Lexis Figuereo and James Montagnino: Best Buds?

So where is Black Lives Matter leader Lexis Figuereo when it comes to Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino?

Figuereo savaged the women in the previous City Council administration for their alleged racism. His group went so far as to present Mayor Kelly with a live cockroach in a bottle and taunted and shouted at Mayor Kelly, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, and Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton regularly at Council meetings.

James Montagnino’s Get Out of Jail Card

Here is an inventory of actions by James Montagnino that, by all rights, should have made him a pariah to Mr. Figuereo and potentially subject him to the same anger and abuse.

  1. In a document issued by Montagnino at the beginning of his tenure, he argued convincingly that the police did not kill Daryl Mount. One of the central tenants of Figuereo’s campaign against the police was and is that they murdered Mount. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for his report? No.
  2. Figuereo pilloried the police and then Commissioner Robin Dalton for blocking Figuereo’s group from attending a judicial hearing for one of their people charged with a violation. Figuereo was enraged by this and received extensive media coverage in characterizing the incident as a blatant example of racism and intimidation. The officer who gave the command to block them was Jason Tetu. Montagnino appointed Tetu to be his Deputy. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for this? No.
  3. Montagnino has advocated for expanding the police force. In fact, he accused Finance Commissioner Sanghvi of “defunding the police.” Figuereo has routinely called for defunding the police. Has Figuereo publicly attacked Montagnino for advocating for more money for the police? No.
  4. Figuereo unfairly attacked Kelly, Dalton, and Madigan for allegedly blocking police reform. In particular, they were critical of the three for not expeditiously establishing a civilian review board. It has now been almost a year that Montagnino has been a Commissioner, and there is no sign of a civilian review board. Has Figuereo attacked Montagnino for dragging his feet on this? No.
  5. Montagnino has repeatedly tried to establish a city code making some form of panhandling a violation. While Figuereo has opposed this, he did not call out Montagnino the way he did the three women who served on the previous Council.

Looking For An Answer For Figuereo’s Deference To Montagnino

In spite of the fact that Figuereo donated no money during the last election campaign for City Council and, as far as I can ascertain, did nothing concretely to support Montagnino, he has repeatedly taken credit for the election of the current members of the City Council.

My only conjecture on Figuereo’s apparent buds with Montagnino is that he is unable to admit that he made a mistake in supporting Montagnino.

There is also the unpleasant possibility that the two share a problem of misogyny.

Sanghvi to Blogger: Make Corrections!

During this last week, I received two more emails from the Saratoga Springs Finance Department.  One from Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, and the other from her Executive Assistant, Samantha Clemmey. Both reiterated that Commissioner Sanghvi had no time to answer questions about the budget until after the 2023 budget was passed. In addition, Commissioner Sanghvi charged me with making false claims on my blog and called for me to correct the record.

Minita Sanghvi Wants You to Know That She Doesn’t Read This Blog

Commissioner Sanghvi has taken me to task for writing that she read the post that dealt with her refusing to answer my questions on her budget. In her email, she asks me to set the record straight for the readers of the blog by informing you that while she regularly reads the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Gazette, Saratoga Today, the Washington Post, the Saratogian, and the Times Union, she stopped reading my blog sometime this summer or fall. Apparently, while she wrote me to criticize my post, it was her staff who alerted her to its contents, and I guess she scrupulously avoided reading it herself. Maybe Ms. Clemmey read it to her.

Minita Sanghvi Wants You to Know That She Never Received an Email I Sent Her

In one of the emails I sent the Commissioner, a copy of which was in the post she did not read, I observed that there was no point in my taking up her offer to meet with me regarding the budget in December as, by then, the budget would have already been adopted. I wrote in that post that she had not responded.

Rather than simply asking me to resend the errant email or, better yet, respond to the copy of it in my post, she tasked her staff to search the city’s servers for it. Her Executive Assistant not only searched the servers, but she also sent me screenshots of the failed searches proving that the Commissioner never received it.

Let the record show that I acknowledge that the Commissioner never received the email I sent her.

As it is now established that she knows the contents of that email, it would be helpful if she would address the substance of my concern i.e., that a meeting after the budget is adopted is pointless.

————————————————

The full text of the emails is below.


The Emails

From: “john kaufmann21” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com>
Sent: Monday, November 7, 2022 8:45:39 PM
Subject: Response

I am sorry about the confusion regarding my last email to you.  While you apparently did not receive it, the email from Ms. Clemmey indicates that you read it on my blog.  In any case, here is the text from my email response again:

“As you are aware, my questions pertain to the 2023 budget, which must be adopted by November 30, 2022.  It is pointless for you to offer me dates to meet with you in December.”

