Judge Mae D’Agostino in Response to Mayor Kim’s Letter to Her Regarding the Tim Wales Settlement: “What’s This All About?”

The following is the transcript of the telephone conference held on August 11, 2022, in response to a letter sent by Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim to Judge Mae D’Agostino, the federal judge who had presided over the settlement of the Tim Wale’s case, asking her to reinstate the case. I think the transcript speaks for itself. Readers will note an aside by Mayor Kim about dropping the city’s insurer, Travelers Insurance.

As the transcript shows, Mayor Kim continues to believe that Travelers Insurance, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, would allow Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran to influence their handling of this case.

I spoke to a number of attorneys about Judge Mae D’Agostino. They were universal in praise of her both as a judge and in her previous career as an attorney specializing in medical malpractice.

The Smoking Gun: Kim, Montagnino, Sanghvi-What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

At a recent City Council meeting, Saratoga Springs Mayor Kim, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi made blistering attacks on Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and Director of Risk and Safety Marilyn Rivers accusing them of trying to hide a payment for a deductible owed to the city’s insurance company in a settlement of a lawsuit against the city (see recent post). Montagnino claimed he only became aware of the settlement by using his attorney skills to find information on the web. Kim and Sanghvi asserted that they were also not told of the settlement.

As it turns out emails below show that Marilyn Rivers advised Mayor Kim’s Deputy, Angela Rella, and City Attorney Tony Izzo of the settlement in an email on July 11, 2022, a month earlier.

So how is it that Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi were allegedly unaware of the settlement? Ms. Rella is Kim’s deputy. Did she fail to read the email, or did she fail to inform Kim? Was Kim advised of the settlement by her and cynically made accusations knowing they were untrue?

Did Izzo fail to advise Montagnino and Sanghvi, or had they been informed but, for some bizarre reason, chose to pretend ignorance in their reckless accusations of some kind of conspiracy?

Here is the email Marilyn Rivers sent to Izzo and Rella regarding the settlement and the deductible owed.

Attached please find correspondenc pertaining to Timothy Wales as received from Travelers Insurance. As discussed in previous conversations. This is the only correspondenc/information I will receive regarding the Timothy Wales Settlement. Additional information may be received directly from John Aspland – insurance counsel on this case file. The process at this juncture is that the City Council – in this case Tony Izzo – would share the settlement with the City Council . My insurance file is now formally closed with this email.

Marilyn Rivers July 11, 2022

Below is the full thread of the email sent by Rivers to Rella and Izzo.

Commissioner Moran Places Payment of Travelers Deductible on His Agenda for Tuesday (8/16/22) Council Meeting

The bill to pay Travelers Insurance for the deductible the city owes for the settlement in the Tim Wales case had seemed to have fallen into a black hole. The agenda for the August 16, 2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, sent out by Mayor Kim on Friday night, contained no reference to the outstanding bill. Readers will remember that that bill was unanimously removed from the consent agenda at the City Council’s August 2 meeting with Mayor Kim, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, and Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino raising objections to the payment. [ see previous blog]

Sometime this afternoon (Monday, August 15, 2022), Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran added a resolution to pay the bill to his agenda for Tuesday night. Assuming he can garner a second, Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi will be challenged to either approve the expenditure or explain what they plan to do about it. There is, of course, the possibility that the three officials will vote no and avoid addressing what their solution is by smothering the discussion with false allegations, misinformation, and invectives as they did at the August 2 meeting.

Conspicuously absent from Mayor Kim’s original agenda for this meeting was also any reference to his conference with the judge in the Tim Wales case on August 11, 2022. Here again, Commissioner Moran has placed on his agenda the letter that Kim sent to the judge in the case. Readers may remember that Kim had asked for a resolution authorizing him to contact the judge to inquire why the city should have to pay the deductible [see previous blog]. The letter he actually sent to the judge (attached by Moran to the updated agenda) asked instead that the case be reinstated.

