SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wearing red t-shirts calling Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino a racist, Saratoga Black Lives Matter members criticized Montagnino during the City Council meeting Tuesday for his complaint against BLM member Chandler Hickenbottom.
“I want to thank Chandler Hickenbottom [who] like Black women before her put her body on the line to speak truth to power resulting in more robust rights for everyone else, in this case the expansion of First Amendment rights, even as she herself faces bogus charges,” said Diogenese Kaufman.
All of this comes just hours after BLM member Chandler Hickenbottom was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to a disorderly conduct violation in Saratoga Springs City Court in front of Judge Constantine DeStefano.
The complaint stems from a Feb. 7 meeting in which Hickenbottom refused to cede the microphone during the public comment period of a City Council meeting, leading to the adjournment of the meeting. The meeting then restarted but again was quickly adjourned after Hickenbottom and other BLM members argued with Montagnino in relation to the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
During Hickenbottom’s appearance in court Tuesday, DeStefano also denied a request by Montagnino for an order of protection that would have charged Hickenbottom with criminal contempt if she conducted any illegal conduct, including disrupting a City Council meeting again.
Hickenbottom’s attorney Mark Mishler said the complaint and subsequent requested order of protection violates Hickenbottom’s First Amendment right.
“We think the charge itself is completely meritless and infringement upon my client’s First Amendment protected rights and this request for an order of protection is further the same sort of effort to infringe upon, chill and violate Ms. Hickenbottom’s First Amendment protected rights.”
Following the proceedings Hickenbottom, standing on the steps of City Hall, called the situation ridiculous.
“Like I’ve said before they are literally just taking a play out of the book of the previous City Council and clearly they have not learned their lesson,” she said.
The state Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating alleged civil rights violations by the prior administration.
“The fact that here we are again, they’ve only been in office I think it’s been going on two years at this point and they’re already letting history repeat itself,” she said.
Hickenbottom said the order of protection would have taken away her opportunity to go to city meetings and voice her opinion on issues in the city.
“I am a part of this community,” she said. “I am a life-long community member. I was born and raised in Saratoga Springs and it is my right to come to these City Council meetings and ask the proper questions, questions that are not being asked by other people in this community. People that may be too afraid to ask those questions, that is my responsibility and at this point and time they’re taking away from what is my responsibility and I think that’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Montagnino said the decision regarding the order was at the judge’s discretion.
“I put it out there for the judge to consider, the judge considered it, the judge made the decision the judge made,” he said.
While the request for the order of protection was dismissed, nothing else moved forward on the matter as prosecutor Kayla Potter indicated the District Attorney’s Office is seeking a special prosecutor in the matter. She did not provide details as to why.
Over a dozen members of BLM were at the council meeting wearing red shirts that on the back said: “Jim Montagnino your racism is showing #thepeoplesmeeting.”
The group is currently selling t-shirts with the same statement for $25 to help pay attorney fees.
Montagnino said he’s baffled by the statement on the shirts.
“It didn’t matter to me who shut down the City Council meeting in terms of their race, ethnic origin, background, it’s completely irrelevant,” he said. “If [it were] a group of people wearing MAGA hats that shut down the City Council meeting I would have reacted exactly the same way. The point is it wasn’t a momentary or slight disruption in the proceedings, the meeting ended without the city’s business having been done.”
Mayor Ron Kim called the entire matter excessive.
“It’s not necessary,” Kim said about the complaint and requested an order of protection. “It’s a public meeting. Speech is not only speech that we may support, it’s also speech that we don’t maybe want to hear … and we ought to allow people that time.”
Hickenbottom said she just wants the City Council to listen to what she and others are saying.
“I just want to see some actual change,” Hickenbottom said after court. “We shouldn’t have to be continuously out here in the streets screaming for change.”
Chandler did not attend the City Council meeting.
Saratoga BLM founder Lexis Figuereo said the group is all for the First Amendment whether it’s them or anyone else.
He questioned why Montagnino was against BLM after meeting with them prior to being elected.
“We’ve been at City Council meetings for the last year, speaking softly, speaking in the allotted two-minute time, not screaming, not cursing, not doing any of that,” he said.
Figuereo said they’ve been waiting for the city to implement the 50-point plan. He also said that the group can fight against Montagnino to replace him like they fought to get him in the seat.
Winston Grady-Willis, a Skidmore College professor, applauded those who spoke out against the summons and said he stands by her.
“When folk like Chandler, sister Chandler, disrupt, they’re just reminding those of us who are more privileged, who are in positions of power that we’ve got to do more,” he said.