Is The Public Served By More Media Coverage of the Petty and Foolish Conflicts Among Our Public Officials?
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi went to WRGB TV in an apparent embarrassing attempt to polish her credentials as a staunch ally of Mayor Ron Kim and Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran in their dispute with Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino.
Commissioner Sanghvi shared with WRGB TV her criticism of Commissioner Montagnino over the presence of police standing by in the stairwell to the Music Hall as a raucous Black Lives Matters demonstration was disrupting the City Council meeting on May 2.
She felt the police presence at the May 2nd meeting was unnecessary use of police overtime.
“Seven or eight police officers in the back staircase, I don’t think they were needed, nobody seemed to be showing signs of violence,” said Sanghvi. “There were Kids protesting, but that’s what kids do, they protest.”
Channel 6 News May 16, 2023
According to Commissioner Sanghvi, the mayor’s office is requesting that Montagnino provide a report showing police overtime hours for council meetings.
channel 6 News May 16, 2023
With all due respect, Commissioner Sanghvi is no expert on risk assessment.
She appears somehow oblivious to the potential danger that exists when situations get out of control, as they did on May 2 when BLM demonstrators brought the City Council meeting once more to a halt. She ignores how other audience members might react to the protesters’ aggressive taunts and name-calling in this volatile situation.
Her dismissal of BLM’s behavior by saying, “They were kids protesting, but that’s what kids do, they protest,” sends an interesting message to Lex Figuereo who is in his mid-thirties and probably doesn’t see the BLM protests as a playful, somewhat frivolous adolescent experiment.
It is rather stunning that Commissioner Sanghvi does not see the potential for someone being hurt in this polarized world we now live in. It appears that for her, the events of May 2 were just innocent theater that no one should find upsetting. The idea that some disturbed person might be prompted to commit an act of violence against the public attending the meeting, members of the Council, or BLM is lost on her.
Her animus with Commissioner Montagnino seems to have blinded her to the fact that Chief Crooks deployed the men and women of the police department because he reasonably believed that the situation could put the lives of everyone, including Commissioner Sanghvi, at risk.
Making the situation even more strange is Mayor Kim’s contradictory behavior in all this. The now infamous epithet-laden confrontation between Kim and the Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety was over Kim’s allegation that he had been threatened in an email sent by an individual who, it turns out, routinely attends Council meetings. In fact, he was in attendance at the May 2 meeting. Given their fears (baseless or not), you would think that Sanghvi, Kim, and Moran would have been relieved to know that the police would be available.
Sanghvi’s alleged sudden concern with overtime expenses for police is also hard to take seriously when Sanghvi has repeatedly had no problem approving payments for all sorts of dubious additions to the city’s budget including additions to other Council members’ staff and her own staff, payments of all kinds of legal bills as the Mayor pursues frivolous lawsuits, and of course redecorating her office.
No, this TV appearance seems to truly be nothing more than a petty continuation of the alliance of Kim, Sanghvi, and Moran against Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino.
[I received the following two releases from Mike Brandi, the chair of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee. Brandi had submitted a complaint to the city’s ethics board against Mayor Ron Kim and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, who had violated the city’s ethics code by putting links to their campaign websites on the city’s Facebook page.
As the complaint was made in February and as the decision was issued on May 17, 2023, the amazing thing is that Sanghvi, who oversees the city’s IT department, had yet another post on the city website that linked to her campaign website this morning (May 22, 2023). It was only up for fifteen minutes.]
From: Michael Brandi firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Monday, May 22, 2023 10:43 AM To: Michael Brandi Subject: Saratoga Springs Press Release follow-up Attachments: image0 (4).jpeg
Good morning again,
Shortly after my press release this morning, the City yet again shared a post to the official City Facebook page from Commissioner Minita Sanghvi’s partisan political page. This is in spite of the admonishment by the Board of Ethics that such conduct violates the Code of Ethics, and despite advice rendered to the City by the United States Office of Special Counsel regarding the City’s obligations under the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of official resources for partisan purposes.
While the post has since been deleted, it is clear that the City’s safeguards are woefully insufficient and that there is little regard for ethical and legal obligations under the current City administration.
Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to discuss further.
As background, I spent over a month trying to get information from Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran about his plans for temporary outdoor dining. Moran originally promised to answer a set of questions I sent him. Following that original email, I wrote to him each week asking what the status of his answers was. All my emails were courteous. Each week he cited other demands on him and promised to provide me with answers soon. After the fourth week, he stopped acknowledging my emails, and I gave up writing to him.
On May 16, 2023, there was a City Council meeting. Moran had two items on his agenda for that meeting regarding outdoor dining. One was a public hearing on amending the temporary outdoor dining ordinance’s season closing date, and the other was to establish the fee schedule for temporary outdoor dining.