Mayor Kim will be placed in the awkward situation of having to share the Judge’s rejection of his request with the public. He may falsely claim that the conference was privileged and that he is not allowed to discuss it. In fact, the conference was not sealed, and a summary of the meeting was placed on the federal judicial website. There is no reason he cannot be forthcoming about the meeting. [see previous blog]

The Saturday Morning “Emergency” Meeting Fiasco

At the August 2, 2022, meeting, the Council voted to remove the deductible payment to Travelers Insurance from the warrant on the consent agenda.

Subsequently, Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran asserted that the entire warrant that contained this bill would have to be redone. He chose to tear up the original warrant and had the pieces delivered to the Finance Department.

On Friday, August 12, 2022, according to Dillon Moran, at 11:35 in the morning, Stefanie Richards of the Accounts Department delivered the revised warrant minus the Travelers bill to the Finance Department for review so it could be sent back to him to sign and then be paid.

Despite this, on Friday evening, August 5, 2022, Mayor Kim determined that he needed to call an emergency meeting to pay all the vendors (except Travelers) immediately and not wait for the next regular Council meeting on August 16, 2022. At around 5:30 PM Friday, he sent a notice calling for a special meeting to be held the next morning, Saturday, August 6. The agenda for the meeting had one item, a resolution from the Mayor. In an example of shrill overreach, the resolution characterized Commissioner Moran’s failure to sign the original warrant as “illegal” and authorized the Mayor to sign the warrant if Moran failed to do so by 8:00 AM Monday, August 8, 2022. Although it was unclear whether the Mayor could legally usurp the responsibilities of the Accounts Commissioner, the measure passed four to one.

The bulk of the Saturday meeting consisted of conflicting and inaccurate statements that I cannot begin to describe. I would encourage readers to view the meeting on the city’s website. It was ineptly run, and in the end, it accomplished nothing. No bills were paid. The bills will (hopefully) be approved and paid at the August 16, 2022, meeting. The meeting was an utter waste of time.

Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi Have Placed the City’s Insurance in Jeopardy

What insurance company will want to do business with the city of Saratoga Springs if the city refuses to meet its contractual obligations and pay its bills?

This is a totally unnecessary mess, and the trail of mismanagement is simply appalling, but there is no sign that any thoughtful strategy exists to resolve the mess.

Judge Declines to Reopen Wales Case at Conference with Mayor Kim

At Mayor Ron Kim’s request, the Saratoga Springs City Council passed a resolution at their August 2, 2022, meeting authorizing Kim to write to the Judge in the Tim Wales case asking her to explain the deductible the city was being asked to pay to Travelers Insurance for the settlement of the case.

Instead, Kim sent the following letter to the judge asking for the case to be reinstated and for a meeting.

Judge D’Agostino granted Mayor Kim’s request for a conference and met with the parties including Kim on August 11,2022.

I have been told by several attorneys that Judge Mae D’Agostino is highly respected in the legal community.

The following is a web page from the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF). It is used by the federal courts for, among other things, providing public access to its activities.

This page records the progression of the Wales case ending with a description of the conference Judge D’Agostino held with Kim, Kevin Laurilliard, who had represented Tim Wales, and John Aspland, who had represented the city in the case.

The account of the meeting given here is brief. I take it from “The matter remains settled” that the Judge advised Mayor Kim that the case is closed and will not be reopened despite his request.

“The Mayor seems to agree and understands the terms – the mayor was seeking additional information regarding the settlement, which this Court does not have.”

I conjecture from this that Kim seemed to understand the settlement but was still seeking information about the deductible and the significance of the fact that the Council never voted to approve the settlement.

If this is the case, it would not be surprising that he was told by the court (the judge) that it does not have this information.

At the risk of appearing snarky, of course the judge does not have this information. The terms of the agreement between the city and its insurer have nothing to do with what transpired in the court case.

Any conflict between the city (the Mayor) and its insurer will have to be resolved between those parties.

I have FOILed the court for the complete transcript of the meeting. I was told that the transcript was not sealed, so it should be available. When I receive it, I will post it on this blog.

