City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The 45th Annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will return for a full two-day and two-stage exhilarating festival experience on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The roster of 24 musical groups is headlined by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, returning to the festival for the first time since 1998; soul music legend Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue; powerhouse vocalist Ledisi for her festival debut; jazz/hip-hop crossover great Robert Glasper; and New Orleans funk and jazz collective Galactic featuring Anjelika Jelly Joseph for its festival debut.
“The 2022 Festival promises to be a memorable one in so many ways. Not only thanks to a stellar and varied line-up, but also to the sheer joy of being back to full scale,” said SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol, in a statement. The 2022 gathering marks the 25th anniversary of its partnership with Freihofer’s bakery, with parent company Bimbo Bakeries USA having reaffirmed their commitment to the festival with a multi-year title sponsorship.
“We’ll be celebrating 25 years of partnership with Freihofer’s, as well as the first of a new multi-year commitment from the company. While a number of other jazz festivals are changing and downsizing, Freihofer’s support is allowing us to go back to the full Saratoga Jazz Fest experience its long-time fans have come to love and expect,” Sobol said.
Highlighting the 15 festival debuts, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Booker T. Jones, the famed front man of Booker T. & the M.G.s, and the acclaimed producer of the legendary Memphis-based Stax Records, will showcase his 10-piece band with three lead vocalists performing his smash hits with the M.G.s, “Green Onions,” “Hang ‘Em High” and “Time is Tight” and classic Stax songs “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding), “Hold On I’m Coming” (Sam and Dave), and “Gee Whiz” (Carla Thomas), among others. Also making her festival debut is 2021 GRAMMY winner and fourteen-time GRAMMY-nominated vocalist Ledisi, who will return to SPAC on August 3 as part of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s season in a program dedicated to the music of Nina Simone.
Returning for the first time since 2019 is the popular Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage with rhythmic, global and funk grooves by groups from Red Baraat to Cha Wa to Tiempo Libre and some of the most exciting contemporary artists in jazz: Matt Wilson, Craig Handy, Connie Han, Ryan Keberle, Emmaline and Dan Wilson. In addition, the Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars will celebrate George Wein, the founder of the festival who passed away at the age of 95 in September 2021. Following stunning Jazz Fest debuts in 2021, Hot Club of Saratoga and Garland Nelson leading Joyful Noise will return to kick-off the amphitheater line-up on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
“My mentor and the festival founder, George Wein, always focused on producing events for everyone and that’s exactly what we’ve done for our big return,” says Danny Melnick, the festival producer and President of Absolutely Live Entertainment. “Our 45th festival features award-winning musical legends, unique all-star collaborations, cutting-edge bands and many popular rising stars.”
In addition to two non-stop days of great music on two stages, fans can also enjoy a host of amenities including a fine arts and crafts fair, artist CD signings, southern style barbeque and other food vendors at SPAC’s newly renovated concession area. Guests are welcome to bring in their own food and beverages, as well as blankets, tents and lawn umbrellas. Parking for the event is free. Performances will begin each day on the Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage at 11 a.m. and on the Amphitheater Stage at 12:00 p.m.
Tickets for the festival start at $65 and will be available online at www.spac.org beginning March 16 at 10am to the general public and starting on March 7 at 10am to SPAC members (tiered by level). Two-days passes are also available for a savings of $10 per ticket (offer ends 5/1). $20 amphitheater ticket options are available for children ages 12 and under and students with school-issued ID at time of entrance. Seating is best available with some exclusions. Lawn seating is free for children ages 12 and under.
SPAC is offering a $20 student and child amphitheater pass, available for children ages 12 and under and students with school-issued ID at time of entrance. Children ages 12 and under are admitted free on the lawn. SPAC will continue to monitor health and safety guidelines mandated by New York State and the CDC and will adjust ticketing and safety policies accordingly. Full guidelines will be published in advance of the ticket on sale and may be found at spac.org.