I am also not clear why you would task your IT staff to search your servers and then have your staff craft graphics of the computer screens when you clearly had read my post and knew what I had written to you.  The simple approach that would have spared your staff for better things would have been to simply email me asking me to send it again.

When you offered to meet with me at the last Council meeting, I assumed, as did most people observing the event, that you were offering to meet with me prior to the adoption of the city budget so I could be better informed to thoughtfully provide input at the next scheduled public hearing and to inform the readers of my blog on the issues.

I am rather stunned that you appear to not understand that meeting with you to get these answers in December after the budget has been adopted would be pointless.  Can this really be true?

I am also troubled by the idea that answering my questions should be so burdensome.  My questions were based very specifically on the items in your PowerPoint which I specifically referenced using the same numbers you used in your presentation.  If these PowerPoint items were crafted based on rigorous research and analysis, the questions about them should have been easy to respond to.

The optics of your statement that you do not have the time to answer questions from the public on your budget is extremely troubling.  You and your staff continue to point out opportunities for the public to comment on the budget. What is missing is the opportunity for the public to hear replies from the Finance Commissioner to questions about the budget. This should not be a one way conversation.

An informed public is the lifeblood of democracy.  If you were not prepared to devote the time required to fulfill your duties as Finance Commissioner, you did a disservice to this city in running for office.

I also did not understand the offer extended by your Executive Assistant to set up a call with you if I “still require a further level of assurance.” I’m not sure what this means. 


To: John Kaufmann

From: Minita Sanghvi

CC: Samantha Clemmey

Date: November 9, 2022 4:24 PM

Subject: Re Response

Mr. Kaufmann, 

I am sorry but I stopped reading your blog in later summer / early Fall. I read the Saratogian, Saratoga Today, Daily Gazette, Times Union, New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to stay abreast local, and US news. So providing a little context is always helpful in your future correspondence. 

My staff informed me about you not being able to reach us. So our staff checked the servers to ensure your correspondence was not getting caught in the security system. We do this with any complaint from our constituents trying to reach us. 

If you have made false claims on your blog, I am assuming you will print an appropriate retraction. After all, truth and facts are the lifeblood of our democracy. 

I want to clarify – that I am not meeting you as a writer of a local blog. It is not an accredited source of media with oversight or fact-checking. I am meeting you as a constituent who has questions about the budget. I appreciate your interest and am really excited to share our budget process and data with you. However, as you know, we are still in the process of working on the amended budget. So once the process is over, I am happy to meet with you. 

Best, Commissioner Sanghvi

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


From: Samantha Clemmey

To: John Kaufmann

CC: Minita Sanghvi, Heather Crocker

Date: November 7, 2022 1:17 PM

Subject: Meeting

Samantha Clemmey <samantha.clemmey@saratoga-springs.org>Attachments1:17 PM (2 hours ago)
to me, Minita, Heather

Good Afternoon Mr. Kaufmann, 

I had reached out last week on 11/02 inquiring about setting up a meeting between yourself and Commissioner Sanghvi. I have not yet heard back from you. In the spirit of transparency, and to assure we did not miss an e-mail from you, I had our I.T. department run a full City-Wide e-mail search for Commissioner Sanghvi, myself, and Deputy Crocker. The attached screenshots indicate that no e-mails were received from you since 11/01/2022. 

Given that you published on 11/04/2022 that you had responded and never heard back, please double check that this e-mail was sent to the correct recipients. 

I will, again, let you know that at this time I am not scheduling any non-city department related meetings for the Commissioner until the budget has concluded. The public has been given ample opportunities to comment on the 2023 Comprehensive Budget. A list of dates and times for budget workshops and public hearings were published at the start of October, providing advance notice for the public. The second Public Hearing for the Comprehensive Budget will remain open at least until the next City Council meeting on November 15th, 2022 at 6:30 PM. If you would like to make any further comments to the Council, we encourage you to do so at that time or during the allotted Public Comment period. 

I would still be happy to extend to you one of the following dates/times for a meeting: 

– Monday December 5th at 1:00 PM 

– Friday December 9th at 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM 

– Monday December 12th at 10:30 AM 

If you still feel you require a further level of assurance – I am able to set up a call with the Commissioner. 

Again, thank you for your patience as Commissioner Sanghvi and the Finance Department continue to navigate through this incredibly busy period. I can assure you the Commissioner and her team are working tirelessly around the clock to publish a balanced, thoughtful, and forward-thinking budget. 

Very Respectfully, 

Samantha 

Samantha F. Clemmey
Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance

Department of Finance

474 Broadway – Suite 15
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550, Ext. 2526

Temporary Outdoor Dining Will Be Subject to Design Review Board Approval

At the November 1, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran made good on his promise to have temporary outdoor dining sites reviewed by the city’s Design Review Board (DRB).

