SARATOGA SPRINGS — At the onset of his tenure as mayor, Ron Kim appears to be in no rush to hire a city attorney, considering both he and his deputy, Angela Rella, are lawyers.
In an interview prior to Saturday’s scheduled swearing-in ceremony at the City Center — which is only available to the general public through virtual means because of concerns about COVID-19 — Kim said he’s considering reorganizing the city attorney’s role.
“We’ll look at it a little bit differently, both in a substantive way and, for lack of a better term, a systemic way,” said Kim, a longtime consumer protection attorney.
“In other words, substantively, we don’t need to go to an attorney all the time to ask them questions, because we know some of this [municipal law]. So there’s a lesser need to have a city attorney looking over our shoulder. I’m not saying we don’t have to have a city attorney. But I’m saying, maybe, we’re looking at a part-time position. I haven’t made that conclusion.”
Kim is not reappointing Vincent DeLeonardis nor Tony Izzo as city attorneys because he said he wants to reorganize the office. DeLeonardis was hired in October 2014, following the resignation of former city attorney Sarah Burger, and in 2018, he was elevated from part-time to full-time city attorney. Izzo has served the past 35 years.
Kim, who served as the city’s commissioner of Public Safety from 2006 to 2010, defeated two opponents in November to become the first Asian American mayor of a city in New York state.
Kim confirmed he is interested in appointing local bankruptcy attorney Elizabeth Fletcher-Fairbanks as the potential part-time city attorney, but that hiring doesn’t appear to be imminent.
“Just to be clear, I am not appointing a city attorney at this point,” Kim said, referencing what he suggested were lessons learned from the administration that has just left office.
“We are going to look at this whole office and then make a decision,” Kim said. “Because once we really started looking at sort of what was going on, we were like: Wow, wait a minute. We’ve got a full-time city attorney, but we’re not really saving on outside counsel, as far as I can tell. That’s why we’re now looking at it, to see what makes sense.”
Kim has already made one decision that reverses course from that of the departing administration. He said he will release a records request made by Barbara Lombardo, the former executive editor of the Saratogian and Troy Record, who has sought copies of police excessive use-of-force complaints.
The city, on the advice of Glens Falls attorney John Aspland, resisted fulfilling her request under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the Times Union, the city says it has a right to deny the requests for complaints against an officer if an internal investigation shows the complaint to be unfounded.
Kim said of his decision to release those records: “I’m not going to make an argument that is going to get shut down by a judge six months from now and $20,000 later in legal fees, that I know can’t be sustained.”
Rella, who made an unsuccessful bid for city commissioner of accounts in November, and Kim will take a hard look at the city’s legal services and weigh how the city would use attorneys and how much it spends on counsel, according to Kim.
“It’s also outside firms,” Kim said.
Kim said he asked for but was told by the city’s human resources department that neither of the city attorney positions had job descriptions.
“That in itself is a problem in the sense of that would seem to be a pretty basic thing,” Kim said.
Fletcher-Fairbanks, the lawyer Kim is considering, does not live in the city. She ran unsuccessfully for Greenfield Town Justice in 2017.
Kim said DeLeonardis advised him that the city attorney had to live in Saratoga Springs, to which Kim obviously disagrees.
“We did the research,” Kim said, including confirmation from the New York Conference of Mayors.
“We’re not talking about district attorneys,” Kim said. “We’re not talking about the assistant district attorney. We’re talking about city attorneys, who are not a public officer. So here’s my final conclusion about it: Why would I hire somebody who gave me that advice?”
But Scott Johnson, a former mayor with a background as a trial lawyer, said he believes a city of Saratoga Springs’ magnitude, and the issues it faces, is in need of a full-time city attorney.
“It’s also cost-effective,” said Johnson when asked about it this week. “Because if you need to retain outside legal counsel on a variety of issues, because you don’t have in-house counsel, you’re paying more. It’s just more expensive by the hour.
“The entire council has access to the city attorney,” Johnson said. “And believe me, I know from experience, there’s more than enough city issues to keep the city attorney busy.”
Johnson, however, agreed that having a lawyer as mayor yields the advantage of being able to “go through the issues with the city attorney on a more efficient basis.”
Kim, along with the three winners of city commissioner seats and a county supervisor, is to be sworn in at noon Saturday. The proceedings can be viewed at https://saratoga-springs.org/221/City-Council-Meeting.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.