SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim publicly called out Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran in a heated debate during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting over which department should have control of the city’s director of Risk and Safety.
Kim argues the position should be placed under the city attorney’s office to avoid situations like one in April in which the city attorney was not at a settlement meeting in an ongoing lawsuit against the city, while Moran and the city’s Risk and Safety Director Marilyn Rivers were present.
Moran argues that the director of Risk and Safety position belongs in the Accounts Department, where it currently sits and has sat since October 2002, because the bulk of the responsibilities have to do with insurance claims.
Ultimately, the entirely Democratic council took no action on the issue Tuesday after Kim withdrew his motion to give the city attorney’s office direction of the Risk and Safety position. Kim said he knew he did not have the votes to support the move.
“We open the city to substantial risk as shown by the example above, where a City Council member, with the director of Risk and Safety, attempted to resolve a legal matter without involving the city attorney’s office or a member of the City Council,” Kim said Tuesday.
Moran, who campaigned partly on his own professional experience in risk assessment, management and mitigation, said the function of the city’s Risk and Safety program is to mitigate risk and cut down on potential liabilities.
Say the city had an issue in which employees were continually getting into car accidents, Moran said when called by a reporter on Wednesday.
“You would want to have a process to eliminate that from happening again,” Moran said. “That’s a lot of what Risk and Safety is about. It’s analyzing what went wrong and putting improvements in place so that they don’t go wrong again.”
Moran said the city’s Risk and Safety program has helped the city retain a competitive insurance plan from Travelers for roughly $1 million annually – the same price Moran said the city paid for a poor insurance policy two decades ago, before the director of Risk and Safety position was established in its current form.
Kim said he also supports the Risk and Safety position, but he wants to ensure better synergy between the role and the city attorney’s office.
“I believe it is imperative that we better coordinate the activities of the city attorney and the director of Risk and Safety,” Kim said. “If we don’t, this case will continue to go forward without the involvement of the city attorney, and that is not tenable.”
The case Kim raised is an October 2019 lawsuit against the city filed in U.S. District Court by former city engineer Tim Wales. In the suit, Wales alleges his March 2019 termination was politically motivated, coming only after former Department of Public Works commissioner, the late-Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, found out that Wales supported Moran, now the commissioner of Accounts, in a 2019 race against Scirocco for the Department of Public Works commissioner seat. Scirocco, a Republican, won that election.
Kim called into question an April 1 settlement meeting that Moran attended after becoming a city commissioner. The city attorney, Tony Izzo, did not attend that meeting, while Rivers did, raising concerns for Kim that the city’s director of Risk and Safety is handling the city’s legal matters without consulting the city attorney.
Rivers and Moran said they informed Izzo about the meeting prior to its occurrence. Moran also pointed out that attorney John Aspland, who is the attorney on record for the matter, attended the meeting.
Ultimately, the lawsuit hasn’t been settled, according to the case’s docket, and there is another hearing in the case scheduled in July.
Rivers, who has served as the city’s Risk and Safety director since 2003, said her practice is and always has been to involve the City Council and city attorney in legal matters and litigation involving the city.
“The discussion has always existed,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Izzo was impartial on the matter of which office should oversee the Risk and Safety leader: “I’ll do what the council needs me to do,” he said Tuesday.
Commissioner of Public Works Jason Golub said he was open to the idea of moving the office’s jurisdiction, but he questioned the process. What if, for example, the council contained one Republican and four Democrats, Golub posited. Changing jurisdiction with such a vote could set a precedent for future council members in the majority party to grab control of city employees at will. He wanted an outside mediator to help members of the council come to an agreement.
“It’s not a process I’m comfortable with right now,” Golub said. “Someone who looks at all of the facts without all of the friction would be a better solution. I think it sets a really bad precedent to move entire functions to another department.”
Last month, Kim proposed a resolution that never made it to a vote that was meant to create guidelines ensuring that the city attorney handle all legal matters and litigation involving the city.
Moran said he’s hoping the council members can find a way to come to consensus.
“This is an issue that’s related to management and procedure inside City Hall. Commissioner Golub couldn’t have said it better,” Moran said. “This is something that we ought to be working out ourselves and does not belong at the table, because it has nothing to do with laws or resolutions.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.