Beginning January 1,2023, applicants for temporary outdoor dining permits must obtain the approval of the DRB if “the outdoor dining location is located within any area designated within an Architectural Review District, Historic Review District, or City Landmark District”.

For some of us, the bamboo fencing put up by some restaurants on Henry Street and the jersey barriers used to protect diners are quite unattractive. Hopefully, this resolution will address some of these issues.

Commissioner Sanghvi: Broken Promises, No Answers

I attended the November 1 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting attempting one more time to get answers to questions about the city’s proposed 2023 Comprehensive Budget.

Along with the city’s charter and its comprehensive plan, the Saratoga Springs Comprehensive Budget is one of our key documents. The budget will determine what services the city will provide its citizens and what its citizens will be required to pay for these services. It will directly impact every household in Saratoga Springs.

With that in mind, your loyal blogger attempted to study the proposed 2023 budget and sought answers from our elected officials only to be met by silence from the key official responsible for crafting the Comprehensive Budget, Minita Sanghvi, the Commissioner of Finance.

This post documents a series of broken promises by Commissioner Sanghvi, who, in the end, refused to answer questions asked of her weeks ago about her budget.

Trying to Get Answers

On October 6, 2022, as required by our charter, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi presented her proposed budget to the City Council and showed a Powerpoint presentation to her colleagues and the public. While the Powerpoint presentation contained some interesting information, it was brief and not entirely helpful.

In order to help the readers of this blog to better understand the budget, I emailed Commissioner Sanghvi. The email asked how the members of the public could get answers from her.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

John Kaufmann October 10, 2022

Commissioner Sanghvi responded:

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow 5-10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi October 11,2022

Following her instructions, I attended budget workshops (see previous posts) and emailed her my questions on October 13. My questions included asking what services she had eliminated to achieve the cuts in the Public Works and Rec Department budgets and what provisions were included in her budget to deal with funding 16 new firefighters once the SAFER grant runs out. (see a complete list of questions at end of this post.) Knowing her written responses might need clarification, I also wrote to her asking if we could meet.

Ten business days passed. Regrettably, I received no answer to my questions from Commissioner Sanghvi, as she had promised, nor did I receive a response to my request for a meeting.

I then attended the November 1, 2022, Council meeting. During the public comment period, I addressed the Council. I noted that more than ten business days had elapsed since her email promising to answer my questions. She responded that she was too busy working on the budget to answer any questions (see video). I noted that I had asked for a meeting and had not heard from her. She told me, “I would be happy to meet with you.” She advised me that someone from her staff would reach out to me (see video).

On November 2, 2022, I received an email from Commissioner Sanghvi’s executive assistant offering me three dates in December to meet with the Commissioner.

I wrote back, reminding her that the budget had to be passed by the end of November which would make a December meeting pointless.

I never heard further.

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Responsibility to Her Constituents

In her ten years as Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan set a standard for openness and availablility. Some of the success she enjoyed in crafting budgets can be attributed to her willingness to listen to everyone. Those who follow this blog will know that this blogger was not uncritical of Ms. Madigan; but to her great credit, she was always available to answer my questions.

Commissioner Sanghvi has continually presented herself as somehow a break from the past in her commitment to transparency.

“I think accountability, transparency, civic engagement, communications, are all cornerstones of good governance and we are hoping that we will do all of that for the next two years and beyond.”

Minita Sanghvi, Saratogian January 9, 2022

Her promotion of “participatory budgeting,” which is supposed to promote public involvement, is made hollow by her resistance to answer questions from citizens over the city’s actual budget.

Her lack of candor and her unwillingness to answer courteous questions regarding her budget cannot merely be explained away by inexperience. It raises disturbing questions about character. There is still time for her to reconsider. Let’s hope that she finds her better angel.

The Email Exchanges

From: “john kaufmann21” john.kaufmann21@gmail.com
To: “Minita Sanghvi” minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Thursday, October 6, 2022 9:05:08 PM
Subject: Budget

I listened to your budget presentation. I did not hear anything about specifically how the city will prepare to pay for the sixteen firefighters from the grant once it runs out.

  1. Could you please explain how your 2023 budget addresses this?
  2. What is budgeted for the new fire station in your new budget?
  3. The costs of building the facility along with equipping it were paid for when the city bonded. The new employees are going to be paid for out of the grant. Could you please explain what the money generated by your tax increase this year is going to pay for?

JK


From: Minita Sanghvi minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:13 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Budget

Thank you for your email. The budget message and the budget addresses these
questions. Both of these documents are online – Departments – – Finance – – City Budgets – – 2023 Budgets.

I understand that the budget can be difficult to comb through. May I recommend attending the budget workshops for more clarification.