2022 FREIHOFER’S SARATOGA JAZZ FESTIVAL LINE-UP:
SATURDAY, JUNE 25
Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue*
Galactic featuring Anjelika Jelly Joseph*
Con Tumbao* featuring Issac Delgado, Robby Ameen, Oscar Hernandez, Conrad Herwig, Pedrito Martinez, Juan Munguia, Alain Pérez, Mike Rodriguez, Tony Succar & Miguel Zenon
Ozmosys Band featuring Omar Hakim & Rachel Z
Amina Figarova Sextet plus Strings*
Hot Club of Saratoga
Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage:
Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt with Dawn Thomson, Nadje Noordhuis, Jeff Lederer & Martin Wind
Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith*
Connie Han Trio*
Dan Wilson Trio*
SUNDAY, JUNE 26
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
SuperBlue: Kurt Elling featuring Charlie Hunter
Garland Nelson’s Joyful Noise
Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage:
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis*
Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars celebrate George Wein* featuring Mike Rodriguez, Steve Davis, Jimmy Greene, Bill Cunliffe, Dave Stryker, Todd Coolman & Dennis Mackrel
*Indicates Festival debut for that project
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Performing Arts Center this week announced the return of its resident companies -- New York City Ballet and The Philadelphia Orchestra -- to their summer home in Saratoga in 2022.
The diverse season features SPAC premieres and debuts by women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) composers, choreographers, performers and conductors, alongside iconic masterworks of the classical repertoire.
NEW YORK CITY BALLET returns with the full company from July 12 – 16, with its roster of more than 90 dancers under the direction of Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan, accompanied by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, led by Music Director Andrew Litton.
The Company will present four programs including the full-length story ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream; an evening dedicated to 20th Century Masters highlighted by Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace, returning for the first time since 1967; and a program showcasing works by contemporary choreographers including new pieces by Jamar Roberts and Pam Tanowitz, and the return of Justin Peck’s In Creases, gracing the SPAC stage for the first time since its World Premiere at SPAC in 2012. Back by popular demand is also a special “NYCB On and Off Stage” presentation designed to introduce the season with an intimate, up-close look at selected excerpts from the Company’s repertory of ballets that will be featured during the residency.
“After two long years without the full New York City Ballet in residence at SPAC, it is tremendously exciting to be announcing the return of the full Company in July 2022,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in a statement.
“It will be a perfect celebration of their return with timeless works of Balanchine and Robbins, SPAC debuts by Jamar Roberts and Pam Tanowitz, the return of Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace, beloved story ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and NYCB On and Off Stage. The latter, born from the need to conform to COVID guidelines in 2021, was a format that was immensely popular with audiences. It will be a perfect kick off to the residency – as both an intimate behind the scenes look at NYCB as well as a poignant reminder as to how far we will have come since March of 2020,” Sobol said.
THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA’s three-week residency (July 27 – Aug. 13) will feature Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Aug. 10–13) leading four programs including a finale featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Highlighting the residency is the return of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma (Aug. 5) and violinist Joshua Bell alongside star soprano Larisa Martinez (July 29). Making their 2022 SPAC debuts is a diverse roster of artists including fourteen-time GRAMMY nominee Ledisi singing the music of Nina Simone (Aug. 3), pianist and NPR host Lara Downes (Aug. 4), soprano Angel Blue (Aug. 12-13), 26-year-old superstar violinist Randall Goosby (Aug. 11), and Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet company, BalletX July 27), performing a new work choreographed by NYCB’s Tiler Peck.
Also featured will be more than a dozen SPAC premieres including the East Coast Premiere of Contact by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts composed for the genre-crossing ensemble Time for Three (July 28). SPAC’s popular film nights will also return to delight audiences of all ages as the Orchestra accompanies, live to picture, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ in Concert (July 30) and The Princess Bride in Concert (Aug. 6).
“SPAC’s ambitious and artistically inspiring programming continues our effort to bring significant contemporary works and iconic classics that have never been performed at SPAC to our stage, while also presenting a record number of works by BIPOC and female composers throughout the season,” said Sobol.
Tickets will be available beginning on March 7 for members (tiered by level) and on March 16 for the general public. New for this season, evening performances will be held at 7:30 p.m.
SPAC will continue to monitor health and safety guidelines mandated by New York State and the CDC and will adjust ticketing and safety policies accordingly.
The season kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 with NYCB On and Off stage. For a full detailed listing of performances, tickets, and other information, go to: spac.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s three Land Use Boards – the Planning Board, Design Review Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals, launch their 2022 meetings this week.
The city’s Design Review Commission hosts its first meeting of the calendar year at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12. Among applications under consideration are a historic review of a new 6-story mixed-use building at 269 Broadway, and a proposed fifth-floor addition to the existing four-story at 422 Broadway, the building that sites Northshire Bookstore Saratoga on its ground floor.
