The Tuesday, June 7,2022, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was remarkable for the amount of conflict and confusion, for its duration, and for a major ethics violation on the part of Mayor Kim.
Overlooked by many observers amidst all the drama in the conflict between Mayor Ron Kim and Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran (more about that in a later post) was Mayor Kim’s questionable appointment of Susan Barden to chair the city’s Ethics Board.
Ms. Barden works in the Planning Department and currently reports directly to the Mayor. It is entirely inappropriate (unethical?) for Mayor Kim to appoint someone he supervises to head a board that might have to consider allegations against him.
People have been justifiably critical of our state government’s dubious attempts at ethics oversight. Governor Cuomo was notorious for appointing cronies to the institutions charged with ethics oversight. We do not need to replicate the former Governor’s behavior here in Saratoga Springs.
While the Mayor has complete authority over appointments to the Ethics Board, it was disappointing and unfortunate that no one on the Council raised any objections.
A Marathon Council Meeting
Tuesday night’s Council meeting was also notable for its length. There were six public hearings and four presentations to get through before the actual business of the Council began.
City Council meetings begin at 7:00 PM, but it was approximately 8:30 before the presentations were finished, and the Mayor’s agenda, which comes first, began. It was almost 10:00 PM before the Mayor completed the 19 items on his agenda including the very controversial proposal to move the Department of Risk and Safety from the Accounts Department to his. None of the four Commissioners had presented any of their agenda items at this point. I have no idea when the meeting ended. My endurance exhausted, I turned off my computer . I don’t think I was alone in doing this. Even the other Council members and Deputies looked like they were ready to go home at this point, and there was still plenty of business to attend to.
Under Mayor Kim’s predecessor, Meg Kelly, City Council meetings were run efficiently. They rarely went beyond nine o’clock, but there was plenty of opportunity for spirited discussion during that time. As a matter of policy, though, Mayor Kelly only allowed two presentations per meeting and limited those to ten minutes each which meant the actual Council meeting began at a reasonable time.
It is my belief that it is important that the public is able to observe their government conducting city business. The actual deliberations of the Council need to be the priority at these bi-monthly meetings. In the interest of transparency and accountability, Kim needs to see that transacting the city’s business is done at a reasonable hour.
Mayor’s Incomprehensible Call For A Public Hearing
One of the items that delays the start of business at City Council meetings on a regular basis is a proliferation of Public Hearings. The Mayor and Commissioners regularly set up public hearings without offering specific proposals for the public to comment on.
In the video above, I find the Mayor’s rambling remarks on the purpose of the hearing he is setting up incomprehensible.
Here’s my pass at it:
The Governor’s executive order allowing the use of teleconferencing (not in-person) public government meetings will expire in July. The Mayor apparently is looking for a way to get around this.
Strangely, the item on his agenda describes this as a public hearing on “Section 103-a of the Open Meetings Law.” That is a state law, not a local law, so the city has no authority to change the law. Why there would be a local hearing on a state law that is already in place makes no sense.
Assuming that his proposal actually has something to do with establishing a local law, best practices would be to iron out the substance and wording of what he plans to accomplish before setting a public hearing so the public would be properly prepared to decide whether they support or oppose the proposal. There was no link to an actual proposal on his agenda.
I invite the readers of this blog to offer their input on what the Mayor is attempting to say.