Thank you,
Commissioner Sanghvi

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


From: “john kaufmann21” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
To: “Minita Sanghvi” <minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2022 8:33:45 PM
Subject: Questions

Your presentation regarding the 2023 city budget raised a number of questions.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

JK



From: Minita Sanghvi minita.sanghvi@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:20 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Questions

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow a 5- 10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi

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


On October 12, 2022 from Kaufmann to Sanghvi:

Can we meet to discuss the budget?  I want to interview you for my blog.  I would send you my questions ahead of time.  There is very little time before the budget is due.


This email was sent on October 13, 2022

Questions:

  1. How much did the Finance Department budget for 2023 for expenses related to the new fire station.  Please break this down.  For example, how much is included in the Debt Service fund to cover the principal and interest payments for the fire station 3 bond? How much is included in the General Operating fund to cover equipment, training, uniforms and any other costs associated with the plus 16 firefighters?
  2. (Power Point Slide #14) Why is the Finance Department’s estimate for ambulance transport income projected to decrease?
  3. (Power Point Slide #15) Why are personnel costs going down in the 2023 budget?  Is the city laying people off and if so, what positions are being eliminated?
  4. (Power Point Slide #16) The hospitalization benefits were estimated to increase by 15%.  The budget is showing a 13.16% increase.  What is the percentage increase quoted by the city’s brokers?  Has the state confirmed this number?
  5. (Power Point #23) You have reduced the Department of Public Works budget by about a million dollars.  How did you achieve these cuts?  What services are to be eliminated?  What specifically did you remove from their 2022 budget?
  6. (Power Point Slide #26)  The recreation budget was reduced by $300K from 2022.  How was that achieved?  What was eliminated?

           7. Did the Finance Department fund any of the recommendations from the “Participatory Budgeting” committee and if so which ones?

 8.Did the Finance Department fund the Civilian Review Board and if so for how much?


From: Samantha Clemmey samantha.clemmey@saratoga-springs.org
Sent: Wednesday, November 2, 2022 1:43 PM
To: john.kaufmann21@gmail.com
Cc: Minita Sanghvi
Subject: Meeting with Commissioner Sanghvi

Good Afternoon Mr. Kaufmann,

I am reaching out to get you on Commissioner Sanghvi’s schedule for an in-person meeting. Given that the budget process is currently in full-swing, I am not scheduling non-city department related meetings for the Commissioner until the budget has concluded. The Public Hearing for the Comprehensive Budget will remain open at least until the next Council Meeting on November 15th – if you would like to make any further comments to the Council, you are welcome to do so at that time or during the allotted Public Comment period.

I would be happy to extend to you one of the following dates/times for a meeting:

  • Monday December 5th at 1:00 PM
  • Friday December 9th at 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM
  • Monday December 12th at 10:30 AM

Thank you for your patience as Commissioner Sanghvi and the Finance Department navigate through this busy period. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,
Samantha

Samantha F. Clemmey
Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance
Department of Finance
474 Broadway – Suite 15
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
518-587-3550, Ext. 2526


On November 2, 2022 Kaufmann to Commissioner Sanghvi:

As you are aware, my questions pertain to the 2023 budget, which must be adopted by November 30, 2022.  It is pointless for you to offer me dates to meet with you in December.

Mayor Kim Tries to Play the Blame Game: Falsely Accuses Previous Council of Misuse of Federal Money

The Mayor’s Five Alarm Assertion

As the Saratoga Springs City Council has struggled, often contentiously, to put together a city budget for 2023, Mayor Ron Kim, a Democrat, has chosen to blame his fellow Democrats in the previous City Council for the problems they are having with this task. At the recent Budget Workshop for the Public Safety Department, he shockingly falsely alleged that the problems they are having are because the previous Council had misused federal money from the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Here’s the video:

If his accusation were true, that the city “did exactly what the ARPA money wasn’t supposed to do…”, it should have been like ringing a fire alarm. It should have generated some kind of statement from Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi that she was initiating an investigation as to how this happened and what the city would need to do to address such a huge misappropriation. But of course, Mayor Kim’s statement was false, and the city did not misuse the funds. Commissioner Sanghvi made no such statement.

It is striking how cavalierly Mayor Kim makes such a grave accusation. The city received $7.9 million from the federal government in ARPA funds. Were the federal government to agree with Mayor Kim, it would be a devastating blow to the city, which could have to pay back the funds.

ARPA Funding Requirements: Mayor Kim’s Statement Is False– Funding Can Be Used To “Fill Salary Holes”

The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law in March of 2021 to provide additional funding to state and local governments in the midst of the Covid pandemic. According to the government document “American Rescue Plan Spending: Recommended Guiding Principles,” the ARPA requirements are “very broad.” It states, “The funding provided under ARPA provides a unique opportunity for state and local governments to make strategic investments in long-lived assets, rebuild reserves to enhance financial stability, and cover temporary operating shortfalls until economic conditions and operations normalize.”

