[JK: Full disclosure. Jane Weihe, my wife, is the campaign manager for Tim Coll, who is running for Public Safety Commissioner against Montagnino.]
The March 7, 2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting provided a number of insights into the character of Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, none of them very flattering to say the least.
In earlier posts, I have written about the crisis of morale in city hall in general and in the police department in particular. When you observe how Montagnino behaves toward his "colleagues" on the Council at this meeting, you can begin to understand how difficult it must be to serve under him.
Mean Spirited and Vindictive
Montagnino's enmity toward Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran has been on full display for months. Most recently, Montagnino unsuccessfully tried to promote the candidacy of someone to replace Moran as the Democratic nominee for Accounts Commissioner. In a previous incident, Montagnino accused Moran of being an alcoholic.
The venomousness Montagnino is capable of towards Moran was never better dramatized, though, than at the last City Council meeting on March 7. Moran, who was unable to attend the meeting live due to COVID, participated in the meeting via Zoom.
At the end of Moran's agenda presentation, Montagnino asked for the floor and spoke to Moran. He asked if Moran "could speak more clearly; your speech sounds somewhat slurred."
Unfortunately, the video does not allow a clear view of Montagnino's expression as he offered this advice to Moran. I do not think it is unfair to characterize Montagnino's expression as a smirk. After a pregnant pause, Moran, while clearly irritated, did not respond in kind.
By the way, as the video below documents, Moran could be easily heard speaking clearly on Zoom.
Macho At The Council Table
In this clip, Montagnino uses his rhetorical skills to raise the temperature at the meeting by accusing Mayor Kim of "caving" on putting a proposed homeless shelter at the senior citizens' center. Notice Montagnino's tone and his pointing at the Mayor.
Talking Over People
One of the tools Montagnino commonly uses against his colleagues is to weaponize his loud and very oratorical voice to talk over them.
Montagnino Has No Supporting Cast
Thoughtful legislators seek support from their colleagues for proposals before presenting the actual resolutions at the Council table. This achieves a number of objectives.
1. It is a healthy sign of respect to consult your fellow Council members on issues you plan to raise before going to the media.
2. Consulting your colleagues concerning planned legislation helps everyone to better understand the issues and allows the legislator to address any questions his/her colleagues may have.
3. If there is no support for the proposed legislation, it avoids wasting time on a pointless discussion at the Council table.
4. It avoids pointless conflict at Council meetings.
5. It increases the chances that the proposed legislation will actually pass.
This is not the way that Montagnino operates. His first plan of action is to contact the press and television. As in the case of his proposal to install porta-potties for the homeless at the parking garage the homeless frequent, he succeeded in getting stories about himself and his plan in the local print press and television prior to the Council meeting. Bear in mind he had not discussed any of this with his colleagues. They only learned about his proposal when they read about it in the newspapers or when they saw it on the proposed agenda.
Andrew Waite reported in the March 12, 2023, edition of the Daily Gazette that Montagnino had not bothered to solicit input from the community either. He quotes Todd Shimkus, the president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, on the previous experiment with porta-potties at the Woodlawn Ave. Garage:
"This was a miserable total complete and absolute failure. I don't want to describe the horrific things that happened to them because they were so bad."
"If the commissioner made one phone call to any of the business leaders who had been around for any time, we would have been able to advise him that this would be a big mistake. Well intentioned, but a big mistake."
Todd Shimkus, Chamber
This proposal suffered the same fate as pretty much all of Montagnino's other initiatives. It failed. In fact, he could not even get a second for his motion. He then tried to get his colleagues to support a public hearing on his porta-potty proposal, and it, too, failed to gain a second.
In the following excerpt from the meeting, Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, in sharp contrast to Montagnino, thoughtfully lays out all the issues that would need to be addressed before it would be possible to act on Montagnino's proposal. He is especially thoughtful in observing that without a full proposal, it is pointless to ask the public to weigh in at a public hearing.
The Smartest Person in the Room
Commissioner Montagnino exemplifies the archetype of the "smartest person in the room." This is the person who is so enamored of what they see as their superlative intellect that they find little value in listening to others unless it provides an opportunity to belittle them.
Such people are oblivious to the concept of collegiality or cooperative decision-making. In fact, they take particular pleasure in correcting their colleagues in a tone and style that is unhelpful.
In the case of politicians, they are more interested in sharing their genius with the public through the news media rather than working with their colleagues on solutions.