Saratoga Springs

Public safety commissioner-elect discusses goals, transition

Commissioner of Public Safety-elect Jim Montagnino gives his victory speech on Election Night at Saratoga Springs City Democratic Committee headquarters at Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs.
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Commissioner of Public Safety-elect Jim Montagnino gives his victory speech on Election Night at Saratoga Springs City Democratic Committee headquarters at Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Public safety Commissioner-elect James Montagnino said Wednesday he intends to release a draft report about the 2014 death of Darryl Mount Jr. by the time he is inaugurated in January.

Mount, a 21-year-old biracial man, died after a nine-month coma that followed a police chase that ended in a construction zone. Police said they chased Mount after witnessing him slam a woman’s head into a brick wall in downtown Saratoga Springs. 

They said he was injured in a fall from scaffolding. 

Mount’s family, which has pursued civil litigation against the city, and community activists dispute the police’s version, alleging authorities beat him to his death.

Montagnino, who ran on the Democratic line, and is a retired, 65-year-old attorney, said his report concerning the Mount case will be based upon the voluminous material, some 2,000 pages, that’s already in the public domain.

A former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney who worked for the state court system as principal attorney and referee for 26 years, Montagnino defeated Tracey LaBelle, a clinical device specialist in the health care industry who ran on the Republican line, in Tuesday’s election.

In an interview Wednesday, Montagnino cited a local Black Lives Matter leader for motivating him to review the Mount case.

“Lexis Figuereo, the head of the Saratoga chapter of Black Lives Matter, has publicly stated on at least one occasion that if it weren’t for Darryl Mount, he wouldn’t be here,” with ongoing protests, Montagnino said.

“And there’s been nothing but an escalation of tension between the social justice protesters and the authorities in the city over the last two years,” Montagnino continued. “It really stems from the fact that  it’s eight years since the incident that led to Darryl Mount’s ultimate death, and there’s never been an official investigation. There’s never been a report released by anybody, and the sense is that nobody’s listening. I want to change that.”

Montagnino will succeed Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who did not seek reelection and made an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

Dalton said Wednesday she will help with Montagnino’s transition. She said she hopes Montagnino reaches out to her soon.

Dalton said she wasn’t afforded the same courtesy when she won the seat in 2019 upon the retirement of Peter Martin. Dalton said she wasn’t allowed into the office after she won.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the city or the people in the department,” Dalton said. “So my door is open and I hope he’s able to reach out and connect with me and sit down with the chiefs and unions so he can really understand the department and have a sense of what’s what before he takes over in January.”

The bitter feuding that existed between Dalton and departing mayor Meg Kelly, who also didn’t seek re-election, isn’t likely to be replicated when Montagnino and Mayor-elect Ron Kim assume their new roles. 

Montagnino said he’s been friends with Kim for at least 13 years, when Kim helped Montagnino with an unsuccessful bid for city judge in 2008.

“I think Ron is a wonderful human being, putting all the politics aside,” Montagnino said. “Just as an individual, the guy is aces. So personally, we get along extremely well and I can’t imagine that that wouldn’t continue into office.”

Montagnino said he will approach the $14,500 a year commissioner post as a full-time job, but noted that “if you do the arithmetic on a 40-hour workweek, with two week’s vacation, that comes out to $7.50 an hour.”

“Full time, though, is the only way to approach the position because, with the commission form of government, it’s a seat on the City Council, plus the commissioner’s responsibility over the Police Department, the Fire Department, traffic, parking, code enforcement and animal control. It involves the budgeting and the equipment maintenance and the building maintenance for all those facilities. It’s an enormous pile of responsibilities, so it can’t be done part-time.”

Soon to be a grandfather for the first time, Montagnino thanked his wife of 35 years, Nancy, for her support during the campaign. He also thanked his 28-year-old daughter, Alexandra, for serving, in essence, as his campaign manager and handling his social media.

Montagnino also mentioned that the race never devolved into mudslinging with LaBelle, the daughter of Judge Lawrence J. LaBelle, who served as a Saratoga City Court Judge.

“Tracey never stooped to that, and I appreciate that very much,” he said.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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