A renewable Special Use Permit and Site Plan Review to maintain existing property as improved at 68 Weibel Avenue are two of the permits under consideration at this week’s meeting of the Planning Board, which takes place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 13.
Applicant Gary Stone, of Saratoga Springs, is offering a proposal to operate and maintain existing mixed land uses on a 22.5-acre parcel on Weibel Avenue and a portion of a 40-acre parcel. The parcel includes approximately 145 feet of frontage on Weibel Avenue, with several existing commercial buildings on the parcel used either for storage, or as currently occupied office buildings.
The land includes a 900 square-foot building, two storage buildings (2,400 and 1,500 square feet, respectively), a 12,500 square foot office building, a 1.5-acre boat storage area, a small clubhouse and 10-acre driving range area – the latter of which “has not been in used for few years,” according to documents filed with the city. All the buildings were approximately constructed in 1968.
The existing buildings and boat storage are currently the subject of a land use and zoning violation identified by the city Building Department, and the application would attempt to cure those violations, according to documents seeking a Special Use Permit.
The Zoning Board of Appeals hosts its first meeting of the new year at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 10.
Meetings are held at City Hall, 474 Broadway. For information regarding attendance at meetings, safety protocols and live stream options, go to: saratoga-springs.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Two proposals to honor former city officials were fulfilled by the outgoing council during the holiday break.
Following up on a city Recreation Commission recommendation in 2020, city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan in late 2021 brought a resolution to the council table, which was unanimously approved, to name the southside facility the Scott T. Johnson Recreation Center.
Johnson, who served three two-year terms as Saratoga Springs mayor from 2007-2013, is largely credited for helping make the long-talked-about recreation facility a reality. The near-34,000 square foot building was completed for about $6 million and following 16 years of feasibility studies opened in the summer of 2010. The city turned to the center as an emergency location to site operations in 2018, after City Hall had been rendered inoperable due to a lightning strike and flood damage.
Inside of City Hall meanwhile, a “Foy Foyer” depicting images of Remigia Foy was set up at the city’s Finance Office. Foy, who died in June 2020, served as city finance commissioner for three terms, two in the 1970s and one on the 1990s.
Remigia Foy foyer at City Hall. Photo: city of Saratoga Springs.
Outgoing city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced in late 2021 that commemorations would be set up to honor former Finance Commissioners Remigia Foy and Matt McCabe. McCabe served as city Finance Commissioner from 2004 to 2007, as well as operating the popular Saratoga Guitar shops in the city for a quarter century. Jan. 12 marks the one-year anniversary of his passing due to complications from COVID-19.
A double-bench with plaque honoring McCabe will be unveiled in the spring adjacent to City Hall and where Saratoga Guitar shop stood, Madigan said this week.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A new City Council for a new two-year term staged its first night meeting Jan. 4 at Saratoga Music Hall. The cordial meeting lasted just over an hour and included four new council members.
Mayor Ron Kim announced the appointment of Angela Rella as his deputy mayor, and provided guidelines for Public Comment period, during which speakers may address concerns or issues for up to two minutes’ time: Be kind; We’re a community; Speak to each other in a way that community members speak, Kim said. “Bickering and fighting, we prefer you not to do that, but, it’s your time. Be factual. We don’t want alternative facts. We want to hear the truth, as you see it, and we’re happy to hear it.”
One meeting change will be in the order of addressing the council. Returning City Supervisors Matthew Veitch, and Tara Gaston – who normally address the council at the end of the agenda – will speak first.
Limited Number of COVID-19 Rapid Tests Available for Residents
During her comment period on Tuesday, Gaston announced the city had earlier that day received “a small number” of at-home rapid COVID tests that were distributed from the state to the county, and then on to county-based municipalities. The city will be distributing their portion of at-home tests to city residents, while supplies last, from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday at Geyser Road Elementary School. The kits have two tests per box. Proof of city residence is required.
Outside of Saratoga Springs, county municipalities are distributing their allotment of at-home tests in a variety of ways. For specific distribution information, residents should contact their respective town or city hall. A list of municipal phone numbers and websites may be found HERE.
The city had previously received 19,000 K95 masks from the state, which Gaston said she has been distributing to city residents. Masks continue to be available at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, the Saratoga Springs Visitors Center, and the city Recreation Center.
The seven-day positive infection rate of Saratoga County residents is currently 18.6 %.
