across our year-round city rights-of-way sidewalks while focusing on a dedicated cycling path in parts of the city.
In summary, I must again offer these concerns as problem seeking, for consumption and evaluation to avoid trying to solve a problem without first gathering all the peripheral questions and addressing the potential collateral issues to best understand them.
1. Who was initially included in the targeted catchment of the preliminary surveys that chose to reduce the number of lanes on our streets?
2. Were the property owners most affected who live next to all the proposed bike lanes surveyed for their responses?
3. Have the Departments of Public Safety and Public Works reviewed the first preliminary proposals, signing off on them? This is different from asking them to respond to the results.
4. What is the investment that the city is being asked to contribute on the construction and implementation of these bike lane connections? What are the costs estimated to maintain these lanes? What monies has the city received to start this program and/or to continue it?
5. Who plans to take on the responsibility of the educational part that NYSDMV Article 11 presents its novice young cyclists without a motor vehicle license?
6. How many city residents have bikes and have registered those vehicles with the Police Department? Over the last several years, has the use of the new bike lanes been noted and memorialized?
7. How many tourists have used the seasonal bike rentals throughout the city? How often?
8. How many residents would depend on bicycles year-round to go to work and what would be a reasonable distance be?
9. Has the suggested replacement of the seasonal arterial traffic loading on this targeted two block section of NYS Route 9P (Union Avenue) from four active lanes to two been assessed by the DPS or the State if necessary?
10. The city presently defines its system of roadways by width and volume (taken at peak times). Have we challenged their data and designations by altering the volume on this vital arterial street?
In my earlier comments, I provided my opinion and suggestions on this two-block half-mile section of the arterial road, which stands for only a fraction (.034%) of the remaining shared roads that will be navigated by cyclists without lanes as prescribed. I can only hope that any further discussions will include a response to the questions posed for this discussion so as to be helpful.
[Ed Lindner of Bikeatoga offers some further thoughts]
What an odd way to begin an important discussion about public policy. “The attorney,” Jim writes, “has plainly provided … images … developed by a consultant whose charge was to present a bike trail system.” Jim knows my name, of course. He refers to me as “the attorney” and himself as “the architect” in an attempt to suggest that his views are entitled to greater weight due to his claimed expertise.
I have no idea if Jim has any actual experience designing roadways. But he does raise an interesting point. When considering whether a particular roadway design will handle peak traffic, to what extent should we rely on data and the opinions of experts? Or are we all experts now, regardless of background, capable of solving engineering problems by doing our own research?
By drawing a distinction between the “attorney” and the “architect,” Jim clearly thinks we should defer, to at least some extent, to technical expertise. And not being an engineer myself, that’s generally how I approach questions outside my training.
So let’s begin by taking a look at the resumes of the consultants who provided the images I used in my last post.
The first preliminary and unofficial sketch of a potential enhanced Union Avenue design was done by Complete Streets Advisory Board member Mike King, an internationally recognized expert who has done roadway designs on five continents. He has worked on more than 60 projects around the world, in cities as diverse as Cairo, Egypt;Jacksonville, Florida; Yichang, China and Cleveland, Ohio.
This second preliminary sketch was done by JMT of NY, a firm of 1800 professionals with extensive experience planning and engineering streetscape designs. They’ve completed award-winning complete streets projects in multiple cities.
It may well be that Jim has similar experience with roadway engineering and design. If so, I would genuinely like to see examples of his work. It’s always helpful to see how others have handled the issues that arise in every major roadway redesignproject. I hope, though, that both the “attorney” and the “architect” can agree that the Enhanced Union Avenue project is being guided by exceptionally qualified transportation professionals.
Is the “road diet” design proposed by these transportation professionals the best solution for Union Avenue? That’s what our community is discussing now. There will be an Enhanced Union Avenue public design workshop on Thursday, January 16th at 6 p.m. in the Music Hall on the 3rdfloor of City Hall. I hope that Jim and others will attend and be prepared to collaborate with neighbors, bike advocates and city consultants to create the Union Avenue design that works best for most.
As I suggested in my original piece, we do need to see the traffic study, which we all agree is long overdue. But there is good reason to think that a road diet design could make Union Avenue more beautiful and more bike and pedestrian friendly without creating major traffic concerns.
All of the issues Jim raises about the three-lane, road diet design have been raised by neighbors and business owners in other communities. Check out this AARP guide (download the complete Road Diet fact sheet for best info). In hundreds of cases around the country, road diets have not caused traffic congestion and have not diverted traffic to side streets. They have slowed down cars and reduced crashes. And they’ve created new civic space for trees, safer crosswalks and bike lanes.