City Council Meeting Descends into Psychodrama: A Toxic Mix of Ignorance, Incompetence, and Ugly Recriminations

From Left to Right: Moran, Sanghvi, Kim, Golub, Montagnino

The nearly four-hour August 2, 2020, City Council meeting was marked by confusion and hysterical, baseless allegations against a fellow Council member and a long-time city employee made by Mayor Kim, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi. The meeting exposed the fact that these three elected officials do not understand the terms of the insurance policy that protects the city from lawsuits and that they have been unwilling to perform the due diligence necessary to learn about it. Their comments at this meeting also showed that they are embarrassingly ignorant of the city’s process for authorizing the payments of the city’s bills and of their responsibilities for monitoring the payments of these bills. These officials conjured up conspiracies where there were none at the expense of Marilyn Rivers, the city’s Director of Risk and Safety, who has served this city honorably for almost twenty years.

The kerfuffle arose over the payment of a deductible to the city’s insurance company for the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the city in 2020. Mayor Kim, Commissioner Montagnino, and Commissioner Sanghvi are apparently ignorant of the city’s agreement with Travelers Insurance Company that covers lawsuits brought against the city. The insurer has billed the city for a $25,000.00 deductible in the recently settled case. Instead of acknowledging the need to pay the charge, the three launched into an ugly attack at the August 2, 2022, meeting, making unsubstantiated allegations that there was some kind of conspiracy to secretly get the city to pay $25,000.00 toward the settlement, claiming untruthfully at times that they didn’t even know the case had been settled. The toxic discussion was rampant with dark references to unnamed persons attempting some sort of coverup. Despite Accounts Commissioner Moran’s urgent assertions that the bill was legitimate and needed to be paid, the three refused to acknowledge the city’s contractual obligation.

Adding to the madness, Mayor Kim got his colleagues at the table to authorize him to write to the insurer, the attorney who litigated the case on behalf of the city, and to the judge in the case, Justice Mae D’Agostino, “…asking them for a detailed explanation of how this deductible arose, why we were not informed [we had to] to pay $25,000.00.”

I am happy to answer Mayor Kim’s questions:

Mayor Kim, the attorney in the case advised you that there had been a $100,000.00 settlement. It was reasonably assumed that you would be aware that in the event of a settlement, your agreement with the insurer required the city to pay a deductible of up to $25,000.00.

If you were surprised to be told that there was a deductible, it was incumbent on you to either review the agreement yourself or to have the City Attorney do so.

It is hard to understand how you would engage in a public controversy over the matter before educating yourself on the contents of the city’s agreement with the insurer.

Here is the video of Mayor Kim asking for approval for the letter he wants to write and denying that a deductible is part of the city’s contract with Travelers. Accounts Commissioner Moran tries unsuccessfully to set him straight. Kim also inadvertently acknowledges that he was actually advised of the settlement in an email he received from the lawyer who litigated the case.

The letter Kim sent did not adhere to the resolution the Council adopted but instead asked the judge to “…reinstate this case and set a time for a conference with the parties.” This failure by the Mayor to properly carry out a resolution passed by the Council would normally be considered a serious breach, but very little this Mayor and Council do these days seems normal anymore.

Jeopardizing the City’s Insurance

During the Council meeting, Mayor Kim not only repeatedly complained about paying the deductible owed to the insurance company, he also attacked the settlement reached in the case. He claimed the city should not have to pay anything. In a piece of demagoguery, Kim indignantly appealed to the public, telling them the settlement was costing “you” $25,000.00.

Aside from being baseless, this was a gratuitous and reckless public attack on the city’s insurer. It is reasonable to assume that Travelers will be most unhappy that the city is unwilling to abide by their contract and pay them. It is reasonable to assume they will not be happy being accused in the Capital District media of failing to protect the city.

This is a total mess and completely unnecessary. It remains to be seen how Travelers will react to the Mayor’s accusations. Several attorneys who practice law involving insurance companies told me that they believe this could lead to Travelers dropping the city’s coverage in the future.