A Simple Question
I decided to attend the May 16 meeting and ask Commissioner Moran a simple question in person. What is the starting date for outdoor dining for 2023?
Here is how he responded to my inquiry.
An Unexpected Ally
As it turned out, I was not the only one struck by Moran’s unpleasant behavior. Here is a clip of Andrew (an anonymous commenter says his name is not Andrew) from Black Lives Matter speaking.
Why It’s Not Just About Me
Mayor Kim should have interceded and asked Moran to “dial it back.” The issue is that Moran not only sent an unfortunate message to this blogger, he, in effect, sent out a poisonous warning to anyone wishing to address the Council. If you disagree with him, you are the potential target of his anger.
Commissioner Moran, There Is No Starting Date
Notwithstanding Commissioner Moran’s imperious pronouncement that the starting date I was looking for is in the legislation, it is not there. Below I have published the full city code on temporary dining, and if readers are skeptical, they are welcome to try to find it themselves. As the ordinance has a hard closing date (November 1, 2022), it seemed reasonable that there would be a starting date.
What Is The Significance Of The Starting Date?
The starting date is important for many reasons.
First of all, it raises legal issues about whether the restaurants, some of which are already open, are operating within the law. Have they opened prior to the official starting date for the season (a date that doesn’t exist)?
What kind of liability do the city and the restaurants have given this apparent mess?
Exacerbating the situation is that the application that they filled out had the fee schedule for last year (2022), and according to Moran’s agenda, there is a new fee schedule. Does that invalidate the application? Can an application containing the wrong fee schedule be approved? Did the restaurants pay the city the outdated amount when they submitted the application? If the city approved the application already, can the city now ask the restaurants to pay more (assuming the fees go up)?
Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the video clip, Commissioner Moran will not answer questions from the public, and his colleagues at the Council table are apparently unwilling to press the issue.
Temporary outdoor dining, which is obviously a potential asset to the city, is, unfortunately, a black box that only Commissioner Moran has access to.
Commissioner Sanghvi: Where Is The Resolution?
Consistent with the management problems that plague the city website overseen by Commissioner Sanghvi, the agenda for the meeting did not include the resolution establishing the temporary outdoor dining fees. The agenda item was there, but clicking on the link resulted in a message that there was no available document (the actual resolution).
I have given up bringing problems with the website to Commissioner Sanghvi as she has made it abundantly clear that she is unconcerned with the issues I raise.
As those old enough to remember Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine, Commissioner Sanghvi seems to live in a “What me worry?” universe.
I urged the Council to table the fee schedule resolution until the resolution can be published and the public can have the opportunity to read it. This did no good. Later in the meeting, Moran moved the adoption of the fees, and following Public Works Commissioner Golub’s second, it was unanimously adopted.
As Commissioner Sanghvi has still not updated the agenda with the actual resolution, if you want to know what the new fee schedule is, you will have to endure watching the video of the full meeting to find the point at which Dillon discussed them. Even then, the presentation was poorly done, and you will have, I think, as I did, little idea of what the fees are and how they were arrived at.
City Code On Outdoor Dining
Here is the ordnance from the city website. See if you can find a starting date.
The recent video showing Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim in an uncontrollable rage shouting expletives at the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety has gone viral and exposed the darkness that overshadows our city.
For those of us who have been following the City Council’s antics, we know that every member of the current Council has contributed to the decline in civility. Accounts Commissioner Moran, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim have been the most bitter and aggressive. Still, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi’s and Public Works Commissioner Golub’s passivity have, in their own way, empowered the other three.
The reality is that if these three so easily indulge themselves in verbally abusing their colleagues at the Council table, think about what kind of liberties they must take when dealing with the employees who work under them. We have some proof of this in the expletive-filled emails directed at employees by Mayor Kim as revealed by recent FOILs that can be found at the end of this post.
It should be no surprise then that the regional president of the union to which most employees in the city belong has written the following letter to Mayor Kim with cc’s to the other Council members and the city’s Human Resources Administrator. It characterizes the environment in city hall as toxic.
There are also several lawsuits pending against Council members regarding the “hostile work environment.”
Can This Council Change?
Mayor Kim’s statement to Saratoga Today only serves to document how deep and intransigent the problem is. His toxic emails with their f-bombs threatening employees are chilling and are included at the end of this post.
Sadly, Mayor Kim seems to live in a kind of bubble removed from both facts and the pain his behavior causes. This is what he told Saratoga Today
“They asked for every single email that I ever sent. So, I think that’s a pretty low percentage. I’m not excusing myself, but sometimes you see something and that’s how I react.”
Ron Kim to Saratoga Today May 12, 2023
As for facts, the FOIL that produced Kim’s ugly emails did not request all of his emails as he alleges, just as the police who he had encountered prior to the meeting were not wearing riot gear as he asserted.