New Methods, New Appointments
Mayor Kim explained a new “Question Period” segment will be launched in the near future during which community members in advance submit any questions they have for a specific council member. Those questions will typically be discussed and answered at the end of council meetings. Those inquiries will employ a pre-registration tool, and more information will be forthcoming in the near future.
Also soon forthcoming, perhaps later this month, will be a cost/expense tally presentation regarding the vacant city attorney position. The mayor said a discussion will take place regarding a plan aimed at both - reducing city costs and making the position more effective, while meeting the needs provided by a city attorney.
Kim also announced the establishment of a city Infrastructure Committee, which will be tasked with organizing a priority list of city infrastructure projects. The mayor said he has had discussions with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko regarding federal funds targeting local infrastructure projects, and the local plan is to reach out to experts as well as the local community to initiate a list of needs and potential projects. Kim appointed former Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen as chair of the city Infrastructure Committee and requested each council member propose appointments to staff the committee during the next couple of weeks.
New Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran started his first term and announced Stacy Connors as his deputy commissioner.
New Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi started her first term and announced Heather Crocker as her deputy commissioner.
Returning Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco re-appointed Joe O’Neil as his deputy commissioner.
Mayor Kim, a Democrat, complemented DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, a Republican, on the “exceptional job” Scirocco and his department has done on the recent renovations to City Hall. Commissioner Scirocco, during his agenda time, made an announcement commemorating the work of former DPW Commissioner and political rival Thomas McTygue on the work McTygue conducted in Congress Park specifically on the Carousel.
Public Hearing on Civilian Review Board Set for Feb. 1
New Public Safety Commissioner announced the appointment of Jason Tetu as Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety. Tetu spent a quarter of a century as a member of the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
Montagnino set a 30-minute Public Hearing to take place prior to the Feb. 1 council meeting regarding the creation of a Civilian Review Board, as per the recommendations of the city Police Reform Task Force. “Promises were made and now is the time for promises to be kept. I want to shepherd into existence a Civilian Review Board that is meaningful, that has authority and that is there to answer the questions that people have about the way our city is policed,” said the public safety commissioner.
The council unanimously approved that a letter be sent to the Saratoga County District Attorney requesting a grand jury investigation regarding the Darryl Mount matter. Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said on Jan. 5 she would not be able to discuss the matter until she is in receipt of the letter.
Montagnino added he anticipates hosting an oral presentation regarding the Mount case in mid-February. Previously announced to take place as soon as he took office on Jan. 1, Montagnino said the delay was due to his being stricken and recovering from COVID-19, which recently landed him in the hospital for nine days. Montagnino said he was released from the hospital on Dec. 31.
“From what we heard tonight, it seems like there is progress and things are moving in the right direction,” said Saratoga BLM activist Lexis Figuereo, at the conclusion of Tuesday’s council meeting. “It seems that we may be able to have some actual answers in the community and maybe see some actual change, and not just talk about it. It was a very peaceful meeting and we’re looking forward to meetings being more like this, and to have dialogue with the council members,” he said.
Saratoga Springs City Council meetings are typically held the first and the third Tuesday of each month at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The post-election campaign financial disclosure statement regarding newly elected city Mayor Ron Kim has been posted by the state Board of Elections.
The disclosure statement was due 27 days following the Nov. 2, 2021 election. When that period passed without the post report, two attorneys filed a formal complaint against Kim with the state Board of Elections. Michael Brandi was one of the attorneys who had sent a letter to the state Board of Elections Enforcement Counsel.
Tuesday morning, following the posting of the report, Brandi said: "the complaint has been made and the Board of Elections has the ability to look at the facts and pursue enforcement. What that looks like, the ball is in their court.”
On Jan. 5, the state BOE Enforcement Counsel responded to an email from Saratoga TODAY seeking comment about the status of the matter. “The disclosure of Enforcement Division materials not only has the potential to impede or obstruct investigations, but potentially undermines principles of fundamental fairness in investigations and prosecutions. Therefore, we do not comment concerning whether the Division received complaints, the status of complaints, or whether investigations are undertaken.” Signed: Michael L. Johnson, Chief Enforcement Counsel.
Late last month Kim told the Times Union that he had filed his post-election report, but a technical issue prevented it from being viewed.
