Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 23 May 2022 08:56

Mayor Ron Kim Hypes Faux Email Scandal

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

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Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim issued a press release alleging some kind of wrongdoing regarding the management of the email addresses that had been maintained by the city’s Recreation Department. The story was picked up by multiple media outlets including WNYT, the Daily Gazette, the Times Union, and the Foothills Business Review.

What is woefully missing from the release the Mayor sent out is supporting evidence of the possible wrongdoing he only hints at. He also demonstrates, yet again, his ignorance of New York State law.

I am from the old school. I believe that before I would go to the media with allegations that damage someone’s reputation, I would need to have gathered clear and compelling evidence that supported my claims. Mayor Kim did not do this.

Mayor Kim’s Poorly Documented Allegations

Basically, this whole fiasco began with a press release from Mayor Kim alleging that some persons, who the Mayor declined to identify, had alleged they had received emails from an unknown source (not identified). These alleged complainants (we do not know how many) claimed that the only way the unknown source could have gotten their email address was from the Saratoga Springs city Rec Center’s email list.

Subsequently, the person first identified in the media as making such a complaint was Gordon Boyd. Foothills Business Review (FBR) reported that Boyd made the allegations at a City Council meeting during the public comment period. Gordon Boyd played a leadership role in Ron Kim’s campaign last November. As the wags say, “he has a dog in this race.”

The fact that some persons claim that their email address was secure and that the only time they ever used it other than with family members was as a contact for the Recreation Department has to be viewed with some skepticism. It may indeed be true but nothing has been offered that would reliably establish it as fact.

I have been a computer consultant for several decades. I would be a rich man if I were paid for all the times users claimed to me that they could not have done something when later investigation proved this not to be true.

Nevertheless, for the purpose of this post, let’s assume what they say is true. The next question is who used this email list and for what purpose(s). Here again, Mayor Kim’s statements are full of contradictions and vague assumptions, and he colors his statements to add to the atmosphere of lawbreaking clandestine shenanigans.

His press release states that there is evidence that a Rec Department email list was sent to “several employees outside the Recreation Department”, and yet he told the Gazette that “he is not making the connection between the release of the Recreation Department database and the unsolicited emails.” In fact, he stated, “We don’t know who is using the email addresses and what they are using them for.”

This doesn’t stop him from then telling the Times Union, that “he is learning the email addresses have likely [JK: my emphasis] been used for political purposes.”

At one point he drops a suggestion in a TU article that Moving Saratoga Forward is using the Rec Department list. He tells the TU he is hearing from people who are getting unsolicited emails from Moving Saratoga Forward and that they are telling him that “the only way [their email address] could have gotten into the hands of MSF was through the Rec Department.” After putting that out there he then tells FBR that he actually has no evidence to make that connection (FBR 5/17/22).

Likewise he disingenuously suggests to the TU, again without offering any evidence, that that the Rec Department email was used “first in 2020 to oppose a city charter change referendum and more recently to push school board candidates.” This of course contradicts his earlier statement to the Daily Gazette, that he doesn’t know what it was used for.

Mayor Kim Slimes Mayor Kelly

While Kim attempts to use this email issue to achieve a number of his political goals–discrediting the integrity of the previous officeholders for instance–he seems particularly focused for some reason on attacking his predecessor, Meg Kelly.

According to his own statement, multiple people had access to the Rec Department address file. He told the Gazette:

“Commissioner [Minita] Sanghvi’s department reviewed digital records and did in fact discover that on or about October 21, 2020, the Recreation Department email list was sent to several employees outside the Recreation Department, who would not normally have access to this information,” Kim said in a statement. “In addition, there is also digital evidence that the email spreadsheet was directly sent to former Mayor Meg Kelly’s Gmail account. It may also have been released by other elected officials, and we are continuing to investigate that possibility.” 

Daily Gazette May 16, 2022

So of all the people –we still don’t know how many–who received this email list why do Kim and the TU focus on Kelly?

Here’s the headline of the TU article “Saratoga Springs Investigating If Former Mayor Accessed Resident’s Emails.”

In fact, Kim and the TU know the name of at least one other elected official who received the email list–Michele Madigan. And if Sanghvi’s supposed forensic search of the city server was properly carried out, Kim knows the names of the other “several employees” he alludes to.

So in the tradition of most good detective stories, there are multiple suspects but this did not keep Mayor Kim from gratuitously naming only the past mayor.

Mayor Kelly has told me that she did not provide the email list to anyone outside of city hall. Even if she did, as I will point out below, it was within her authority to do so.

Mayor Kim, Apologize to Mayor Kelly

A person of character would feel chagrinned over having impugned the character of someone on such a dubious basis. They would have acknowledged to themselves that they took liberties with the facts that impugned the character of someone without having properly established the basis of such accusations.

Mayor Kim, you could redeem yourself and recover your reputation for fairness and accuracy by apologizing to Meg Kelly.

Mayor Kim Fails To Carry Out Due Diligence

Mayor Kim has added to the drama by stating that he is “turning this information over to the proper legal authorities to determine if there were any criminal violations.”

At the same time, Kim, a lawyer, admits to the TU that “he is still trying to determine if the breach is illegal.” And he told FBR that “It is unclear at this point whether any laws or even government regulations, were broken in the release of the email.”

In the May 20, 2022, edition of the Times Union, Mayor Kim stated that the mailing list was not accessible under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In effect, he is alleging that the information is privileged which would make its release to the public improper. He didn’t offer a legal citation for this claim. This feels unpleasantly like his steadfast pronouncements that the City Attorney was not a public officer that turned out to be false.

Whether out of malice or slothfulness, Mayor Kim does not appear to feel the need to do the required research before issuing such statements. This recklessness makes for greater drama, more news coverage, and dubious ethics.

As it turns out, he is wrong on the law. According to the New York State Committee on Open Government, the court ruling in Livson v. Town of Greenburgh established that mailing lists such as the one maintained by the recreation department are public documents available to any citizen. It confirmed that, notwithstanding Mayor Kim’s claim, the Rec Department’s mailing list is accessible under FOIL.

NYS Committee on Open Government’s FOIL AO 19703 from January of 2019, “In Livson v. Town of Greenburgh [141 AD3d 658 (2016)], it was held that a list of email addresses of residents used to inform them of events occurring in the Town is public. In short, it could not be demonstrated that disclosure of an email address would rise to the level of an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Many individuals, purposefully or otherwise, share their email addresses as a matter of course.”

I have FOILed for the email list. I have also emailed Mayor Kim asking about the legal basis of his claim. I do not expect an answer, but he deserves the right to defend himself and I would publish his response.

He colors his statements to add to the atmosphere of lawbreaking and clandestine shenanigans by alluding to unknown organizations that he plans to refer the matter to.

The city is in the process of turning over its information to the proper legal authorities to determine if there were any criminal violations, said Kim.

Daily Gazette May 16, 2022

Kim said the city is now investigating if any laws were violated and, if so, who would investigate the violation.

Times Union May 17, 2022
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