If the traffic study for Union Avenue shows that a “road diet” design can handle the traffic, as I hope it will, we should invest in creating a truly beautiful Enhanced Union Avenue. If not, the City should stripe the existing roadway to connect the bike lane NYSDOT is building from Henning Road to East Avenue all the way to Circular Street.
In the end, the real difference between Jim and me is our vision for the kind of city we want to live in. Jim thinks that bike lanes are unnecessary, and that cyclists and motorists should just “share the road.” I think that’s unsafe and unwise.
Multiple studies confirm what common sense tells you – mixing bikes and cars on well-traveled roadways is a recipe for accidents. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that adding bike lanes on 4-lane local roads can reduce crashes by up to 49%.
Multiple studies also confirm another thing that common sense tells you – more people ride bikes when they feel safe doing so. And more people ride bikes when you build a connected bike lane network that takes them where they want to go.
Do you care about climate change? How many times do you use your car to drive just three or four miles? Making it safe for Saratogians to take that same trip by bike has been part of the City’s climate change mitigation plan since 2011. That continues to be a community goal.
Our 2020Natural Resource Inventory identified motor vehicles as a primary source of local greenhouse gases and recommended “expanding multi-modal transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes” to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.
Building a connected bike lane network to encourage cycling also promotes community health. That’s why the CDC includes building “bicycle networks” as a priority strategy for increasing physical activity through community design.
And finally, bike lane networks are good for business. Building a quality bike lane network allows local businesses to benefit from the explosion of bike tourism. And it’s not just about tourism. Studies show that retailers see increased local business when new bike lanes are built.
For all these reasons, building quality bike lane infrastructure isn’t just about cyclists. Getting more people on bikes benefits the whole community.
In 2012, the citizens of Saratoga Springs decided that they want our city to be a safe, bikeable and walkable Complete Streets community. An Enhanced Union Avenue is an important part of that plan.
[Lew Benton served as the city’s Public Safety Commissioner 1988-1995]
I think Chris [Mathiesen] is on target.
The following may inform Chris’s point.
Tuesday’s Times Union story by Wendy Liberatore, headlined “Shelters pushes back on 24-hour center for homeless” is made significant not by what it reports, but by what it fails to report.
The story, from my perspective, raises more questions than it answers about the proposed adaptive reuse of the current Senior Center on Williams Street to house a Code Blue facility, a so-called “navigation” center and a full-time, low-threshold adult homeless shelter.
What left me somewhat confused (not difficult at my age) was the reporter’s reference to a Monday release by the intended project operator (Shelters of Saratoga) which included the following:
a year-round low-barrier shelter at 5 Williams St. is not the best solution to address the city’s problem of the unhoused,
“There are many implications to this type of shelter, a significant departure from our recommendation, with a wide range of new factors that must be cautiously evaluated,” and, most notably,
the need for a clear understanding of “the viability of the site location, 365/24 staffing requirements, expanded services, community impact, short-term and sustained long-term funding, regulatory implications, and the practical impact on best serving the Saratoga Springs homeless community.”
SOS leadership’s view that the proposed multi-use facility on Williams Street, was not a solution to the “problem” of the unhoused; presented as a “ … significant departure from our (SOS’s) recommendation; and lacked a clear understanding of site location …” seemingly contravenes the City Council’s October 18, 2022, authorized lease agreement.
That unnamed resolution that authorized a lease agreement with SOS contingent on “… Shelters of Saratoga using the Property to run a full-time facility that provides a state-mandated Code Blue Shelter, a navigation center, and a full-time low-threshold shelter on the Property.”
How could such a disconnect have occurred? Even a cursory reading of the Council’s resolution would lead to the conclusion that the project was well on the way to implementation.
Surely, SOS and the City Council understood the full scope of the programs and services required of the lease agreement, the burdens imposed by the state regulatory agency (the Division of Shelter Oversight and Compliance), and the need to gain a state operating certificate.
But is it feasible that the city council did not fully understand its October action. And if it did, how could it not have foreseen community reaction. No disciple work was done with adjacent properties prior to the adoption of the October resolution.
There were no public meetings to announce the proposal, give it definition and allay the inevitable neighborhood concerns (real or imagined). Most did not become aware of it until after the Council had already acted. There appears to have been no press coverage beforehand.
The public record of the lead up to the adoption of the October 18 resolution is telling. The October 17, 2022, City Council Pre-Agenda Meeting included a list of named presentations scheduled to be made at the following evening’s regular bimonthly meeting.
The list included: 2. Shelters of Saratoga and the minutes of that meeting noted the agenda item resulted in “no comments” by Council members but one commissioner did ask if presentations could be limited to a specific amount of time to prevent them from going on too long.