Possible uses for the funds include “revenue replacements for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 health emergency….”

The National League of Cities has a helpful Q & A webpage to assist cities in utilizing ARPA funds.

The following is from their webpage:

What are eligible uses for funding?  

Municipalities are granted flexibility in choosing how they will spend their ARPA funds. As outlined in the Final Rule, funding must fit into one of the following categories:  

  • Responding to the public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic  
  • Providing premium pay to essential workers 
  • Providing government services to the extent of revenue loss due to the pandemic 
  • Making necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure  

Can recovery funds be used to fund lost revenue?

Yes, recipients can use SLFRF dollars to fund lost revenue. This is one of the eligible uses of ARPA funds. The definition of General Revenue draws on the Census definition of General Revenue of Own Sources (excluding utilities). The fiscal relief funds give recipients broad latitude to use funds to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue or the standard allowance. Government services can include but are not limited to maintenance of infrastructure, modernization of cybersecurity, health services, school or educational services, and public safety services. When calculating lost revenue, recipients should sum across all revenue streams covered as general revenue for administrative ease. 

The only restrictions on the use of funds listed in the American Rescue Plan Spending: Recommended Guiding Principles document are the following:

-Funds allocated to states cannot be used to directly or indirectly to offset tax reductions or delay a tax increase;

-Funds cannot be deposited into any pension fund.

It is curious that Kim was so disturbed that he could not show Tonko any projects funded with ARPA funds given that this document also warns that “Care should be taken to avoid creating programs or add-ons to existing programs that require an ongoing financial commitment.”

In 2020 and 2021, the city used the money to maintain its services by, among other things, ensuring that the city had enough resources to keep key staff.

The use of ARPA money to “fill salary holes,” as Mayor Kim put it, was totally appropriate and in line with ARPA guidelines and got the city through difficult times without sacrificing city services. That revenue hole has now been filled with the strong return of the city’s economy. It is ironic that this current Council is creating its own future revenue hole by accepting the federal grant that requires the city to continue to fund 16 new firefighters after the grant expires. This City Council needs to take responsibility for developing a budget with the current costs and revenues they have to work with and stop trying to blame their fellow Democratic predecessors for the issues they are having.

A Docile Council Offers No Response to Mayor Kim’s Claim

One has to wonder about the lack of response by Mayor Kim’s colleagues on the Council to his alarming accusation. How can this be explained? I offer the following possibilities:

  1. No one on the Council actually listened to what the Mayor said.
  2. No one on the Council felt any responsibility to do anything about it.
  3. No one takes these kinds of accusations by Mayor Kim seriously anymore.

Fireworks at Public Safety Budget Workshop Between Montagnino and Sanghvi

The Saratoga Springs Finance Department has been holding a series of public budget workshops to review the 2023 spending plans for each department. The Wednesday, October 19 workshop held to discuss the Department of Public Safety budget became particularly contentions with heated exchanges between Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi (D) and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino (D).

It Got Ugly at the Public Safety Budget Workshop as This Video Documents

Communication Breakdown in the Finance Department

The following video reveals a significant management problem in the Finance Department. Readers should understand that crafting a city budget is the most critical function that that office carries out.

On September 22, 2022, Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Jason Tetu sent a second revised budget proposal to his counterpart in the Finance Department, Deputy Heather Crocker.

Apparently, Ms. Crocker ignored Tetu’s email.

In the following video, Commissioner Sanghvi tells Montagnino she is unaware that the Public Safety Department submitted a revised budget request. She tells Montagnino that if he sent such a revision, in addition to her Deputy, the revision should have been sent to herself, the Interim Budget Director, and her Executive Assistant. She made the mistake of telling Montagnino that it should have been sent to “us.” This gave him an opening to express outrage and launch a blistering attack.

I am sympathetic to Montagnino’s frustration in assuming Crocker, as Deputy, would have informed the key people in her office about the new budget revision and reviewed it. On the other hand, Montagnino’s unrestrained rant was clearly meant to intimidate rather than inform.

Commissioner Montagnino’s Cynical Public Relations Move

In an article in the Times Union, Commissioner Montagnino accused Sanghvi of “defunding the police.”

He was referring to the fact that the budget for his department had police positions that had not yet been filled which were eliminated in Sanghvi’s proposed budget. Commissioner Sanghvi’s approach to the budget was to eliminate all vacant positions without bothering to review and evaluate them. All departments were subject to this policy. DPS and DPW are the largest city departments and lost the most positions.

This is an example of the cynical and ruthless behavior that Montagnino regularly indulges in, and it has worked well for him in getting the media coverage he wants. The assertion that Sanghvi is attempting to “defund the police” was dramatic and headline grabbing but hardly reflects reality.