Here is the actual FOIL:
More dangerously, in spite of the wide condemnation of his behavior, Kim obstinately reserves the right to cast away restraint in the future. (“…you (sic) see something and that’s how I react.”)
As our Mayor, Ron Kim represents the citizens of this city. Despite the stressful situations he encounters as Mayor, the people who elected him deserve to have confidence he will have the self-discipline to maintain his dignity even under the most trying circumstances.
With his position of power, Kim holds a special trust regarding those who serve under him. They must have confidence that they will not be subjected to scorn and humiliation. His behavior in his encounter with Deputy Commissioner Tetu and Commissioner Montagnino was simply inexcusable. Worse, the baseless and withering attacks he and Montagnino directed at former Director of Risk and Safety Marilyn Rivers (she is suing the city), a dedicated and highly respected employee, was not only reckless and cruel, but it also had to spread fear all through city hall with employees wondering whether they might have to endure what Ms. Rivers did.
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran also has an unfortunate record himself. He was successfully sued by one of his employees over workplace incidents. He routinely indulges in insulting remarks at the Council table. Calling Commissioner Montagnino a “psychopath” drew whoops and cheers from his Black Lives Matter supporters but only made the atmosphere required to carry out the Council’s deliberations impossible.
Similarly, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi played to the BLM people by complaining that Commissioner Montagnino had not informed her that there would be a risk at the meeting requiring the police. As Montagnino was the target of the night, this was an opportunity to show her credentials to her allies Kim and Moran by piling on.
In the meantime, the police quietly stood for hours in a stairwell. Far from the narrative put forward by BLM that they were all murderers, they were there to protect the Council, the public, and the BLM activists. In spite of the chaos in the Council meeting room, with BLM chanting and waving banners, the police waited patiently in the event they might be needed.
Sanghvi’s unfortunate remarks at the expense of the men and women who spent the night trying to protect her were just one more unfortunate aspect of the evening.
It is time to return order and civility to the Council table and to city hall.
Mayor Kim does not seem to have the skill set required to chair the Council meetings.
A responsible chair’s duty is to facilitate the thoughtful deliberations of the Council so they can do the city’s business.
To do this, he must constrain his colleagues from any behavior that would promote unnecessary hostility by insisting on the highest standards of conduct.
When a chair (KIm) fails to meet these obligations, he/she needs for others at the table to intercede and insist on courtesy. In fact, it is the responsibility of every member of the Council to do so. I have yet to see any member of the current Council play that role.
Black Lives Matter Issue
Given the sympathy of most people for black Americans regarding the violence nationally against them so tragically seen regularly on television and epitomized by the murder of George Floyd, it is understandable that the public would be supportive of a local group that characterizes itself as being dedicated to racial justice.
Up until recently, Black Lives Matter has shown great skill in shaping their narrative in the media to tap into this sympathy.
Most people assume that the local BLM tactics are an extension of the tradition of Martin Luther King’s non-violent tactics. But Reverend King always championed love and forgiveness in his militancy. I have written about the contrast between King’s approach and the current local leadership of BLM in previous posts.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King
While BLM frequently quotes King on the need to be prepared to say and do things that make people uncomfortable, they clearly eschew King’s dedication to love vs hate.
Lexis Figuereo, his sister Chandler Hickenbottom, and the other leaders have expressed disdain over calls for them to show restraint and courtesy. They clearly believe that the only way to make change is to pour taunts and insults on people in power. Their protests are marked by the profound anger they feel and by their sense of entitlement to unleash that anger.
For an example of just how intense that anger can be, I offer the following video clip of Lex Figuereo.
Here Figuereo engages in an expletive-laden and belligerent challenge to a black Schenectady minister over his participation in a “Back The Blue” demonstration. In this case, the police had to intercede to avoid what appeared to be potential violence. Figuereo refers to the minister as a “fu*&ing coon,” “fu*&ing house nigger,” etc. His fury is palpable.
In contrast to this kind of toxic outburst, the narrative BLM offers to the media is that they are simply exercising their right to free speech and that any attempt to limit them in terms of the City Council’s rules for public comment is an act of oppression.
One cannot deny their willingness to pursue this strategy in spite of the potential for arrest. They have the courage of their convictions.
With respect, I seriously question the effectiveness of this approach. I share King’s view that the tactics by which a movement struggles are as important as the ends for which it struggles. However laudable one’s goals are, the manner people choose to achieve those goals will be undermined by tactics that are inconsistent with those goals (“Darkness cannot drive out darkness”).
King was also ready to seriously engage his skeptics in thoughtful dialogue. He knew that change would only come by convincing skeptics of the value of that change. Without broad public support beyond his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there would be no progress.
Deja Vu All Over Again
So the central question for people like myself is, are the tactics employed by BLM expanding public support for change and achieving their goals?