The mayor’s pre-agenda included the following: Discussion and Vote: Resolution on 5 Williams Street. The meeting minutes indicate that at the pre-agenda meeting the mayor “… advised this item will be moved to number one on his agenda and changed to a resolution on homelessness. “ Not one member of the Council commented or asked about the resolution’s content.
The minutes record no discussion at all on what would seem a rather major public policy action. But when the final agenda for the October 18 regular Council meeting was posted it appeared as Discussion and Vote: Resolution on 5 Williams Street on the mayor’s agenda. Few would have connected such a such an innocuous agenda item with the authorization of a “full-time, low threshold shelter.”
Remarkably, given the intensity and potential impacts of the proposed use this was the only discussion memorialized in the meeting minutes:
“Commissioner Moran asked if the City has an understanding of the budget for the shelter to operate. Commissioner Sanghvi stated it would be about $65,000 for the season. Commissioner Moran stated that is an amount that is within reach for the Council. Commissioner Moran asked in regards to the statement of construction of transitional or low income housing, are there plans still to come. Mayor Kim stated there are conceptual plans for that property. There is no way to build an additional floor above the existing facility. The next step after looking at licensing is to look for the funding. The site allows for a number of things to be done. Supervisor Gaston stated the Code Blue season runs through April 15th and is not sure if this resolution was intended to align with that date. Commissioner Sanghvi made a friendly amendment seconded by Commissioner Montagnino to change the date to on or about April 15, 2023.”
Subsequently it became apparent to some that the Council’s action was premature and was adopted before several steps necessary steps to move the project had been taken or even initiated. Apparently no required Emergency Shelter Operational Plan had been prepared and submitted to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, no required SEQR review by the Council had been taken and no disciple work begun.
The city council was advised of all this. What, if anything it did I don’t know.
The Saratoga Catholic community has been publicly criticized for opposing the proposed full-time, low-threshold shelter immediately adjacent to its middle and high school.
The proposal’s poor rollout, the failure to consult with neighbors and school administration beforehand and the absence of a definitive operating plan inevitably would cause concern.
Would not any school community, public, private or parochial, act similarly?
In 2013, in response to the death of a homeless woman from exposure, the Church of St. Peter and Saratoga Catholic opened the auditorium in its former elementary school (still used as by Saratoga Catholic Central school for certain activities) to an emergency Code Blue shelter.
Here is how Times Union’s Dennis Yusko reported on it. Code Blue for homeless in Saratoga Springs By Dennis Yusko on December 20, 2013 at 7:31 PM
An emergency effort to shelter homeless persons during cold and snowy nights could start Christmas Eve in Saratoga Springs after political leaders, clergy and social service professionals rallied to create a Code Blue program.
Under the plan announced Friday by Mayor-elect Joanne Yepsen, the nearly dozen persons who do not have homes or lodging in Saratoga Springs will be able to sleep inside the Church of St. Peter’s parish building on Broadway whenever temperatures drop below 10 degrees or a foot or more of snow is forecast.
The program will start Tuesday, when the mercury is expected to slip to eight degrees. Existing organizations will spread the word about the plan. Police and firefighters will look for homeless on the streets and in their usual hangouts. They or members of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) will provide free transportation to St. Peter’s. The Red Cross will supply cots and blankets. Shelters of Saratoga (SOS), which operates a “dry” shelter in the city for $10 a night, will help with food and outreach.
The plan comes in direct response to last week’s tragic death of Nancy Pitts, a 54-year- old graduate of Saratoga Springs High School who died from exposure on an outside porch of the Saratoga Senior Center after spending a freezing night there, according to police. Pitts lived on the streets and struggled with drinking and poor health. All homeless persons in the city will be able to access the emergency shelter without conditions, Yepsen said Friday in City Hall. She was joined by SOS Executive Director Peter Whitten, Gary Ferris, executive director of the American Red Cross Adirondack-Saratoga Chapter, Joy King, a longtime friend of Pitts, Cindy Phillips, co-chair of the Saratoga County Housing and others.
The Saratoga program is modeled after the Code Blue system in Albany, which starts in November and runs through March 15. That Code Blue was partly spurred on by the death of Darrell Glass, 31, a homeless man who froze to death off Northern Boulevard in February 2007. Liz Hitt, executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society (HATAS), administers the Albany program and helped provide a template for the Saratoga Springs Code Blue. She said dozens of persons in the two cities were prepared to sacrifice Christmas Eve to ensure no one suffers in the cold.
Hardly inconsistent with the social teaching of the church but done on an emergency basis in a way that addressed the safety of all.