Some History

So what is the story behind this settlement that is causing so much consternation at the Council table?

In March of 2020, Tim Wales, who had worked in the Public Works Department as the city’s engineer, sued the city, claiming he had been wrongfully terminated. Mr. Wales had been fired for alleged abusive behavior. Wales claimed that he had been terminated because he had supported Dillon Moran’s 2019 campaign for Commissioner of Public Works against then Commissioner of Public Works, the late Skip Scirocco.

Mr. Wales lost his lawsuit before the U.S. District Court, Northern Division of New York, along with his appeal to the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department. He then sued again in federal court. Regrettably, before this suit could go to trial, the two key witnesses (Skip Scirocco and Jen Merriman) died. Without these witnesses, the attorneys representing the city decided to settle the case for $100,000.00.

This settlement triggered the city’s obligation to pay its insurer, Travelers, a $25,000.00 deductible.

In June, I wrote about Mayor Kim’s false claim that the insurer was required to seek city approval for any settlement. The city’s contract with its insurer, Travelers, is quite clear. The agreement with the insurance company the city has contracted with cedes all authority over handling suits (including frivolous ones) to the insurer. For this authority, the insurer agrees to accept all legal costs in defending the city and to pay any settlement reached by the parties or any award from a trial. As the insurer is burdened with the high costs of attorney fees and paying the bulk of any settlement or judgment, they understandably require having exclusive control over any litigation. This approach is standard for the insurance industry.

In fact, the city’s attempt to interfere in the settlement demonstrates why the insurer requires sole control over the litigation.

As documented in the video clip below, Kim cited the fact that the city had prevailed in the original suit and in the appeal of the suit (Kim inaccurately referred to the latter as arbitration) as evidence that the settlement was unnecessary, ignoring, as stated earlier, that the two key witnesses against Wales are now deceased. I will leave the readers to consider how Mayor Kim thinks he is qualified to weigh in on this case.

The contract between Travelers and the city requires the insurer to pay the full cost of settlements and judgments. In turn, the city must expeditiously pay its deductible to the insurer.

The contract between Travelers Insurance and the city reads:

“If we [Travelers] settle a claim or “suit” for damages, or pay a judgement for damages awarded in a “suit,” that are subject to a deductible, we may pay any part or all of the deductible amount. You [the city] will promptly reimburse us for such part of the deductible amount as we have paid.”

Insurance Contract Signed By City

“If you do not reimburse us [Travelers] for a deductible amount and we are awarded the deductible amount we sought, or any part of that amount in any legal proceeding against you, you agree to pay us the amount of the award and the following:

a. Our deductible recovery expenses; and

b. Interest, from the date of the notice of payment to you on the deductible awarded to us.”

Insurance Contract Signed By City

The Consent Agenda

At the August 2 meeting, much was made of the fact that the authorization for payment of the deductible was included in the city’s “consent agenda.” This was a sure sign for Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi that some nefarious plot was underway to sneak the insurance deductible payment through without their knowledge.

(Among the errors in Kim’s remark was his reference to an “arbitrator” when it was the New York State Court of Appeals)

So what is the consent agenda?

Saginaw Valley State University has published a very helpful white paper explaining consent agendas. This is an excerpt from the paper.

The consent agenda is a tool used to streamline meeting procedures by collecting routine, non-controversial items into a group whereby all are passed with a single motion and vote. This method has grown in popularity in recent years and there are many variations on the theme to meet specific needs.

SVSU

The city has adopted no formal rules of its own as to what items should go on a consent agenda. Instead, the city relies on the vaguely defined definition in Roberts Rules of Order.

The city packages the vast bulk of its outstanding bills each month into its consent agenda, allowing the Council to authorize payments in one resolution. The August consent agenda ran some eighty-two pages listing all the bills to be paid. If the Council had to approve each payment separately, it would take a great deal of unnecessary time. As discussed in the white paper linked above, efficiency is the driving force.

