SARATOGA SPRINGS – A woman expressed disappointment in the four new Democrats on the City Council whom she said violated state law and the city charter during a meeting two weeks ago.
Jane Weihe, who described herself as the former chairwoman of city and county Democrats, and a former member of the New York State Democratic Committee, told the council she was “dismayed” to watch Mayor Ron Kim, and Commissioners Dillon Moran, James Montagnino and Minita Sanghvi commit the violations.
Weihe said the state Open Meeting Law requires government bodies tell the public specifically what issue they will discuss when they enter executive session to address city business in private.
“This was not done at the last meeting,” she said. “Instead, Mayor Kim merely read a laundry list of all the possible reasons a public body could go into executive session without indicating — as he should have — what subject the council would be addressing that evening.”
In addition, the four council members approved a resolution for Kim to delay his state of the city message, until possibly March 19, citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
City rules dictate that Kim submit — in writing — to the council and public a state of the city message on or before the first regularly scheduled council meeting in February.
The speaker said the charter cannot be changed by a simple council vote.
She said it was too late to remedy the OML violation, but added Kim could “still avoid the embarrassment of violating the city charter in his first 30 days in office” by producing his written state of the city address Tuesday.
None of the council members addressed Weihe’s concerns.
LAWSUIT TO BE SETTLED
In other business, the council emerged from an executive session to authorize Kim to execute a settlement agreement of a lawsuit against the city by Barbara Lombardo, former executive director of the Saratogian and Troy Record.
Prior to taking office on Jan. 1, Kim vowed to release police records involving excessive use of force complaints to Lombardo.
The release of police records to the public was a result of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s repeal of a state Civil Rights Law that had prevented public access to police disciplinary files.
The repeal occurred after the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
The council voted in favor of the move without discussion.
‘IN THE THOUSANDS’
On another matter, the council approved a contract of up to $29,999 with GAR Associates of Clifton Park to resolve a backlog of properties that need to be added to the assessment rolls.
Moran, the commissioner of accounts, said one of the most important elements of his office is the maintenance of assessment rolls.
“I became aware of the fact that there was a significantly large backlog of properties that needed to be added to the assessment roll,” he said. “This may total in the thousands, certainly over 1,000 of these are properties that were newly-constructed properties that have been substantially changed, as well as just general building permits that don’t add to the value.”
Moran said it was a matter of fairness to make sure that everyone is taxed equitably as it relates to city assessments.
“The backlog would not exist had it not been for a lack of resources, and so this is essentially an acknowledgment that the accounts department and specifically the processing of assessment records has just not been able to keep pace with the volume of growth that has happened in Saratoga Springs over the last decade,” he said.
Moran also set a public hearing for Feb. 15 to extend outdoor dining until Nov. 1, 2024. The extension is to help the restaurant industry with adverse affects of the pandemic.
SUMMONS VERSUS ARREST WARRANT
In a police matter, Montagnino, the public safety commissioner, said he was enacting a policy that appeared to address concerns about how Black Lives Matter activists were issued warrant arrests on minor charges six weeks after a July protest.
Montagnino said, effective immediately, the appearance of a defendant charged solely with one or more petty offenses is to be “sought by way of a summons in lieu of an arrest warrant, unless special circumstances exist.”
The special circumstances will include situations in which the service of a summons upon the defendant may reasonably result in a risk of harm to a victim, witness or other person, the commissioner said.
OTHERS RAISE THEIR VOICES
During an earlier portion of the meeting, tempers flared when a man who identified himself as “Bubbles Downrange MC here in Saratoga Springs” spoke during the public input portion of the meeting while not wearing a mask. However, the speaker wasn’t ordered removed from the meeting.
The man criticized members of Black Lives Matter, stating that some of them didn’t reside in the city and had “no right to dictate what goes on in this city.”
“You’re not voters. You’re not taxpayers. You’re nothing,” the man asserted.
The mayor asked for voluntary compliance of mask-wearing during the meeting, and at one point asked the speaker to please put on a face covering.
Chandler Hickenbottom, a BLM member, asked rhetorically if the speaker and other maskless attendees hadn’t been ordered removed from the meeting because of their “white privilege.”
Supervisor Tara Gaston asked for an uniformed officer to remove the speaker, if he wasn’t going to follow public health guidance.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.