A Thoughtful Presentation by Fire Chief Joseph Dolan

This video clip from the workshop is rather long. It spans twenty-three minutes. Fire Chief Dolan carefully goes through why essential items that were cut from the Fire Department budget need to be addressed. He points to items that were cut that the city is legally required to pay for, for instance salaries are incorrectly listed in the budget and required equipment and training are not accounted for.

The city will be getting sixteen new firefighters funded for three years by a federal SAFER grant. He explains that the required money for their equipment and training was somehow left out of Sanghvi’s proposed budget. He also notes that money is also missing needed to maintain the new building, including utilities.

As a layperson, I lack the expertise to assess all the items Chief Dolan asserts he needs. What strikes me, however, is that it became clear that most of this was being discussed for the first time. If a salary for an existing position in the proposed budget is wrong, one way or the other, it should have been resolved easily and well before a workshop. If the city needed to equip each of the new recruits and the budget had overlooked this, it should have been spotted well before the workshop and resolved.

This is why the department budgets were scrutinized thoroughly early on under previous administrations to resolve as many issues as possible before the workshops were held.

This year, the departments were notified in June to submit their requests by August 12.

It was apparent that, despite the departments having submitted their budgets in August, the time to properly analyze and work with the departments was squandered. For example, rather than analyze whether a vacant position was, in fact, needed by engaging the departments over the issue, Commissioner Sanghvi’s proposed budget simply assumed that all 2022 funded positions that had not been filled could be eliminated. This approach by the Finance Department was simple. It was quick. Regrettably, it failed to consider the circumstances as to why the position might have been vacant and whether the position met some critical need and left that all to be debated, sometimes heatedly, with the end of November date to adopt the budget looming.

Sanghvi Caves

Other departments have attempted to reverse the proposed budget’s elimination of positions that are not currently filled. Commissioner Sanghvi, at the workshops, has been conspicuously unwilling to publicly concede reversing these cuts.

Not so with her response to Montagnino’s bullying. In the following brief video, she assures Monagnino she will accede to his demand not to cut the six vacant positions in his department.

The budget Deadline Is November 30

The City Charter designates the period from November 1 through November 30 as a time for the “Council to continue to adjust the proposed budget.”(4.4.6) A second public hearing is required to be held during this time “after all adjustments have been made and agreed on.”(4.4.6) If Sanghvi’s colleagues want to reject her final budget, they must come together and agree on an alternative. If they cannot accomplish this by November 30, then by default, Sanghvi’s proposed budget will become the 2023 budget.

Commissioner Sanghvi’s 2023 City Budget: A Train Wreck

Recent workshops held on the 2023 city of Saratoga Springs’s proposed budget have revealed even more problems with what is looking more and more like a seriously flawed document. In addition, Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi’s reluctance to answer questions about her proposed budget or to set aside reasonable opportunities for the public to weigh in on the budget raises questions about her commitment to real transparency.

In Commissioner Sanghvi’s defense, she is new to this position, and this is her first budget. In addition, she announced the hiring of a new inexperienced budget director in her office in the midst of the process.

Her ability to manage the budget effectively, however, was seriously undermined by her decision to take a month off in August, an important and busy time in the budget process.

The result is a budget that seems to have pretty much been slapped together under the pressure of looming deadlines.

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Meat Cleaver Approach to Cutting the City’s Budget

We noted in an earlier post that the Finance Commissioner had made no provision in her 2023 budget to plan ahead to deal with the looming hole in the city’s finances that will appear once the SAFER grant funding for 16 new firefighters runs out in 2026.

Another troubling feature of her budget, however, could have a more immediate but equally devastating effect on the city.

In addition to eliminating any new positions for 2023 (except for the hiring of an additional attorney in the Mayor’s office for $96,000), her budget also simply eliminates any position that will be vacant on January 1, 2023, without any regard to what that position is, why it is vacant, or how important it may be to the functioning of the city.

When Michele Madigan was Finance Commissioner, she and Budget Director Lynn Bachner’s decisions about staffing were made only after carefully scrutinizing the requests made by the departments. Departments had to provide explanations as to why a position was needed. Additions or eliminations of individual positions were based on demonstrable needs.

In contrast, Commissioner Sanghvi just took a red pen to any requests for new positions (except from the Mayor) and then simply eliminated all existing staff positions currently vacant without bothering to learn what any of these positions involved.