To be included on the consent agenda, the invoices to be paid must reference the line item in the city budget from which the funds for the bill will be drawn. In addition, every bill must have adhered to the city’s procurement requirements.

There is extensive evidence that the city has routinely included the payment of insurance deductibles on the consent agenda. A cursory search showed that the payment of insurance deductibles was authorized through the consent agenda at Council meetings on October 1, 2015, December 4, 2017, and July 7, 2020.

They have been included in the consent agenda because, up until the August 2 meeting, previous administrations have seen nothing controversial regarding the city’s obligation to pay these deductibles.

1. The city had properly executed contracts with the insurer for the service (litigation liabilities).

2. The insurer had fulfilled its duty to represent the city in litigation.

3. The insurer had documented the total cost of the settlements to the city and appropriately invoiced the city for their share (the deductible).

With a saner Council, paying the deductible would not be controversial. The city has a signed agreement that requires it to pay the deductible. End of story. Previous Councils understood that their contract with Travelers required payment, so there was no point in making it a special, separate agenda item. There was nothing really to discuss. The city had to pay the bill.

Montagnino Is Wrong About the Consent Agenda

The consent agenda is not just for minor expenses, as Montagnino and Kim claim in these video excerpts from the Council meeting. It is not just for “mops and buckets.” As noted earlier in this post, it is for all expenses that have been properly funded by the Council and have met the procurement requirements.

At one point in the video, Commissioner Sanghvi asks why she had to put an item for $20 on her department’s agenda rather than include it in the consent agenda. Her question demonstrated her basic misunderstanding of the consent agenda. The purchase of the item she referenced had violated the city’s procurement policies and so could not be included in the consent agenda. The Council was required to act on it separately.

Having been in office for seven months, the fact that neither Montagnino nor Sanghvi nor Kim (who previously served two terms on the Council) understand how the items that go on the consent agenda are selected, is quite a sad and troubling admission.

Similarly, Montagnino’s assertion that only minor items are supposed to go on the consent agenda is demonstrably false.

Consider that the city’s payroll of over one million dollars is on the consent agenda. A payment request for $702,165.28 to Amsure for insurance is on that consent agenda.

Or consider these two pages from the warrants for the consent agenda.

This highlighted service contract is not a minor expense at $15,771.00. It is for a service that was properly contracted for and apparently delivered similar to the legal insurance deductible.

This payment of $489,517.94 was apparently for a capital project that had been properly contracted for by the Council and carried out consistent with the agreement. Again, basically the same as the insurance deductible.

No one would characterize these expenses as minor purchases.

Montagnino’s self-righteous rant is so clearly false that it is rather stunning and embarrassing. I guess he thought that no one else would actually look at the documents he was talking about.

The Consent Agenda and Due Diligence: Montagnino Complains about What, in Fact, He Is Responsible for Doing

In a bizarre twist to this story, Commissioner Montagnino bitterly and unashamedly complained that because of an alleged conspiracy to use the consent agenda to hide an allegedly inappropriate bill, he would now be burdened by having to scrutinize all the items in the consent agenda in the future. In effect, he admitted he had been failing in his fiduciary responsibility for the previous seven months. (see video).

Commissioner Montagnino appears unaware that he or his Deputy is supposed to review the consent agenda before it comes before the Council for a vote and not just blindly approve it.

The fact that the consent agenda combines most of the city’s outstanding bills does not relieve the City Council members from reviewing the items on the consent agenda. After all, Council members must go on record with their vote approving the payment of the bills. I spoke to past members of the Council and their deputies regarding these obligations. In each case, I was told that either the elected official or the commissioner’s deputy always reviewed the consent agenda before it came up for a vote. “It goes with the job.,” one told me.