My sense is that, to the contrary, they have squandered the support that existed initially in response to George Floyd’s death. The huge, diverse crowd that filled Congress Park following Floyd’s murder is gone. The small group that shows up to disrupt the Council meetings has not expanded.
While Figuerreo likes to boast that nothing they wanted got done until they returned to being disruptive this year, a closer look at what they say they’ve achieved doesn’t support this.
The Council finally did appoint a Civilian Review Board. Still, those appointments were ironically delayed when the Council meeting was shut down after Chandler Hickenbottom refused to give up the microphone during the public comment period and began addressing the Council by promising to “rip you a new one.” And while BLM has claimed victory for the passage of a Council policy on no-knock warrants, it was not the ban the Police Review Task Force had asked for but instead a restriction that is similar to the policy that already exists on the state and national level. Similarly, a proposal brought to the table by Commissioner Sanghvi to implement a Task Force proposal to apply assets seized in “controlled substance arrest and criminal activity” to “city-based programming for the treatment of addiction, homelessness, and other restorative justice initiatives…” noted that this was to be done “to the extent allowed by existing New York State statutory requirements”. The problem is, as the previous Council was castigated for trying to point out, NY state does not allow this kind of dispersal of seized assets. Commissioner Sanghvi’s resolution was essentially meaningless and subsequently withdrawn.
What BLM has evolved to instead is a groundhog day drama. The same people show up and indulge in the same practices and the same slogans. Other than disrupting the ability of the Council to transact its business and the occasional videos on local television, little is accomplished.
Time For A New Approach
The chaos and anger engendered by the BLM protests need to end. The disruption of the Council’s deliberations only contributes to the toxicity that is corroding city hall.
What is needed now is for BLM to adhere to the same rules of addressing the City Council that for years have been the standard: two minutes at the microphone plus silent courtesy for other speakers.
Commissioner of Public Safety candidate Tim Coll has observed that the state legislature and some cities in New York State employ a sergeant at arms to address disruptive behavior at public meetings. Trained, independent men and women who are not political and who are knowledgeable about the behavior allowed by the NY State Open Meetings law (comments should not be “abusive, threatening, profane, or in any way illegal”) are empowered to escort members of the public who become unruly from council chambers.
I agree with Coll that our City Council needs to incorporate a sergeant-at-arms into city meetings, and Mayor Kim needs to allow that sergeant-at-arms to fulfill his/her responsibilities.
Mayor Kim needs to acknowledge that he has an anger management problem and needs to seek assistance.
Mayor Kim needs to insist that his colleagues maintain a civil and respectful manner in addressing each other. In the event that there is a breach of etiquette, he needs to use the power of the chair to intercede and insist on decorum.
The council needs to employ a sergeant at arms with the authority to remove members of the public who violate the protocols for city meetings.
Documenting The Toxic Environment In City Hall
A Letter From The City’s Union
This letter is from the regional president of the CSEA to the members of the City Council expressing concern about the environment in city hall.
The following emails from Mayor Kim target a city employee for some kind of retribution using profanities.
The following email from Tony Izzo clarifies that the email above was directed to at an employee.
Kim had apparently asked a DPW employee about the cost and availability of the casino and of High Rock Park for some kind of event. The employee sent him the pamphlet that includes the fees. The following email documents Kim’s reaction.
In any other institution behavior like this would be grounds for termination.
Kim’s Profane Riddled Meltdown In City Hall
By now most everyone in the city has seen the video of Mayor Kim’s outbursts against Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Tetu. The police had advised Kim, in effect, that he had exagerated the threat of emails he had received and they did not merit police action.
The May 4, 2023, meeting of the Saratoga Springs City Council was a continuance of the May 2 meeting Mayor Kim adjourned after Black Lives Matter demonstrators disrupted the proceedings. In yet a further escalation of the breakdown of our city government, a new alliance (they are constantly shifting) of Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, Accounts Commissioner Moran, and Mayor Kim refused to approve resolutions on Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s agenda. In fact, the three Council members refused to even offer a second to any motion Montagnino made.
Among Montagnino’s resolutions that failed to find a second were two change orders for work being done on the new firehouse. These change orders have, in the past, been approved without debate. Consider this video from a January, 2023, meeting.
Not so at the May 4 meeting. Here is one of the resolutions they refused to second.
People familiar with construction projects know that change orders are hardly unusual. It is unclear how serious the impact of refusing the work order will be. In some cases, other work may not be possible when required work is delayed. It is also unclear what this delay may cost the city. The three members of the Council, by refusing to provide a second to Montagnino’s resolution, deprived the public of any discussion that might have revealed what impact denying these work changes might have.
Watching the Mayor and two Commissioners, it was apparent that they had planned this before the meeting as some kind of retribution.
