Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

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

Tuesday, 06 September 2022 08:40

Commissioner Sanghvi Responds to Blogger and Blogger Replies

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Finance Office During Commissioner Madigan’s Term

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Then Commissioner Madigan In The Finance Office

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Michele’s Desk And Original Paint Job

 

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Office Currently

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Right side of office.

minitafurniture2.webp

Left side of office.

Introduction

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I emailed Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi inquiring about her transfer of $10,000.00 to an account for acquiring furniture. There is now $13,000.00 in that account. I also asked her about the decision to repaint her offices. The Finance office had acquired all new furniture and been painted two years ago after the fire in City Hall.

The following is her response to my emails and recent post and my reply.


Sanghivi: Dear Mr. Kaufmann, 

I will respond to the issues you’ve raised in a recent blog post. Please print this response verbatim. 

1. Furniture

When I joined office (sic)I realized Commissioner Madigan didn’t have a desk, per se. She had part of her desk and then a small conference table that sat at a right angle to serve as a desk. 

As we cleared up our deputy’s office, she needed extra storage so I gave her my storage units. We gave one of our cupboard storage to IT for their storage. One of the desks was given to Civil service for their use. We had a new position our executive assistant join (more on that later) and I gave the person Commissioner Madigan’s part desk. And I ordered an L shaped desk for my office and some storage shelves and drawers. 

Kaufmann: [As can be confirmed by the photos above, Commissioner Sanghvi has basically stripped the office of the Finance Commissioner of most of the furniture that existed when she took over occupancy of the space 8 months ago. Although the furniture was brand new, based on her response, there will be little if any of those furnishings remaining in that office.

Most troubling is her reluctance to be clear about exactly what items she will be replacing all this furniture with and the specific cost of each item. Here she refers to an L shaped desk and “some storage shelves and drawers”. Later she mentions wanting to change to a couch and a “seater setting”. When I asked her for specific information, she responded in an email, “Please feel free to FOIL the information.” Commissioner Sanghvi knows it routinely takes six weeks or more to get FOILed documents from the city.

These are figures one assumes that she calculated before she made the request to the Council to add $10,000 to her budget. They should be readily available.

This is a foolish and problematic response from her on many levels. I will eventually secure the figures so the public, in theend,will find out this information, and her reluctance to release the figures now only extends the life of the story, something she may regret. By denying me this information now and making me go through the FOIL process, she triggers concerns as to exactly how lavish her redecorating plan is. She also undermines her credibility about her commitment to transparency.]

Sanghvi: Commissioner Madigan also had a larger conference desk for visitors. When I set up an office, I found that style to be more confrontational than conversational. Not everyone is used to coming to city hall, many people are intimidated by it. So I wanted to change it to a couch and seater setting to make it more conversational, more inclusive. 

Kaufmann: [There is a reason that offices routinely have conference tables. While the Finance Commissioner occasionally meets informally with members of the general public, the vast majority of office meetings involve internal staff of the city to discuss fiscal matters. Such meetings require an efficient design to seat a number of people who commonly will need a surface on which to place laptops or writing pads.

Sorry to descend to snarkiness, but it is hard to imagine the city department deputies spread out over sofas and easy chairs engaging in discussions trying to resolve city fiscal issues while trying to balance laptops on their knees.

I spent a good deal of my career at meetings, and my priority was that they be as efficient as possible. The meetings I went to or ran were not social events designed to be “conversational.” They were supposed to be designed to minimize chit-chat and get stuff done.

Here again, Commissioner Sanghvi exposes her lack of understanding of the nature of her office. This is particularly troubling as she has been in her position for eight months now.]

Sanghvi: 2. Grants writer

I agree with Commissioner Madigan completely that we need more support with grant writing. We had spoken about this during our transition, and our plan was to consolidate grant management in Finance since it dealt with the management of reimbursements and such. However, other departments were not particularly receptive to the idea. This is the problem of the commission form of government. Sometimes good faith efforts by commissioners are seen as power grabs. That was not at all what she or I had in mind. She added the position, and we both fought for it but were told repeatedly that it was not supportable by some of the other departments. Finally, we worked with individual departments to help them with grant-writing monies that worked based on their needs. I still believe this is something that is of use to our city in finance, but I am only one vote. 