The Case of the Missing Records Retention Position

Among the positions Sanghvi has arbitrarily proposed to eliminate is the Records Retention position in the Accounts Department. The position will become vacant when long-time employee Nancy Wagner retires at the end of the year and therefore is on Commissioner Sanghvi’s chopping block

At the budget workshop for the Accounts Department on Friday, 10/14/22 (a meeting attended by only three of the five Council members continuing a problematic pattern of absenteeism that is becoming endemic for this Council), Ms. Wagner gave a thoughtful presentation explaining why the position needed to be continued. As Ms. Wagner is retiring, no one could accuse her of being self-serving. It was clear that her motivation in advocating for the retention of the position in the 2023 budget was based on her concern for the needs of the city.

The city generates a blizzard of documents every year, including, just to give a few examples, everything from city hall emails to land use board records to police files and much more. These documents represent a critical asset not only in terms of their historical value but also in the role they play in the daily operations of the city in everything from grant applications to court cases. Ms. Wagner gave a powerful example of locating a decade-old email that was critical in successfully defending the city in a lawsuit.

Those records must be organized in a manner that makes them accessible and easy to search. The city is currently in the process of digitizing these documents, but much work remains to be done. Securing better storage facilities is also an ongoing challenge as some documents are stored in the attic of city hall and in other spaces where they are vulnerable to damage.

Ms. Wagner’s position is currently part-time. To properly manage the city’s records, Ms. Wagner argued that far from eliminating the position, it needed to become full-time and should be filled by someone with the appropriate technical skills.

Ms. Wagner noted that the position included applying for grants and told Sanghvi she had frequently been able to secure grants that brought money into the city equivalent to her salary.

It became clear from Commissioner Sanghvi’s questioning of Ms. Wagner that Sanghvi had no idea what the position she had cut involved.

Winners and Losers

Those following the travails of our current City Council will be aware that the members seem to have divided up into two groups. A troika made up of Commissioner Sanghvi, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim are often on one side, and Public Works Commissioners Golub and Accounts Commissioner Moran are on the other.

It seems more than coincidental that the budgets of the members of the troika all increased while the two other departments were cut in Sanghvi’s proposal. It’s worth noting that Sanghvi increased her staff by hiring an executive assistant this year, thus dodging her own rule of no new hires in 2023.

Devastating Cuts to the Department of Public Works

The Department of Public Works suffered the most severe cuts in Commissioner Sanghvi’s budget.

The city’s Department of Public Works had a budget of $11,970,000.00 for 2022. Commissioner Sanghvi has slashed their 2023 budget, which will be reduced next year to $10,990,000.00. That is a cut of approximately $1,000,000.00.

Given that inflation is currently running at approximately 8%, that means that the real budget reduction will be approximately another $879,200.00.

At the budget workshop on October 14, 2022, Sanghvi asserted that she is not laying anyone off, nor is she cutting services.

DPW is the second largest department in the city and is responsible for everything from snow removal and leaf pick up to maintaining the city’s roads, water, and sewer systems. Given that salaries, benefits, and gas will all be increasing in 2023, it begs credibility to believe that DPW can absorb an almost $2,000,000.00 reduction and still maintain the same level of city services.

The 10,000 Pound Guerrilla in the Room

Looming over all of this is the budget challenge created by the grant the city has accepted to hire sixteen new firefighters. Beginning in 2023, the grant will pay for three years of their salaries and benefits but not uniforms, training, etc. The city is then required to pick up the costs of these positions for another two years after the grant ends. Beginning in 2026, the positions will require the city to spend over $1.5 million dollars a year to maintain these positions

As Commissioner Sanghvi’s budget for next year calls for the elimination of many positions and increased real estate taxes as well as the use of fund balance to meet current city expenses, it is important to consider how devastating trying to cover an additional $1.5 million dollars will be. What would she do if she had had to find the money for those positions in the city budget this year?

I have asked her repeatedly what her plan is to address this looming crisis and have yet to receive an answer.

Commissioner Sanghvi Ignores Fundamental Principles of Open Government

Commissioner Sanghvi’s resume identifies “Political Marketing” as one of the three focuses of her research. During her campaign for office, Commissioner Sanghvi marketed herself as a staunch advocate of transparency and accessibility.

In an interview Sanghvi did with the Saratogian (1/9/22) just days after taking office, she stated, “I think accountability, transparency, civic engagement, communications, are all cornerstones of good governance and we are hoping that we will do all of that for the next two years and beyond.”

In February, she introduced her “Participatory Budgeting” plan. This program was meant to provide a vehicle for what she characterized as marginalized citizens to engage in the process of recommending city funding for projects and programs. She received extensive media coverage, telling one reporter that she wanted “residents to feel empowered to take an active role in the city’s budget process.”

Proposals were scheduled to be voted on by the public last July, but no projects were ever presented, and the schedule on the city website has disappeared.

The disconnect between Sanghvi’s rhetoric and performance in the case of her Participatory Budgeting plans has manifested itself again in this fall’s city budget process.

