Thursday, 08 July 2021 15:54

Council, Public Return to City Hall in Bumpy Encounter

By Thomas Dimopoulos | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The long-awaited resumption of public meetings at City Hall was itself interrupted five minutes after it began.

As Rev. Joseph Cleveland addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting July 6, city Mayor Meg Kelly issued a warning to some in the assembled audience.

“If you’re going to be ‘hmm-hmm’ and make remarks, we’re going to have you removed,” Mayor Kelly said. She subsequently demanded the room be cleared, declared “a recess,” and announced that the meeting was “adjourned.” The mayor, followed by some of the other members of the council, then left the room.    

Some minutes later, council members returned to their seats and the meeting resumed. 

Rev. Cleveland, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs, was one of a dozen public speakers, most of whom expressed concern and took issue with “divisive” remarks made by city Assistant Chief of Police John Catone during a press conference last week. Some of the speakers at the council meeting additionally requested a public apology be issued regarding some of the comments that were made. That press conference may be viewed in its entirety on the Saratoga Springs Police Department Facebook page dated June 28, at: facebook.com/sspdny. 

As to the meeting interruption and resumption, the City Charter states Open Meetings shall be
conducted in accordance with Open Meetings laws of NY State, and “the Open Meetings Law is silent on how a meeting ends,” according to the state Committee on Open Government. 

• Police Reform Task Force/ Civilian Review Board Advisory Committee

The Civilian Review Board, or CRB, was a key recommendation made by the city Police Reform Task Force, in response to the governor’s Executive Order, advisory committee member Jason Golub told the council Tuesday night. There are more than 200 CRB’s across the country, some of which are being evaluated by the committee, in order to present to the City Council a detailed plan on how to best implement a CRB in the local community.

“Our role is to provide the council with research that will allow you to confidently implement a CRB that makes sense; What I do not want for our city is a CRB in name only that ultimately does not meet the goals for which it was intended,” Golub said. “CRB’s can protect civilians and members of the police force… it is critical we get this right for our community, and this is where our focus will be.”   

The goal is to provide monthly updates to the council and a full report by October that will include the development of the scope of the CRB’s power, and the budget required for a two-year pilot program. 

“The totality of our research will be provided to the city council and the public. It will then be up to the city council to determine what to do (with) the findings,” he said. 

Supervisor Tara Gaston, who represents the city at the county level, was appointed chair of the Saratoga County Health & Human Services Committee on Jan. 6. Six months later, Gaston reports she has been removed from that position of leadership, as well as from the committee itself altogether. 

Gaston’s announcement took the Saratoga Springs City Council by surprise; some council members publicly expressed they thought Gaston had done positive work in the position, particularly in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“I was told that I did not show proper respect to my colleagues. I will say that I made comments that may have not been appropriate at that particular moment. I recognized that and apologized for that at the same meeting. I did not make any comments or do anything that has not been done many times by other supervisors, and in that same meeting had another supervisor refuse to respond when I asked, as chair, to stop talking over me. So, I don’t believe I did anything wrong, but the (Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz) has the authority and ability to remove anyone, as they choose,” Gaston said. 

“In government, it’s not uncommon to make changes in leadership positions on a regular basis, and this is no different as we work to ensure we best meet the needs of Saratoga County residents,” Kusnierz said. “She has performed as chair of the committee well representing Saratoga County.”

“I’ve been engaged and active in that committee to help recover from what took place at the county earlier in the pandemic. There is still a lot of work to be done – both with COVID and the Public Health Department expansion – and I believe I am one of the few people on the Board that has the knowledge base and the experience to be able to this properly and efficiently,” Gaston said. “And to not even sit on the committee anymore…I think that’s a disproportionate response.”   

Supervisor Darren O’Conner, of Malta, is expected to be named chair of the Health & Human Services Committee at the next Board of Supervisors meeting later this month. 

New Fire/EMS Station

Sean Foran, of Huber Breuer Construction in Syracuse, provided an update to the council of the city’s proposed new Fire/EMS station on Henning Road. The station – which will be the city’s third – will serve residents of the east side. 

The design process is anticipated to begin in August, leading to a bid and contract award process in 2022.  “A bid process in early 2022 would allow the project to proceed in April or May 2022, and would allow owner occupancy in the spring of 2023,” Foran told the council. 

The total product budget is approximately $6.7 million, and the building, with an entry road on Henning Road, will hold three double-deep, drive-through bays to house 6 full-size apparatus for the fire department, and will overall measure to about 16,000 square feet. 

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