Following the rejections of the Montagnino resolutions, the three Commissioners complained that they had not been informed about the reason for the changes and offered numerous examples of what they described as the unwillingness of Montagnino to communicate with them. Conspicuously absent was any explanation as to why the three had approved similar changes in the past with no resistance.
This Council’s Subversion Of The Pre-Agenda Process
It has been the tradition of the City Council to hold a “pre-agenda” meeting on the Monday before each City Council meeting. This is where members of the Council would request clarifications on proposed resolutions in order to be able to thoughtfully discuss them at the regular meeting. In particular, in the past, Council members often asked their colleagues to provide background information either during the pre-agenda meeting or before the Council meeting, so they could be prepared for the discussions and votes. At times staff members would attend these meetings to answer questions from Council members on particular proposals.
With the current administration, this is no longer the case. These meetings are now brief to a fault and mostly symbolic. They have been reduced to each member simply reading their agenda items. For example, the pre-agenda meeting for the May 2 council meeting lasted only fifteen minutes. Perhaps City Council meetings would not go on for 5 hours if these Council members did their homework ahead of time.
Montagnino’s change orders were included in his proposed agenda. If the other members of the Council had reservations about Montagnino’s actions and needed more information, the pre-agenda meeting was the time to advise him of their reservations. None of the three asked any questions.
For them to then complain at the Council table that Montagnino had failed to provide them with information is simply not credible. This is especially true because there is an extensive record of these same Council members passing similar work change orders without comment, as documented above.
Denying Montagnino seconds to his resolutions was a new low in the factionalism that dominates this Council.
As further proof of the chaos, not only was the May 2nd meeting disrupted and had to be continued on May 4, but the Council was unable to complete their business even on the 4th and are scheduling yet another extension of the original meeting.
Rude and Unprofessional Behavior
I am not going to bother to include video of the name-calling and ugly behavior of the Council members at this meeting. I have thoroughly documented this in the past, and it seems like a pointless exercise to edit and post more of this stuff. A complete video of the meeting is on the city website for those who wish to watch. Suffice it to say, the current Council lives in a corrosive bubble and appears oblivious about the harm they are doing to each other and to the city.
This blog reported that Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim had been referred to the police desk sergeant to make his complaint against someone who allegedly emailed threats to him and someone in his family. I wrote in the blog that the desk sergeant reviewed the emails and that none of them rose to the level of threat requiring police action, and this was what provoked Kim’s angry outburst in City Hall.
In fact, the video released by the police tells a slightly different story. Apparently, Kim first called Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Jason Tetu with his complaint, and Tetu told him to go to the desk sergeant. It was this response by Tetu that set the Mayor off. In the video, Kim shouts at Tetu “Is that all I get?” before going into his office and slamming the door.
Kim Doesn’t Understand
In our form of government, the Public Safety Commissioner is charged with overseeing the police and fire departments, but there is a distinct limit to that authority that Mayor Kim doesn’t seem to understand.
The Commissioner’s power does not extend to directing the police to make specific arrests. That responsibility remains with the “sworn officers.”
This makes sense. Consider the danger of a politician with no background in criminal law ordering the arrest of people?
Note that when Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino took action in the case of Chandler Hickenbottom for allegedly disrupting a Council meeting, he made a complaint to the Police Department. He did not order her arrest.
It is also troubling that Kim’s remark (“Is that all I get?”) implies that he believed Tetu should provide him some sort of special treatment from the Police Department.
Saratoga Springs Police have released a video of Mayor Ron Kim in an epithet-laced rant at Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Jason Tetu and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino that took place in City Hall.
Apparently, Kim had received some emails that he considered threatening. He also claimed that the same person who sent these emails to him sent threatening emails to someone in his family.
Kim was referred to the police sergeant who handles complaints. Apparently, the sergeant, after reviewing the emails, said that they did not rise to the level of serious threat and declined to pursue the matter.
This prompted Kim to take his anger out by going to the Commissioner of Public Safety’s office where he confronted Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Jason Tetu with sufficiently abusive language that Tetu threatened to have Kim arrested.
Montagnino came out of his office and received additional abuse from Kim.
Another Aborted City Council Meeting. Everyone knew that the BLM group planned to disrupt the meeting. It was openly discussed at a meeting held on the Skidmore campus on April 26.
The May 2,2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was once again so disruptive that it had to be adjourned. Mayor Kim, yet again, relinquished control of the meeting to Black Lives Matter. The members of the Council sat mostly passively, with the exception of unhelpful remarks by Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran toward Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Montagnino taunting Mayor Ron Kim about his failure to take any action to bring order.
Interestingly, Mayor Kim began the meeting by moving the consent agenda from its normal position to have it voted on before the public comment period began. The consent agenda includes authorization to pay the city payroll. If this authorization is not taken care of, city employees cannot be paid. Mayor Kim also warned the BLM people present in the audience that he expected there would be “repercussions” (arrests) if the meeting were to be interrupted.