Montagnino Goes Operatic

Notwithstanding Montagnino’s boast about how, using his skills as an attorney, like Sherlock, he had discovered the settlement at issue, there is a trail of emails that show he was advised about the settlement weeks before his alleged sleuthing. On May 20, 2022, Mayor Kim sent out an email that included a thread of exchanges that the case was to be settled for $100,000.00. As documented earlier in this post, Kim acknowledged receiving an email from attorney John Aspland advising him of the settlement.

Additionally, in May, Marilyn Rivers had advised City Attorney Anthony Izzo of the impending settlement suggesting he contact John Aspland.

In that context, Montagnino’s claims indicate that he either did not bother to read his emails or he cynically made his accusations knowing they were unfounded.

It is also worth noting that the City Attorney could have stepped in during this controversy and admitted that he knew about the settlement.

The City Council Goes on a Witch Hunt: Montagnino as the Grand Inquisitor

Having convinced themselves falsely that a grand conspiracy was afoot to cheat the city out of $25,000, Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi turned to the question of who was responsible for this supposedly nefarious act that the three “uncovered.” Montagnino leads the charge:

So Who Put the Deductible Payment in the Consent Agenda?

This is a particularly grim example of the disingenuous nature of this witch hunt. Everyone at that table knew that Marilyn Rivers, as Director of the office of Risk and Safety, had put it on the agenda. There was no secret.

This video clip exposes that everybody at the Council table knew this.

A Cruel and Gratuitous Attack on a City Employee

Marilyn Rivers was hired as the first Director of the Office of Risk and Safety Management on April 4, 2003.

During her nineteen years of service, Ms. Rivers established a national reputation as one of the leading voices on municipal risk and safety issues. She has been selected numerous times as a featured speaker at conferences here in New York and nationally and has received numerous awards in recognition of her expertise.

Many of the programs she has initiated here in Saratoga Springs have been adopted by other municipalities in New York as “best practice.”

In speaking to former Mayor Meg Kelly, and former Commissioners Michele Madigan, and Chris Mathiesen, all were unanimous in their praise for her, and all agreed that over her tenure, the city has saved millions of dollars due to her work. Ms. Rivers deserves some of the credit for the high credit ratings the city has received.

As the Risk and Safety Management Director, Ms. Rivers oversaw the Travelers contract. The contract required that Travelers be paid expeditiously upon settlement, and she processed this deductible payment for the Wales settlement as she had processed others over the years.

The public attacks on Ms. Rivers, who is due to retire next April, have been cruel and unconscionable. I have heard from a number of sources that Ms. Rivers has been devastated by the false allegations made against her. On August 9, 2022, I learned that Ms. Rivers went out on medical leave. Kim, Sanghvi, and Montagnino seem oblivious or indifferent to the harm they have done to Ms. Rivers and to the effect their behavior has had on the morale of the city’s employees.

This Was All Unnecessary

The hysteria generated by Kim, Sanghvi, and Montagnino is unmerited. There had been previous discussions on this litigation in June, so everyone knew about it. The insurance carrier was authorized by a signed contract to have full authority over the litigation. The city was legally obligated to pay a deductible should the case be resolved by a cash settlement with the claimant. Travelers paid the $100,000.00 settlement and sent the bill for the $25,000.00 deductible that the city is required to pay expeditiously. End of story.

The idea that Marilyn Rivers or anyone else tried to hide anything is both unfounded and grossly unfair. Kim, Montagnino, and Sanghvi owe Ms. Rivers an apology.

Panhandling Proposals: Politicians Pretending to Do Something

The most recent public discussions about panhandling remind me of the great sage Yogi Berra’s reference to “deja vu all over again.” We’ve done this before.

Commissioner Montagnino’s New and Apparently Useless Penal Code Proposal to Stop Panhandling Gets Rejected by Council

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, to great fanfare, announced his proposed new City Ordinance Chapter 55 titled Aggressive Solicitation to the City code.

This is a prime example of a politician responding to an intransigent problem with the illusion of a solution.

As stated by Commissioner Montagnino, this code enforcement language was taken from one adopted by the City of Rochester. He told the media that the language of the code had withstood numerous court challenges.