Campaign finance disclosure statements for candidates may be found at: the NYS Board of Elections campaign finance page.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was one year ago, nearly to the day, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the first confirmed case of the so-called UK strain of COVID-19 virus has been detected in Saratoga Springs. The strain was traced back to an individual affiliated with a Saratoga Springs jewelry store and all individuals who visited the store from Dec. 18 through Dec. 24, 2020 were encouraged to contact the Department of Health and immediately receive a COVID-19 test.
Additional variants have appeared in 2021 – “Delta” and “Omicron” (titled after letters of the Greek alphabet) among them.
As 2021 draws to a close, Saratoga County Public Health Services reports more than 27,000 known cases of COVID-19 among county residents since the first infections due to the original virus were tracked in early 2020, and more than 250 deaths among county residents since that time.
The chart depicts month-to-month deaths in Saratoga County in 2021.
In mid-January 2021, Saratoga County Public Health Services reported they were “investigating an issue with the county COVID dashboard,” and as such, to provide the most accurate portrayal of 2021 data, the description begins in February 2021.
The first death of a county resident linked to COVID-19 was reported in late March 2020. On Feb. 1, 2021, the SCPHS reported 10,604 confirmed cases in all, and 120 total deaths. Today, nearly 11 months later, those total numbers are 27,915 and 258, respectively, through Dec. 21, 2021.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Four new “fast-charging” stations for electric vehicles were amped-up in Saratoga Springs this week.
The EVolveNY EV charging stations were installed at the Saratoga Springs City Center parking lot on Maple Avenue, and join four other operational fast chargers in the immediate region, located at Stewart's Shops’ Spier Falls location, just off exit 17 of the Northway. Stewarts plans to install 4 more fast chargers at its Clifton Park, and at its Latham locations in the near future.
The New York Power Authority is dedicating $250 million through 2025 to the EVolve NY program, with the goal of making electric vehicles easy to own in New York State and decarbonizing the state’s transportation sector, and is part of the state’s broader goal to have at least 800 new EV fast charging stations installed through 2025.
The fast chargers will be located along major state highway corridors, usually within five minutes of the roadway exit, and will be compatible for all types of current EV models.
Charging will generally take between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on how empty the EV battery is at the beginning of the charge event, the desired battery charge level and the vehicle’s charging speed, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The recharging process of electric vehicles varies, with different levels of EV charging and different EVs charging at different speeds on each level. Level 3 -DC Fast Charging, Tesla Supercharging - gets the job done in under an hour at public charging stations, according to an Oct. 4, 2021 article published by Forbes titled: “What Are The Different Levels Of Electric Vehicle Charging?”
For information about Saratoga Springs’ city-operated Public Charging Stations, go to: www.saratoga-springs.org/2419/EV-Charging-Stations. For more information specifically about the fast-charging stations and an interactive national Electric Vehicle Station Locator map, go to: www.evolveny.nypa.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last week that masks would be required to be worn in all indoor public places statewide starting Monday Dec. 13. Businesses and venues could alternately implement a vaccine requirement, and the action was directed to address the “winter surge” with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising across the state, Hochul said.
On Monday morning, a great number of store windows fronting Broadway shops had been fitted with signs instructing all who enter to wear a mask. Late Monday, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Kusnierz, Jr. released a statement to say the county’s Public Health Department and law enforcement agency would not enforce “New York State’s misguided and unrealistic
“The best way to protect the health and safety of Saratoga County residents, families, schools and businesses is to continue to focus public health resources on rapidly providing booster vaccinations to the public, which our Public Health team continues to do,” Kusnierz said, in his prepared remarks. “Asking already thin-stretched local health departments to enforce mask or vaccination mandates only detracts from this critical endeavor.”
Saratoga County joins more than a dozen New York counties refusing to enforce the mask mandate.
Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Tara Gaston pushed back on the statement issued by Board Chair Kusnierz.
“While I admit that there are a number of issues with mask mandates, including concerns about possible violence against business owners and employees, I strongly disagree with the tone of the statement, and worry for its impact on our community,” Gaston said. “There will never be a true account of the number of non-fatal losses, the businesses we’ve seen all over town, the domestic violence that our Sheriff and the DA have seen.”
More than 1,000 Saratoga County residents had tested positive for COVID over the previous 7 days, and seven-day average positivity rate in Saratoga County was 6.7%, compared to a 4.8% average rate statewide. Since the start of December, 23 county residents had died of COVID. Current hospitalizations, as of Dec. 15, were 49.