These actions suggest that Kim anticipated allowing the meeting to be shut down by a BLM demonstration.
The vote on the consent agenda was followed by two hours of public comment dominated almost exclusively by BLM activists and some Skidmore student allies repeating the usual litany of vituperative attacks directed primarily towards the Saratoga Springs Police Department, Commissioner Montagnino, and Saratoga Springs in general. When the meeting finally began the only item discussed and voted on was a Resolution on Restorative Justice that was on the Mayor’s agenda. This passed 4-1, with Montagnino voting no. After that, chaos broke out, with the BLM group chanting and shouting till Kim gave up and adjourned the meeting without any further city business being addressed.
It was an open secret that the BLM people planned to disrupt the Council meeting once again. Skidmore students were enlisted for the event at a meeting on the college campus on April 26.
Some media coverage, however, reported that the demonstration that precipitated the Mayor’s adjournment was prompted by remarks made by Commissioner Montagnino. The Commissioner knew that the BLM had planned to disrupt the meeting, and Montagnino was smart enough to know he was being inflammatory when he accused the BLM people of being complicit in the vandalism of the Union soldier statue in Congress Park. It was a reckless and irresponsible remark. Still, the media coverage failed their readers by supporting the narrative espoused by Lexis Figuereo that they were just responding to Montagnino when BLM had in fact planned ahead of time to disrupt the meeting.
The Council meeting has been scheduled to reconvene on May 4 at 2:30.
A Sober And Critical Look At Kim’s Restorative Justice Resolution
Kim’s resolution on restorative justice grew out of the recommendations of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force appointed in 2020. It is useful to review this proposal in light of how others have addressed this issue.
[JK: I wanted to put a link to the resolution for this story, but as documented below, the link to the resolution is now unavailable. I will be discussing the breakdown of effective management of IT by Finance Commissioner Sanghvi in a later post, but here is a screenshot of this latest failure.]
The most famous campaign to address past injustice is the South African “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission, set up in 1995 in the aftermath of apartheid. Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), was key in creating this body.
The “Truth” part involved investigating and exposing and acknowledging the cruelty of a system where the opponents of apartheid were routinely tortured and murdered. The “Reconciliation” part was to find a path forward to unite a nation where the victims of this cruelty could live with both their pain and with the white South Africans who supported these past policies. In some cases, this involved the prosecution of those who committed serious crimes.
Nelson Mandela, the leader of the ANC, set an example of reconciliation. Brutalized by the police, he spent twenty-seven years in prison. Yet upon his release, he showed no rancor. His focus was on how to bring his nation back together and move forward. His most important quality was his ability to inspire the people of South Africa to understand each other and to set a path to justice and compassion.
For Mandela, this process was not about apologizing. It was instead about acknowledging the harm done and then finding ways to address those wounds. Addressing those wounds was not about worthless apologies but about identifying concretely the policies and institutions that needed change and identifying the people in authority who needed to acknowledge the problems and address them.
For sixteen years, I was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (now called LifeWorks). The last thing I wanted to hear from an employee who had screwed up was an apology. What I wanted instead was an acknowledgment of the error and a plan to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Shame Is Not A Strategy. Guilt Is Not A Strategy
Conspicuously absent from Mayor Kim’s “restorative justice” resolution is any effort to take the first necessary step of doing the work to actually identify specific actions and policies that need to be acknowledged and addressed.
Saratoga Springs exists within the United States. The fact that black people (and Jews, and Irish, and Italians, and women and others) were discriminated against throughout this country is axiomatic. A general apology for this history, however, takes us nowhere.
As with the South African example, identifying and acknowledging specific examples of racism, either individual cases or institutional cases, and providing proposals for addressing how these can be reformed is where the hope lies. Blanket condemnations and vague apologies, as contained in Kim’s resolution, may bring enjoyment to some but do little to produce real change.
Our Local BLM
The reality is that Lex Figuereo and his allies are the polar opposite of Mandela. Any reasonable observer of their tactics at City Council meetings can see that their goal is to humiliate and indulge in unrestrained rage. Insulting elected officials is self-indulgent nonsense. This picture of BLM people in front of Montagnino’s office is a testament to the infantile nature of so much of what they do.
BLM events are not really about politics; they are about psychodrama. Michele Madigan, who served in the previous administration, put aside money for a mediator and offered to meet with Figuereo. In the standard operating procedure for Figuereo, he strung her along only to refuse to participate. Figuereo is not really interested in sitting down, identifying specific problems (truth), and seeking solutions. Figuereo’s identity is invested in drama and media.
The narrative that if elected officials will just sit down with Figuereo and his allies that an accommodation can be achieved is a myth.