While she has stated that “One of the things I strongly believe in is an informed public,” her resistance to answering questions from the public on the budget belies this statement.

I sent the following inquiry to Ms. Sanghvi on October 10:

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

Her response was, “You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow 5- 10 business days for a response.” 

But the budget workshops are not designed for public involvement. The workshops are scheduled during the day when most people are working. They allow for only five minutes of public comment. “Public comment,” as it is practiced by the city, does not require city officials to answer questions.

I have sent a list of questions to Commissioner Sanghvi (they are listed at the end of this post), but if she takes 10 full business days to respond, I will only get answers the week her amended budget is due; hardly enough time to respond to whatever information she provides. I have asked to meet with the Commissioner but have not gotten a response from her.

Besides the budget workshops, the Commissioner has scheduled two other opportunities for public input. They will occur during the Public Hearing portions of two regularly scheduled City Council meetings. The first is scheduled to occur this evening, Tuesday, October 18. The problem is there are four other public hearings also scheduled for this evening, at least two of which, besides the budget, are expected to draw a crowd. Since public hearings are not supposed to have time limits, it’s going to be a long evening.

The Process

According to the city’s charter, if the Council does not have the votes to amend the Finance Commissioner’s proposed budget, hers is implemented by default. Given the divisions in the Council, while not impossible, it does not seem likely the other members of the Council can come together to offer an alternative.

The Questions the Blogger Submitted to Commissioner Sanghvi

When Commissioner Sanghvi presented her draft budget to the Council, she did so using PowerPoint. The questions below reference slides from this presentation.

  1. How much did the Finance Department budget for 2023 for expenses related to the new fire station?  Please break this down.  For example, how much is included in the Debt Service fund to cover the principal and interest payments for the fire station 3 bond? How much is included in the General Operating fund to cover equipment, training, uniforms, and any other costs associated with the plus 16 firefighters?
  2. (PowerPoint Slide #14) Why is the Finance Department’s estimate for ambulance transport income projected to decrease?
  3. (PowerPoint Slide #15) Why are personnel costs going down in the 2023 budget?  Is the city laying people off and if so, what positions are being eliminated?
  4. (PowerPoint Slide #16) The hospitalization benefits were estimated to increase by 15%.  The budget is showing a 13.16% increase.  What is the percentage increase quoted by the city’s brokers?  Has the state confirmed this number?
  5. (PowerPoint #23) You have reduced the Department of Public Works budget by about a million dollars.  How did you achieve these cuts?  What services are to be eliminated?  What specifically did you remove from their 2022 budget?
  6. (Power Point Slide #26) The recreation budget was reduced by $300K from 2022.  How was that achieved?  What was eliminated?
  7. Did the Finance Department fund any of the recommendations from the “Participatory Budgeting” committee and if so which ones?
  8. Did the Finance Department fund the Civilian Review Board, and if so, how much?

Mayor Kim Takes a Victory Lap for Winning a Pointless Lawsuit

Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim has issued a press release and posted an article on the city’s website announcing his victory in the lawsuit he brought appealing a decision by City Court Judge Jeffrey Wait. Rather than a victory, though, it is simply one more example of a waste of city funds by this administration.

I discussed the Mayor’s appeal in an earlier post.

The original case involved Jeffery Dumont, who had commenced work on a city property he owned without securing a building permit (City of Saratoga Springs v. Church Street Trust).

When the city originally brought its action against Mr. Dumont in Judge Wait’s City Court, Dumont pleaded guilty. The court then gave him a certain amount of time to come into compliance. On January 20, 2022, the court convened again to determine if Mr. Dumont had addressed the code violations, but Mayor Kim had now taken office and had not hired a city attorney. There was no one to represent the city in court. (I discuss the fiasco in a series of earlier posts.) Noting the city’s failure to appear in court, Judge Wait dismissed Dumont’s guilty plea.

Kim appealed Wait’s ruling and the judge who handled Kim’s appeal ruled that Judge Wait did not have the authority to dismiss Dumont’s guilty plea. As a result, the court re-instated Dumont’s guilty plea.

A Waste of Time and Money

The successful appeal that reinstated Dumont’s guilty plea had no material effect on the case. The city had a right to bring back its charges against Dumont anyway. It actually had already done this following Judge Wait’s ruling and before the appeal was decided.

In fact,Dumont and the city’s code enforcement department were before Judge Wait in court several weeks ago. At that hearing, the city asked for an adjournment for sixty days to allow Dumont to come into compliance.

It is important to understand that all of this would have been done whether or not Kim prevailed in his suit. Dumont has not gotten his building permit, and he will not receive it unless he complies with the city’s code. The only thing achieved by this suit is that the taxpayers are out thousands of dollars, and Kim can claim a hollow victory.

This is a prime example of how to waste public money.