Gaston praised the county’s public health department for their work and said while it should not be the priority of the health department to enforce a mandate, she took exception with the tone of the chairman’s statement, which did not come via an overall board vote, and created confusion among many residents and business owners who had reached out to her following the statement’s release late Monday.
“It should not be the priority of our public health department to enforce such a mandate…they are doing work that is far more important than doing that - but - it should not be the work of this Board of Supervisors to issue by any member, or the board as a whole, a statement that is inflammatory and indicates that the mandate or the law of this state will not be held in this county,” Gaston said Wednesday.
Board Chairman Kuznierz donned a mask at the start of the county’s monthly meeting on Dec. 15. All 14 other county supervisors in attendance wore masks, the majority of them kept in place throughout the meeting.
“Quite honestly you can still wear masks. We’re just not going to go out and fine people $1,000 for not wearing a mask or following the ‘unenforceable’ - using the words of our own governor – policy,” Kuznierz said during the meeting.
“Yes, masks benefit our residents, but there’s nothing that can protect our residents more than getting vaccinated and getting your booster shots,” Kuznierz said.
According to data provided by the county public health department this week, 74.5% people – approximately 170,000 of the county’s 230,000 residents – are considered fully vaccinated.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Born in Brooklyn in the mid-1950s, James Montagnino worked in the Bronx district attorney’s office in the 1980s, at the height of the crack epidemic, and then continued on in Westchester as a prosecutor with the district attorney’s and defense attorney with The Legal Aid Society. He’s been a visiting instructor at the police academy, principal court attorney for Supreme, County and Family Courts and court attorney/referee.
In the November election, Montagnino, a Democrat, bested Republican and Conservative candidate Tracey Labelle by a 53-43 margin in the race for Public Safety Commissioner. On Jan. 1, Montagnino will join Ron Kim (Mayor), Dillon Moran (Accounts), and Minita Sanghvi (Finance) as one of four new members of the five-person City Council. Anthony “Skip” Scirocco (DPW) is the lone returning council member.
The Commissioner of Public Safety is responsible for the overall operation of the police department and the fire department, code administration, animal control, and parking enforcement.
What led to your desire to run for City Council?
“If I had to tie the decision (to run for office) to one thing, it would be the Daryl Mount case and how it was treated. How nobody in authority did anything that you would have hoped.
“I was sitting in my living room watching CNN with my wife when I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered. Just watching that, it was devastating. The aftermath – the protest in Saratoga Springs in the summer of 2020. I had only very loosely followed the Daryl Mount case. I remember the very first reports said he was running from the police, he ran into a construction site, he fell and was badly injured. I remember feeling awful about it, but not that there were any questions surrounding it. The police chief said there had been an internal investigation and the then-commissioner had basically affirmed that. It sounded like they did what they were supposed to do. And then you find out when the chief is put under oath in the deposition in the civil suit, he admits, well, he misled the press, of course meaning he intentionally misled the public.”
Background: In late summer 2013 Darryl Mount, a 21-year-old biracial man, suffered injuries that left him in a coma after fleeing police on Caroline Street and allegedly falling off a scaffolding behind The Washington building, then under construction. Mount died eight-and-a-half months later. Mount’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit and city Police Chief Greg Veitch later came under public scrutiny following reports that the public safety department never conducted an internal probe into police actions, after earlier claiming there was one. The incident became the catalyst of the formation of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, and included public calls for a citizen review board as well as a number of protests and marches that have taken place in Saratoga Springs during the past few years. A “Case litigation Timeline” as well as audio and video files related to the matter may be viewed by going to: www.saratoga-springs.org/2408/Darryl-Mount-Information.
Would you advocate for an investigation – either internal or external investigation at this point?
“Here’s the problem: If there had been an Internal Investigation done in a timely fashion where a report and the evidence upon which it was based were released to the public – depending on its thoroughness, I might say: We’re done. But, with all that’s happened, I can understand how many people have drawn the conclusion that there must be something to hide.
“At this stage, I don’t know how satisfied the general public would be with an Internal Investigation. In a perfect world, what ought to happen is the district attorney should use this provision in criminal procedure law that allows for a grand jury investigation of a non-criminal nature. It’s the one area where a grand jury can investigate - and it’s not necessarily a crime they’re investigating. It’s allegations of misconduct on the part of a public officer…at the end of the investigation, the grand jury issues a report, and the judge has discretion to release the report to the public.”
“What I’m hoping is the District Attorney use her authority under criminal procedure law to get that rendered investigation going. And I’m considering the possibility of making a motion before the City Council for a resolution asking the DA to do that.”