The Missing Factor: Truth
BLM makes wild accusations about the city’s police. If you listen to them, you would think that we were living in Alabama in the 1950s, that Bull Connor is the chief of police, and that any moment a phalanx of police armed with guns and dogs and tear gas are about to brutalize them.
Missing from their rants is substance-truth. If the police need further reform, it begins with BLM doing the hard work of actually documenting incidents of real abuse. Without identifying examples of failure in police procedures with details of who, what, and where, there can be no corrective action.
Mayor Kim’s resolution calls for restorative justice. Let’s get beyond the culture wars and consider what restorative justice is.
“Restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding the person who caused it accountable for his or her actions. Accountability for the offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done.”
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Law School
In this definition, the process begins with identifying real events that are documented for the purpose of change.
Kim’s poorly crafted resolution misses the point about what restorative justice is. Instead, his nebulous resolution fits right into Figuereo et. al.’s playbook. It calls for “…a community-wide dialogue with residents and institutions on defining what restorative justice means to Saratoga Springs in the 21st century.” This amorphous charge can only lead to more confusion and conflict.
The vague language in Mayor Kim’s restorative justice committee resolution is an exercise in noise and will result in little or no constructive findings.
An Odd Date For His Final Report
I find it particularly suspect, that Kim’s resolution would have his committee report its findings on December 19, 2023. That date is conveniently after the city’s next election.
Kim, the other Council members and Figuereo are, as they say in popular culture, co-dependent. With the exception of Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, they all crave media coverage without substance. They feed off each other.
Kim got his story into the Times Union about his plan to establish a “restorative justice committee” (no great feat), but that is all he has achieved. This new committee (one of too many) will produce nothing.
With BLM planning to disrupt yet another Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, and Mayor Ron Kim abrogating his responsibility to ensure speakers have equal access to the microphone at the public comment period (see previous post—)this coming Tuesday night’s (5/2/2023)City Council meeting sadly promises to be yet another exercise in how not to govern.
A look at the agenda for the upcoming May 2 City Council meeting seems to indicate that current Council members are more interested in appearing in newspaper stories and on television than directing their time and energy to the job of actually governing our city.
Commissioner Sanghvi’s Fake Resolution
Case in point:
Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi will be offering a resolution that seems at first glance to promise to direct assets seized by police in controlled substances arrests to “City-based programming for the treatment of addiction, homelessness, and other restorative justice initiatives within the city of Saratoga Springs.”
According to Commissioner Sanghvi, the resolution is “in response to the Saratoga Springs Police Task Force 50-point initiative” that included this item. The city’s task force, readers will recall, was set up in 2020 in response to an Executive Order by then Governor Andrew Cuomo.
But Sanghvi’s resolution includes the following qualifying language:
“To the extent allowed by existing New York Statutory requirements for the dispersal of property seized in controlled substance arrests and criminal activity…”
The clue that something is wrong is her use of the phrase “to the extent allowed.” So what is the “extent allowed?”
Bizarrely, her resolution has a whereas clause that cites “New York State Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR) Section 1349 – Disposal of Property” regarding the meaning of “extent allowed.”
I say bizarrely because the statute she cites specifically limits the use of these funds to only “law enforcement purposes.” In other words, it precludes using the money for the very purposes Commissioner Sanghvi cites in her resolution.
That this dispersal of funds is not allowed should come as no surprise to those of us who followed the Police Reform Task Force’s recommendations that included this promised dispersal of money as number 41 of the 50 proposals of their “Reinvention Plan” . At the time, Police Chief Shane Crooks told the Task Force that this proposal for the use of seized assets violated state law. He was seen by Task Force members as an obstructionist rather than a truth-teller.
At a minimum, Commissioner Sanghvi’s resolution is misleading. A less generous assessment would be that she is trying to fool the public in general and the Black Lives Activists in particular, into thinking that she is fulfilling the Police Task Force’s proposal when she is clearly not because the truth is that this proposal cannot legally be fulfilled.
Commissioner Moran: An Incoherent Resolution
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran has placed this item on the consent agenda for the May 2, 2023, Council meeting.
The heading of the item provides some clue as to its purpose: “Temporary Outdoor Dining Committee-Approved Applications” So this is probably about approving the restaurants/bars listed at the end of the document.
The consent agenda is normally reserved for items that require approval but are noncontroversial, like the authorization to fund the city’s payroll or payment authorized by a contract that had been approved by the Council.
As readers will observe, this item, though, begins with a statement that allegedly the applications for outdoor dining have been reviewed and approved by a variety of city departments. In previous posts, I documented that I had unsuccessfully asked Commissioner Moran for some kind of documentation regarding the signoff by the Fire Department on applications for outdoor dining permits. I also FOILed for such documents and was advised they do not exist. Moran may or may not have received informal approval of these applications, but consistent with his casual approach to governing, he failed to set up a procedure to document this process.