He conveniently passed over the history of Rochester’s code, however. It was adopted in 2004 and included special fines, but Betty McBride, a clerk in the office of the Rochester Chief of Police, told Saratoga Today:

It’s a city code, but they don’t give tickets. They choose not to. What we do is we try to help out; offer resources to get shelter, get clothing and food.

Betty McBride

So if they do not actually use the code to give tickets to enforce limits on panhandling, it doesn’t sound like Rochester’s code has any record of impacting panhandling.

At the July 2, 2022, Council meeting, Commissioner Montagnino presented his proposed code. At the public hearing, speakers spoke for and against the proposal. Most of those speaking against the proposal focused on the vagueness of the term “aggressive” and expressed concern over criminalizing the homeless and the lack of affordable housing.

When the proposal came up on the agenda, there was a rambling discussion among Council members over whether to table the proposal, fund a study, or put a sunset clause on the code. Usually, Council members in the past who wanted support for an initiative would have one on one conversations with their fellow Council members to explain their proposal, listen to and try to address any concerns before taking it for a vote at the Council table. This is a useful strategy that can result in a better proposal coming to the table that will have majority support or maybe the dropping of a proposal because these discussions made clear that it wouldn’t have the votes to pass. Listening to Council members ask the most basic questions about this legislation made me wonder if Montagnino had bothered to do this.

The most thoughtful comment came from Public of WorksCommissioner Jason Golub:

The resolution failed with Montagnino and Mayor Kim voting yes and Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, Public Works Commissioner Golub, and Accounts Commissioner Moran voting no.

Mayor Kim and Chamber of Commerce Executive Todd Shimkus Repackage a Failed Policy

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus and Mayor Kim drew extensive media coverage for a plan to hand homeless panhandlers a card rather than money. The card lists the services available to homeless people.

I ran the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (now re-branded as LifeWorks) for sixteen years and had plenty of interactions with homeless people over that time. Many homeless people often suffer from mental, alcohol, and drug problems. Still, it is the rare homeless person who has not learned through their network about what community services are available.

This card policy is especially aggravating because this same program, carried out during the Joanne Yepsen administration, was a resounding failure, and Mr. Shimkus knows this.

I have talked to one of the downtown business owners who told me that, as far as they know, no businesses are using the cards. When you think about it, how are they supposed to use these cards? Are they supposed to give a stack to each customer?

I advise anyone that handing one of these cards to an unknown panhandler is not a good idea. Giving them one of these cards rather than money invites a potentially very unpleasant interaction.

How About Deploying a Police Officer on Foot to Patrol the Downtown?

Unless a police officer observes a crime, it is difficult to successfully ticket anyone. As Commissioner Montagnino conceded during the August 2, 2022, meeting, an accusation is hard to prove without supporting evidence such as witnesses or video.

One owner of a downtown business told me there was a time when the city assigned a police officer on foot to patrol downtown. They noted that while it wasn’t a panacea, it did act to lessen the general aggressiveness of panhandlers. If Commissioner Montagnino really wants to do something, he should find a way to deploy officers on the street again.

An Emergency City Council Meeting Tomorrow Morning About What? What’s the Emergency??

A notice was posted tonight for a special City Council meeting to take place tomorrow, Saturday, August 6, 2022, at 10 AM (see below). There is no indication of what is on the agenda.

Although the New York State Open Meetings Law requires the public be notified at least seventy-two hours before a regularly scheduled meeting, this specially called meeting apparently does not have to meet this requirement nor is an agenda required to be posted.

Nevertheless, as far as I know, it is unprecedented for the City Council to set a meeting without notifying the public of what business will be transacted.

Setting meetings without advising the public of what the Council plans to do is bad practice. As noted in many posts, the current members of the Council consistently fail to meet the transparency standards they continually claim to embrace.

Commissioner Montagnino’s Dubious “Agreement” with Gaffney’s

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Gaffney’s Bar back on May 25, 2022, stipulating conditions under which the establishment could re-open. The New York State Liquor Authority characterize the agreement as “not worth the paper it was written on.”