There has been a public spotlight on the role of protesters and the role of police regarding city staged protests and arrests in recent years. What would you like to say about both these aspects?
“The way I see it, the question of if you blocked traffic in July and a policy decision is made that we’re going to prosecute you in September, the problem becomes: how do I get that defendant in to court? You don’t do it with an arrest warrant if it’s a petty offense. Almost all of those were petty offenses in criminal procedure law, they’re not crimes. My feeling is that if there is a petty offense committed in the past, you use a summons. You don’t use an arrest warrant, unless there’s some exceptional set of circumstances that you can put in writing to satisfy me that you need a warrant.
“I think what some people lose sight of is that there’s a difference between a protester and a common criminal. These are our neighbors who have chosen to commit some petty offense or to make a statement. We’re not condoning the offense, and the offense should be handled in accordance with its severity, the background of the defendant and the circumstances under which it is committed. The idea of going out and getting an arrest warrant, then executing the warrant… none of that was necessary. If they had been given summonses, they would have shown up in court of their own volition, or, if not – then warrants would be issued. It didn’t have to start with custodial arrests.
Additionally: “I would like the word to get out that there should be an over-arching policy of mutual respect between the police and the people they serve. There is a fighting words exception to (to First Amendment protected speech) that has been recognized by the Supreme Court since the 1940s. What I would like to try is a policy of mutual respect where beforehand I would sit down (with those planning to protest) and I’d say, ‘Look, here’s the situation: the kinds of things like getting in an officer’s face and saying (expletive) - that speech is not protected under the First Amendment.’ That’s a statement intended to provoke a violent response I think. What I would like to see in a situation like that is an officer would be trained to say, ‘I’m sorry, that’s inappropriate conduct, and it can’t be continued.’ Maybe two or three repetitions of that.
And if it continues, then, OK, we’ll make an arrest on the spot. Cops have a hard enough job to start with. The First Amendment doesn’t mean you can say whatever you please. There are circumstances where it can still be prohibited. Standing up in the movie theater and screaming ‘FIRE!’ You’re getting arrested. There’s no First Amendment reaction.”
“The vast majority of people in Saratoga Springs are not going to choose to walk up to a police officer and berate him or her. But, we’ve all seen that happen under certain circumstances. And that’s not fair. They’re doing a tough enough job as it is and they shouldn’t be asked or expected to have to take abuse, verbal or otherwise, for doing their jobs. So that’s something I’d like to get in the process early on. Putting the word out that you expect a lot from our officers, and we expect mutual respect in exchange.”
A multi-point plan, partially adopted by the City Council, was submitted to the council by the ad hoc Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force, and recommended that a Civilian Review Board, or CRB, be implemented. This has not yet occurred. What is your opinion?
“I envision a CRB like the one the Task Force proposed. One tweak would be the method of appointing the members of the CRB. With the possible exception of the chair - because there needs to be someone with some familiarity and continuity of process. I’m thinking that the selection process for the chair might be by the mayor, or the mayor with the advice of City Council. The membership I would like to see randomly selected. Like jury duty. There would certainly have to be public hearings on the method to be employed for selecting the members of the CRB, and the method for selecting the chair.
With subpoena power?
“With subpoena power. But - I know that there are subpoenas, and then there are subpoenas. The most that we would have the power to authorize is an administrative subpoena. That does not carry with it contempt citations. So, if you were to ignore an administrative subpoena the most that could happen is a monetary fine and it’s a trivial (dollar) penalty.
“There’s nothing in the Task Force proposal after the CRB does what it does. Its power, according to the City Charter, is limited to a recommendation to the commission. They take testimony, examine evidence and make findings, conclusions and ultimately recommendations. That sounds simple enough, but what does that mean? So, what I want to do as the first commissioner to serve with a CRB is to create a framework for what would be the role of the Commissioner upon receiving the recommendations of the CRB. I see the commissioner’s role as an administrative appellate authority. I see my role as taking the recommendation and saying: OK, I want to see all of the evidence, not just the findings and conclusions; to review that myself for factual and legal sufficiency, so that the CRB is not the last word as to factual findings and legal conclusions - the Commissioner is. I think it’s important the Commissioner’s Office promulgate its own internal procedures, so that it’s not just what the CRB said rubber-stamped. There’s a significant amount of responsibility with having to come up with the next steps.”