So we only have the Commissioner’s word for it that these reviews and approvals actually took place.
In addition there is no language stating what a vote on this item by the Council will accomplish. There is no wording for instance saying “Therefore, the Saratoga Springs City Council approves the applications of the following establishments.”
Then there is this statement:
“The Department of Accounts has noted any department conditions as part of the outdoor dining permit.”
Reader, I challenge you to explain the purpose of this sentence. There is no explanation as to what these conditions are nor which applications they are related to.
Finally, we get a list of five dining/drinking facilities with no explanation as to why they are listed. I guess they may be applications that Moran claims are in order and require Council approval, but there is no language that would indicate that in adopting this item, the Council is approving them.
Finally, demonstrating just how sloppily this was crafted, the title says that these applications were approved by the “Temporary Outdoor Dining Committee.” The problem is that the “committee” no longer exists. Moran previously pushed through an amendment to the code dissolving them.
I feel confident that this item was crafted by Moran himself and that he didn’t bother to consult with Tony Izzo, the City Attorney or the new Assistant City Attorney.
Montagnino’s Pointless Resolution
Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino also has a peculiar agenda item. This one is calling for an amendment to the city code to make the carrying of a firearm while drunk a violation.
My contacts in law enforcement have characterized this proposal as “unenforceable”. The foot patrols that try to maintain order on Caroline Street do not carry breathalyzers. It is not illegal to be drunk and an officer would not have the right to frisk an individual to see if they were carrying a gun. Penalties already exist if a gun is in the possession of someone involved in another violation such as drunk driving so this proposal adds nothing to existing law.
This is all about Montagnino’s eternal quest for media and not about seriously dealing with guns.
Why Can’t They Just Do Their Jobs?
This Council suffers from excessive drama and a lack of sound management and judgement. I fear we will be paying the price for this for years to come.
While the April 18, 2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was subdued in contrast to the previous April 4 meeting, it was notable for Mayor Ron Kim’s mismanagement.
Mayor Kim Abrogated His Responsibility Over The Public Comment Period
For starters Mayor Kim announced that while there would still be a four-minute limit on individual comments, he would no longer enforce it. When is a limit no longer a limit?
This means that any person can now filibuster for as long as they want. Potentially one person can use up all the time allocated for public comment.
I expect Kim watched the video of the last meeting, where he appeared feckless as he fruitlessly advised people, what seemed like hundreds of times, that their time was up.
At the April 18 meeting, Kim lectured the public that monopolizing the microphone was unfair to others who might wish to speak, but essentially left it up to members of the audience to sort it all out over who would get to use what amount of time.
This means that if someone takes it upon themselves to venture out at night to address the Council on a matter they find important, they may discover that the person ahead of them has exhausted the available time, and they are out of luck. It seems to me this could potentially add to the disorder at meetings and could lead to some disruptive conflict between those wanting to have their time at the microphone.
You Couldn’t Get Into The Meeting
The April 18, 2023, meeting was held in the old Council chambers, and many people could not get into the meeting. They were allowed to sit in the hall where a screen was set up that displayed the meeting.
Pretty much every speaker complained about Kim’s decision to hold the meeting in the old Council chambers rather than the Music Hall. It was especially embarrassing because the Council was to honor the late Clarence Dart of the Tuskegee Airmen. His descendants, who had been invited to the Council meeting, were unable to get into the room as no seats had been reserved for them. When people learned that the Dart family was in the hall, many gave up their seats for them.
Kim offered two excuses for the venue. He asserted that the video and audio quality was better in the chambers and that he had assessed the agenda items and believed that public attendance would be sufficiently modest so that the chambers would accommodate those who wanted to attend.
It was clear from the groans in the audience that his rationale did not go down well. For one thing, it should have been obvious that the no-knock warrant issue on the agenda would draw a crowd. A number of Facebook pages, including one sponsored by BLM, had posted calls to attend.
A Different Meeting Without Lex Figuereo
Lex Figuereo and Brigitte Barr were charged with two misdemeanors each for their disruption at the April 4 meeting.
Lex Figuereo was absent from the April 18 meeting, as were most of the other leaders of BLM. I expect that Figuereo’s attorney had advised him not to attend future Council meetings until his charges are resolved. In his absence, the group was relatively subdued. With the exception of Angela Kaufman (AKA Diogenes), the other speakers’ remarks were free of epithets. No one from the group attempted a filibuster.
All of them directed vituperative attacks towards Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino. They also spoke in favor of eliminating “no knock” warrants.
If this is representative of the future, it appears that without Lex Figuereo’s fiery leadership, the city may be spared the kind of disruptions that has made transacting city business problematic.