I FOILed for the document, and it is quite revealing. Not only has Montagnino assumed authority to negotiate a settlement with Gaffney’s that only the New York Stae Liquor Authority is authorized to do, but it seems he has also wrongly assumed the Mayor’s authority to sign agreements, even invalid ones, on behalf of the city.

According to the city charter, as I read it, the Mayor is the city official authorized to sign formal agreements. Also, agreements are supposed to be adopted by resolution of the full City Council.

Now note how the document is signed: “Acknowledged on Behalf of the City of Saratoga Springs

Is this Commissioner Montagnino playing lawyer by diddling with the wording? Read carefully. He is only “acknowledging” promises made by Gaffney’s. He knows that an actual real agreement with Gaffney’s (if the city could even do this) would require that the City Council adopt a resolution affirming the action. Why he did it this way is anyone’s guess.

I wrote to Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim, asking whether a document such as this could be signed by anyone other than the Mayor and whether it required Council approval. Neither of them responded.

The Document

Chris Mathiesen Pushes Back on Montagnino’s Latest Email

[JK: I recently published the email former Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen sent to the City Council regarding his concerns about the staffing level in the Saratoga Springs Police Department. I subsequently published the exchange between Chris and current Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino. Now Chris has further reviewed the statements made by the PBA at the July 5 City Council meeting and has sent the following email to Montagnino. Here are links to the original exchanges: Chris’s original email and the subsequent exchange]

Chris’s Email

Commissioner Montagnino,

After you responded to my e mail which included my concerns about the PBA presentation describing a serious staffing shortage in our police department, I began to question whether I had heard the points being made by the PBA correctly.  While I thought that I heard the PBA representative stating that there were 20 vacancies in the department, you assured me that this was not the case.

I just finished viewing the LOOK TV replay of the July 5 Council meeting.  It is much easier to decipher what was being said when viewing the recording.  The PBA representative did indeed emphasize more than once that they are facing a busy summer season with 20 vacancies in the department.  The officer went on to say that the situation is so serious that investigators may have to be re-assigned to patrol duties, thus significantly impacting that division.  It sure sounds like a public safety emergency to me.   I would continue to suggest an emergency declaration until further notice to close bars a little earlier so that some of the pressure being placed on our officers can be eased.

You mentioned the recent NYS SLA restrictions imposed on Gaffneys and you seem to infer that this will quell the nightclub district problems.  Those problems are much deeper than you seem to realize.  Having a strong police presence on Caroline Street every warm-weather weekend is vital to keeping a semblance of peace.

I was thrilled to see that the SSPD actually has funding for 80 positions.   We were never able to have more than 72 positions in our budget during my three terms.  .  Kudos to Commissioner Martin and Commissioner Dalton for achieving those much-needed increases in staffing.  But 80 minus 20 equals 60 active members which is not a very desirable position to be in for July and August .   It would work fine in January.

It is important that our citizens feel that they can trust those of you in City government. If the PBA was wrong in their count of active members of the police department in their appeal to the Council for a number of labor concessions, you should have pointed that out publicly in your response to their presentation. If the PBA is right, we do have a serious public safety emergency.

Chris Mathiesen

The Cost of Mayor Kim’s Frivolous Legal Actions Keeps Growing

As documented in this blog here and here, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim has been spending city money pursuing pointless legal actions in a city code enforcement case involving Church Street Trust.

My FOIL requests regarding the costs of this litigation show that the law firm of Miller, Mannix, Schachner, and Hafner LLC is continuing to bill the city for work on this case. As of July 7, 2022, the city has paid them $6,575.00 and neither of the legal actions they are pursuing are over yet.

I have written to Mayor Kim and appeared at a Council meeting asking him if he can explain the purpose of these legal actions. He has not responded nor have any of his fellow Council members shown any interest in pursuing an answer from him.

The Mayor’s dogged pursuit of this case at the public expense deserves a public answer.

The Invoices