The April 4, 2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting devolved into a five-hour ordeal of toxic outbursts and recriminations exchanged amongst the Council members themselves and coming from Black Lives Matter members in the audience. Mayor Kim, unable or unwilling to maintain order, empowered the worst behavior from BLM and his colleagues at the table. While Kim's mismanagement of the meeting was the major factor, his colleagues on the Council must share some of the responsibility for this craziness.
Emblematic of the evening, in a particularly shocking breakdown of decorum and civility, BLM leader Lexis Figureo seized the microphone from Chris Mathiesen as Chris tried to address the Council during the public comment period. In the following video, Mathiesen asks Mayor Kim, "Is this ok with you?" Mayor Kim's response was to inform Mathiesen that he (Kim) was running the meeting and then to shut down the public comment period. Members of BLM then removed the temporary barrier that separated the Council table from the public seating area and invaded the space adding to the toxic chaos. In fact, one of the BLM people grabbed Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino's microphone from the Council table and used it to shout epithets.
This city is flirting with real trouble. This aggressive behavior, if unchecked, has the real potential to descend into violence, and yet Mayor Kim and his colleagues at the table that night, with the exception of Commissioner Montagnino who appealed to the Mayor to restore order, sat ineffectually by like bystanders watching a train wreck.
A Pointless Resolution
To understand just how bizarre the evening was, it is important to grasp just how pointless one of the main events on the agenda was. Commissioner Montagnino had brought a complaint of disorderly conduct against BLM member Chandler Hickenbottom following the the shut down of the February 7 City Council meeting after repeated disruptions by BLM members. So the main event at this meeting was the consideration of a resolution offered by Kim that allegedly relieved the city of liability for any litigation resulting from the charges brought against Chandler Hickenbottom (BLM) by Commissioner Montagnino. In addition, because the Council had not formally endorsed Montagnino's action, the resolution claimed that Montagnino had acted as an individual not as a city official and was therefore not entitled to any coverage for legal costs should he be sued.
State law establishes that elected officials are indemnified for suits related to their office's duties. The city's insurance policy covers our elected officials based on this law. This policy would provide money for their representation in court in case of a complaint against them and cover any fines.
The poorly crafted resolution asserted that the Council never authorized Montagnino to bring his action against Hickenbottom and boldly asserted that therefore "...neither Chapter 9 of the City Code nor Section 18 of the Public Officers Law shall apply." It provided no language from the state law supporting this assertion.
If the New York State Public Officers Law would not cover Montagnino's liability then he is not covered. If the New York State Public Officers Law does cover Montagnino then he is covered. One way or the other, the resolution is trumped by state law.
So, as Montagnino accurately pointed out during the discussion, the resolution is pointless.
What, then, was the purpose of this resolution?
It was about drama along with petty payback and not the law.
How About Consulting The City's Insurance Carrier
The primary drafters of this resolution were Kim, his deputy Angela Rella, and Public Safety Commissioner Golub. While all three are lawyers, none have any municipal law expertise.
There was a simple way to determine if the action against Montagnino was enforceable. All they had to do was consult the city's insurance carrier as to our policy.
Free Speech Suppression?
The proponents of this resolution allege that Chandler Hickenbottom's free speech had been denied out of some animus based on racism and sexism. In this excerpt, Accounts Commissioner Moran berates Montagnino claiming that Montagnino's racist rant stopped the February 7 meeting.
What Actually Happened On February 7.
This is a twelve-minute video from the events of February 7, 2023. It was these events that are the basis for both Montagnino's action and Kim's resolution. It belies Moran's intemperate and untrue accusation that Montagnino's "racist" remarks were what stopped the meeting. Montagnino never spoke during Hickenbottom's rant.
Speakers at public comment are allowed two minutes. As documented in this video, Ms. Hickenbottom monopolized the microphone for twelve minutes, refusing to adhere to city policy after repeated requests that she give up the microphone to the next speaker. In her comments, she herself observed that she was "going to keep disrupting."
You might call what Hickenbottom did a form of civil disobedience, but characterizing Ms. Hickenbottom as a victim of speech suppression is a fabrication.
The Council Has Descended To An Unsustainable Low
As bad as past meetings have been, April 4th's meeting achieved a new low of toxicity and belligerence. Figuereo and his allies continually attempted to interfere with the meeting for four hours, yelling and making thoughtful deliberation by the Council problematic.
The tone and substance of the council members were not much better. The Mayor is unwilling to implement any standard of decorum and civility. In fact, he frequently contributes to the toxic atmosphere that now dominates our City Council.
This Is Not Going To End Well
Given the increasing violence in this country, the grim reality is that the level of unrestrained anger and abuse at the Council table and from the Black Lives Matter people has created a very dangerous environment. There is the real potential for violence if nothing is done to insist on reasonable order and civility. We live in a culture in which the national news is increasingly dominated by random shootings by disturbed people. What happens regularly now at Council meetings is an invitation to disaster.