SARATOGA SPRINGS – A divided City Council voted 3-2 against a measure that would have pressured bars to close at 2 a.m. Tuesday night after receiving input from dozens of downtown stakeholders about the controversial issue.
Bar owners and managers made it clear during a lengthy public hearing that they’re not on the same page with the city leaders who’ve said they hope to address late-night violence with tighter scrutiny of bar operations and an earlier last call.
Instead, owners and managers said, they hope to form a Caroline Street safety committee to offer solutions to longstanding concerns that were renewed after the latest late-night shooting on Nov. 20 on Broadway.
That was evident during Tuesday’s forum in which a number of nightlife stakeholders pushed back on proposed rules that would allow City Hall to revoke permits from bars if they’re linked to criminal activity.
“If I ever need anything, everybody is there for us, we all talk to each other and we’re all here to talk to you guys,” said Jenna Mitchell, a general manager at Saratoga City Tavern on Caroline Street. “And I think you guys should open your ears and listen to us because we’re the ones that are down there.”
That violent situation “has caused our businesses to be targeted and penalized for a situation that we could have not possibly foreseen for any establishment here,” Sara Elacqua, general manager at Spa City Tap & Barrel, said at the hearing.
The proposed local ordinance would have allowed City Hall to strip any bar of service authorization if any patron committed a criminal offense beyond 2 a.m. within an hour of leaving the establishment. It also would have penalized establishments if any patron was found with a weapon or inflicted harm on-site after such an hour.
Video – The vote:
@dgazette Divided Saratoga Springs council rejects earlier bar-closing time measure – More at DailyGazette.com Video from our Stan HudyDaily Gazette
Lucy’s Bar co-owner Kelsey Whalen said during the meeting that any action pushing the establishment toward a 2 a.m. closing time would be financially detrimental for business.
“Nothing is perfect,” said Mayor Ron Kim before the final vote hours after the protracted public hearing. “But if we don’t take action, our community will hold us responsible.”
A number of residents vouched for a closing-time change at the meeting, as well as offered other potential solutions to curb violence on Caroline Street, including a ban on obscene music and bringing on food trucks to curb intoxication.
Finance Commissioner Minita Sanjavi believes that allowing bars to stay open would politicize the issue and would rather perform a security audit of Caroline Street. Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, who voted nay, maintained that he’s received more emails against the measure than otherwise.
“I think it’s premature,” said Golub. “And I think it could ultimately do more harm than good.”
Kim has put violence-prevention measures, such as shifting last call from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. and potential wanding of bar patrons, front and center since the Broadway incident two weeks ago. The City Council has four times unsuccessfully asked the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to request the state Liquor Authority for an earlier bar closing time, a requirement under state law since 1995.
And Saratoga County is unlikely to take up the measure this time also, Democratic city Supervisor Tara Gaston told the City Council.
Kim previously told The Daily Gazette that city administration would consider “creative lawyering” in an effort to surpass the county’s longtime record of dodging past requests. He’s considered working with local state representatives toward legislation that would allow municipalities’ authority over the matter, as well as internal routes of the like to control bar hours.
“The problem is that it’s very unlikely we’re going to get Albany to essentially listen to us because there’s a lot more interest [from larger cities], but we are the largest city in this county,” Kim said. “Yes, we pay a ton of taxes that support the county and yet they’ve just punted on this issue.”
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran announced an effort Tuesday to start a coalition between bar owners, the department of public safety, the City Center Authority, members of the assessment district and the chamber of commerce. Moran hopes he, too, can be on the committee.
“We’re looking to work with everybody,” Moran said. “We appreciate, I certainly appreciate, the attitude that I see expressed by the community and I think we all want the same thing. I truly do. Nobody wants to be unsafe and so I thank you for your advocacy.”
Kim said that Moran, a co-owner of Druther’s, shouldn’t participate in the committee under city ethics guidelines.
“That’s crap,” Moran said in response to Kim, who explained that his ownership interest in the popular Broadway brew pub isn’t a conflict of interest because its hours are earlier than most Caroline Street establishments.
Bailey’s Saratoga co-owner Sam Bottini believes that the cooperative measure is vital. He hopes that law enforcement will be involved and included in two annual workshops.
Bottini appeared to favor the already occurring staggered-closing times for bars as the best safety measure, as opposed to a blanket 2 a.m. closing time. Now, closing times range from 10 p.m. up to 4 a.m.
“Even before then and still today, many bars choose to stagger their closing times allowing patrons to safely find their way home,” said Bottini. “This allows cabs, security and police officers to manage the crowd versus everyone flooding the street at once.”
TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, in a recent letter to City Attorney Tony Izzo, declined to withdraw a temporary restraining order preventing Saratoga Springs municipal employees from discussing the November incident in an official capacity — a legal maneuver pursued last month following what she deem to be a dangerous outpouring of “unilateral, speculative, and inaccurate” statements by Kim and Public Saftey Commissioner James Montagnino pertaining to the probe.
Heggen said she is open to “potentially modifying” the order should city officials meet with the district attorney. The Saratoga Springs City Council agreed to her terms.
“While I am hopeful that we can reach a mutually satisfactory accommodation, I am also troubled by the Public Safety Commissioner’s recent comments to the media indicating that he stands by his decision to release the evidentiary material and sensitive details of the shooting to the media,” Heggen said.
Montagnino late last month initially put forward a resolution to censure Karen Heggen over the decision — a move tabled and eventually reconsidered last week in an effort to draw an olive branch with the district attorney.
Heggen warned Kim and Montagnino against weighing in on the Broadway incident about 30 minutes before the two released footage and expressed remarks on the like during a press conference the day of the shooting. Kim asserted that was trying to dispel rumors.
Sanjavi, Golub and Moran argued that, because of past tensions with the district attorney, a new voice or two should be at the table.
“I don’t think that we will get to where we want to without a different [tactic] or a different approach to the meeting and I feel it’s probably easier to achieve that with different people,” Golub said.
Kim maintained that he’s required by that city charter to participate in intergovernmental affairs. Montagnino insisted he can control his attitude in the prospective meeting.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.