SARATOGA SPRINGS – Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino pleased one set of constituents on a pedestrian safety concern, but disappointed another on a race-related matter during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Regarding the former, Montagnino’s motion to prohibit motorists on Caroline Street from Benton Drive and Schuyler Drive during pickup and dismissal times at Caroline Street Elementary School was approved in a 4-0 vote.
Montagnino could have acted unilaterally, but asked for the council’s support given the magnitude of the action on that busy street.
Montagnino made the motion “based on the strong feelings of the community.” The change will be in effect until further notice.
Caroline Street Elementary School is on a narrow road that can’t handle its volume of cars at dismissal time, forcing pedestrians to walk in the road or “on a snowbank,” said Mary Mulquist, one of a number of parents who complained to the council.
Making matter worse, police weren’t present at dismissal Monday or Tuesday, according to Mulquist, who’s among a group of parents of walkers.
Another parent, Olivia O’Malley, said she’s been asking for a solution for months and sent more than 20 emails and made multiple phone calls to the city and was attending her third council meeting on the matter. She expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s response so far to place 16 empty metal poles along Caroline Street that will eventually have signs to restrict parking and idling in vehicles.
O’Malley also asserted that two city officials tried to “shame” working parents such as herself for not volunteering to serve as crossing guards. The parent didn’t say who the city officials were.
She also suggested temporarily reassigning one of the three crossing guards at Lake Ave Elementary School. Caroline Street has no crossing guards.
Parent Susan Horst said the absence of sidewalks, a walking zone, road shoulders and signs to reduce speed on both sides of the narrow street where there are snow banks and construction combine to endanger walkers.
“I personally have had to jump in front of cars to prevent a tragedy, and I’ve witnessed many close calls,” she said. “When my son was in kindergarten I ran ahead to push a child up and onto a snowbank a second or two before an SUV parked on Caroline Street would have otherwise backed over her.
“This is not drama,” Horst said. “This is not theatrics. This is real. Everyday twice a day our most vulnerable population of children walk to and from school in harm’s way.”
Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran said he spoke to O’Malley about the notion of extra signage that could be put up to slow down motorists. A letter or email from the superintendent of schools to acknowledge the problem would also help, the commissioner said.
Moran then asked Montagnino if there was a temporary action he could take, leading to his temporary measure to prohibit traffic.
But in another matter, city resident Matthew Marshall chastised Montagnino for his previous remarks associating gangster rap with drawing “unsavory characters” to the community. Montagnino made the statement in a Daily Gazette story about violent incidents at Gaffney’s bar and restaurant on Caroline Street.
“If Saratoga is truly an inclusive place, calling a culture ‘unsavory’ is probably only evidence one needs to point to what Saratoga Black Lives Matter has been pointing out to you for over two years,” said Marshall, who asked for Montagnino to apologize “not only to people of color, but the deejays who play hip hop.”
Montagnino did just that, saying his remarks were a mistake.
“I’m 66 years old and I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m mature enough to know when I made a mistake, and this is certainly one of those times,” he said. “I apologize if I insulted anyone or offended anyone. That was not my intent.”
But when Montagnino mentioned that he listens to hip hop artists such as Eminem, and had taken his wife to a Lil Wayne concert at SPAC, a member of the audience said he wasn’t making things better for himself.
Said Montagnino: “In my mind, at the time I said those things, I was not thinking in racial terms. I was thinking, for example, that you know, there’s a lyric in one of Eminem’s songs that goes, ‘If you don’t have a weapon, just pick up a rock.’ “
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.