Kaufmann: [I’m having a hard time making sense of this. The position was adopted in the 2022 budget. Commissioner Sanghvi had the authority to simply hire the grant writer. She did not need approval from the current Council, and there was never any public discussion about who did or didn’t support this and why. Petty bureaucratic turf anxiety from unnamed colleagues (I understand Mayor Kim was adamantly opposed to the position) should not be an impediment to filling a position that even Commissioner Sanghvi admits is really needed.]

Sanghvi: Finally, with the money we did have in our budget, we hired an executive assistant. This is more of an issue of parity – the Mayor’s office, DPW, DPS (I believe they’ve used this position differently for many years now) all have executive assistants. When I spoke to the city council (all except Commissioner Scirocco since he was unwell at that time), they agreed all departments should have one.

Kaufmann:[Parity? Because they have one, I should have one? This mentality is how budgets become bloated. Staffing is supposed to be about efficient management of resources and not the dividing of spoils.]

Sanghvi: Commissioner Madigan, indeed, was very fruitful in her time at City Hall and we are working on bringing a lot of those projects to fruition right now such as the NYPA project about our street-lights, SIFI project about fiber. In addition we’ve added one of our own projects with Participatory Budgeting. As you may know, my position is only part time and while many other Commissioners are retired or are able to work full time for this role, I can’t feed my family on $14,500. My full time job as a professor at Skidmore requires my time and efforts too. Hence, we decided to hire an executive assistant. The position was discussed at city hall and in the civil service committee, the ad was posted by HR. Kindly do you (sic) research and feel free to look up the ad to learn more about the position. 

Kaufmann: [Commissioner Sanghvi had a responsibility to assess whether she had the time to do the job of Finance Commissioner before running for the office. If she had told the public that, if elected, she would have to hire a position that would cost the city $72,000 a year to fulfill her duties, voters might very well have voted for someone else. Even worse, is it possible she didn’t even consider the problem of not having the time to do the job properly before deciding to run?]

Sanghvi: 3. About Travel

I have been meeting and discussing capital budgets with all departments long before August. We’ve been having good open communications on recession clouds and our capacity to borrow. I have been very transparent about city finances from Day 1. 

I have also been working with our team on all issues related to finance and our budget while in India, often at 2 am at night. However, you asked why I went. It was not for a children’s book (thank you for the correction). I wrote a novel, which is being released by Harper Collins India in what I’m told will be the first lesbian romance novel in India. SUrely, you get what a monumental moment this is for LGBTQ rigts (sic) in a country of 1.4 billion people. 

Kaufmann: [I never asked Commissioner Sanghvi why she went to India. She has publicized her travel on her Facebook page.

I congratulate Commissioner Sanghvi on the publishing of her novel. I am, however, surprised that she thinks it might be the first such novel published in India. There is already extensive literature published in this genre.]

Sanghvi: And while this trip is for work reasons, I do want to point out for all our future posts about my travel – I travel to India as often as I can. Which means, sometimes it is twice a year. You see, my father is 78 years old. Average life expectancy in India is about 69 years for males. Because I’m a business professor, I did some simple math. If my father lives to about 90 (about 1 year longer than this (sic) father), and I visit him once a year, I will see him about 12 times before he dies. I came out to my family 20 years ago – India and US, for that matter, was a different landscape for LGBTQ rights 20 years ago. They stood by me and supported me despite the criticism and ridicule they faced in their community. The least I can do is maybe visit them more than 12 times before they die. So when I go to India in December, you will know why. 

Kaufmann: [I have no problem with Commissioner Sanghvi taking time off to travel to India. I am glad for her that she has such a supportive and loving family. My problem with her trip was its timing. It was done during the beginning of the crafting of the city budget for 2023. The departments submit their requested budgets to her office in August. Readers should understand that crafting such a budget is extremely challenging and time-consuming both in terms of the very extensive reviews and research and in terms of the political tensions it generates. With respect to the Commissioner, this was not the best time to be away.

What troubled me most, though, was her decision to advise citizens writing her that she would not be allocating time while away to answer their emails. In all the years I have been covering politics, I have never experienced an elected official who would publicly advise the citizenry that for some three weeks, they would not be taking the time to answer email inquiries.]

Sanghvi: Thank you for your keen interest in the minutia of city hall. You also sent me another email about the paint in my office: “I understand that you have repainted your office.  What color did you paint it and why did you have it repainted?”

Kaufmann: [As her offices were only recently painted two years ago as part of the city hall renovation, it seemed odd that they would be painted again, thus my question to her. I knew the office had been painted using historic colors to compliment the carpeting. I suppose it was trivial of me to have asked about her new color choice.]

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