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, 17 July 2023 10:07

OMG! They Still Cannot Pass the Forfeiture Resolution.

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
OMG! They Still Cannot Pass the Forfeiture Resolution.

For months the Saratoga Springs City Council has stumbled from one poorly crafted resolution to the next in a so far failed attempt to adopt a document that would accept item #41 from the Police Reform Task Force Plan of 2021.

At their July 6, 2023, meeting the Council failed to pass a resolution for the third time.

A Brief Review Of The Failed Resolutions Histories

Item #41 of the Police Reform Task Force reads:

“Divert all seized proven drug profits from convicted drug charges to Community Based Restorative Groups for conflict resolution.Reinvention Plan: Toward a Community Centered Justice Initiative,

February, 2021 Police Task Force Recommendation #41

I have documented the torturous history of Task Force Recommendation #41 in previous posts (Link 1Link 2),but here’s a brief review.

This item was problematic from the beginning. During the deliberations of the Police Task Force, then police Chief Shane Crooks tried unsuccessfully to explain to the Task Force that recommendation #41 as drafted would conflict with state and federal regulations on the use of forfeiture money. The task force ignored the chief’s concern without any effort to determine its validity.

In the previous administration’s deliberations on adopting the Police Reform Task Force’s recommendations in 2021, then City Attorney, Vince DeLeonardo, advised Meg Kelly and the Council of the problem with #41, and it was not adopted.

The local Black Lives Matter group pilloried Kelly and the then Council for this.

In May, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi placed a resolution on the City Council agenda that would basically adopt item #41 as written. Sanghvi was apparently ignorant of the legal problems with this when she added it to her agenda. She was subsequently advised of its conflict with existing federal and state statutes, and she withdrew it at the meeting.

Mayor Kim placed a resolution on the June 20 Council agenda to adopt item #41 only to withdraw it during the Council meeting after Tim Coll, candidate for Public Safety Commissioner, pointed out further legal problems with this version.

One More Try!

So at the July 6, 2023, Council meeting Kim offered yet another version of a resolution to adopt #41. This time the resolution dealt only with the federal forfeiture program and ignored the state program. There was no acknowledgment or explanation as to why the state program was no longer part of the resolution. This is probably because of the inconvenient truth that the state program does not allow for its money to be used outside of law enforcement.

This time there was an actual discussion of the resolution.

The discussion took up some twenty minutes as commissioners asked questions and raised concerns.

Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino told the Council that the forfeiture money available for local use was limited to $25,000.00. He asserted that the administrative reporting requirements to use the funds were onerous, and the cost of record keeping and reporting probably cost as much to comply with as the money the city could receive. Presumably, if the money was less than $25,000.00, the situation would be even worse.

I spoke to retired FBI agent Tim Coll, who is running this year for Commissioner of Public Safety. He told me that the original forfeiture program was plagued by abuse in using the money. This is what prompted the rigorous and extensive reporting that is now required.

The revelation of the cost of reporting led to the obvious question of how much federal money might be involved. Neither Montagnino, who oversees the use of the funds nor Sanghvi, who is supposed to manage the city’s finances, knew. I find it interesting that no one on the Council thought to ask this question and get an answer before they spent all this time and energy repeatedly having this on the agenda.

This kind of down-the-rabbit-hole discussion was documented in the video above, where each question only raised more questions.

In the end, Kim withdrew the resolution for the third time, and Montagnino agreed to provide Sanghvi and the Council the numbers by the middle of August.

Just Another Example Of The Breakdown In Governance Of This Council

So now there will supposedly be yet another resolution (the fourth) sometime in the future.

The discussion at the Council table revealed that for over two months and multiple resolutions, there has been little in the way of either legal research or any conversation between the Commissioners about it.

Readers should understand that this kind of serial failed resolution was pretty much unheard of in the past.

This is because, as I have documented in my previous blogs, past administrations would raise concerns at the public pre-agenda meetings held the day before the regular meetings. The deputies used to attend these meetings and, at times, other staff members if needed to give information about pending resolutions. Questions about resolutions would be raised and either addressed, or the item would be withdrawn then rather than at the regular meeting. This allowed issues to be addressed and resolved later rather than taking up time unnecessarily at Council meetings discussing a resolution that wasn’t going to go anywhere.

Pre-Agenda meetings with the current Council are now a ritual where there is rarely any discussion. Council members simply read the names of their resolutions rather than engage in substantive conversation. This failure by current Council members to prepare for Council meetings by communicating and doing their homework contributes to the marathon regular Council meetings we currently have.

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