Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

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

Friday, 23 February 2024 12:13

Petition To Investigate On-Call Misappropriations; Was It Fraud?

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

[I received this statement and petition from a blog reader who prefers to remain anonymous.]

On Call Pay Petition Alert

Click on this Link to the On-Call Pay Petition Demanding Action 

It’s refreshing to see a petition requesting action be taken regarding on-call pay.  The petition appears to simply provide background information in a non-accusatory, neutral way and seek support for an impartial investigation in the hopes the results of the investigation will provide the City Council and the taxpayers with a conclusive determination to guide corrective action should that be the determination. The legal opinion rendered by the city’s attorneys contained an easy to follow analysis of the issues regarding on-call pay.  The petition is asking city officials to seek the outside opinion of the NYS Comptroller’s office.  The results of the Comptroller’s investigation should inform the City Council and provide guidance moving forward.  That way taxpayers can be assured the matter is fully concluded by an impartial entity.  Plus, it gives city officials an opportunity to be exonerated publicly. This is a good thing. 

The petition does the job of encouraging action.  It doesn’t necessarily name those potentially responsible or pinpoint the fiduciary responsibilities of our elected officials involved. Readers should agree that a full investigation is warranted when you read that tampering with City documents is defined as a crime in the Saratoga Springs City Code. 

The resolution adopted on February 9, 2023 not only dramatically increased the salaries of the Deputy Commissioners and the Deputy Mayor, it added the potential of approximately $6,500 compensation in the form of “on-call pay.” This resolution was fittingly brought forward by Jason Golub, Commissioner of Public Works, because his Deputy, Joe O’Neill, is routinely called to respond to emergencies and coordinate subordinate responses. 

The Code of the City of Saratoga Springs says Tampering with Documents is a Crime

§ 1-10 Penalties for tampering with Code.

Any person who, without authorization from the City Clerk, changes or amends, by additions or deletions, any part or portion of the Code of the City of Saratoga Springs or who alters or tampers with such Code in any manner whatsoever which will cause the legislation of the City of Saratoga Springs to be misrepresented thereby or who violates any other provision of this local law shall be guilty of an offense and shall, upon conviction thereof, be subject to a fine of not more than $250 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 days, or both.

§ 1-11 Changes in previously adopted legislation; new provisions.

In compiling and preparing the local laws, ordinances and resolutions for publication as the Code of the City of Saratoga Springs, no changes in the meaning or intent of such local laws, ordinances and resolutions have been made, except as provided for in Subsection B hereof. In addition, certain grammatical changes and other minor nonsubstantive changes were made in one or more of said pieces of legislation. It is the intention of the City Council that all such changes be adopted as part of the Code as if the local laws, ordinances and resolutions had been previously formally amended to read as such.

Dillon Moran, Custodian of All City Documents; Including Altered Resolutions

Foiled documents provide metadata suggesting Stacy Connors, Dillon Moran’s Deputy Commissioner of Accounts, edited the final resolution on February 14, 2023, the week following the City Council meeting. That final resolution added the words situations and events which were not included in the adopted resolution.  Was the language added so Deputies in departments which do not respond to emergencies could collect on-call pay?  Per the City Charter, the Commissioner of Accounts serves as City Clerk and is the custodian of record for all City documents. This is quite worrisome as the altering of this document occurred in Moran’s Department.

City Charter Title 7.1.2  City Records- The City Clerk shall receive, file, index, and archive, as custodian of record of all City documents, records and other instruments required by law to be filed and maintained by the City.”

An Emergency to Me May not be an Emergency to You

At the February 5, 2024 City Council pre-agenda meeting the legal opinion was presented. Commissioner’s Moran and Sanghvi rejected the legal opinion in part or in whole. Does that mean they still support the altered resolution? Moran stated, ”We can define emergencies in different ways. An emergency to me may not be an emergency to you.”  Since the discussion is focused around a legal document it might make sense to use a legal definition of an emergency.  

  • Cornell Law School posts the following, “An emergency is an urgent, sudden, and serious event or an unforeseen change in circumstances that necessitates immediate action to remedy harm or avert imminent danger to life, health, or property; an exigency.” 
  • Black’s Law Dictionary 2nd Edition defines an emergency as, “Situation requiring immediate attention and remedial action. Involves injury, loss of life, damage to the property, or catastrophic interference with the normal activities. A sudden, unexpected, or impending situation.”

Win-Win for Moran

Commissioner Moran was very adamant that the legal opinion was incomplete.  He complained that he was never consulted during the analysis of evidence on which the legal opinion is based.  He suggested an outside opinion be sought.  It’s likely that during an investigation by the Comptroller’s office Commissioner Moran would have plenty of time to give his input as this outside opinion is rendered.  It sounds like a win-win for Commissioner Moran.

Commissioner of Finance Looks the Other Way?

Taxpayers should also understand the ultimate guardian of City funds is the Commissioner of Finance, Minita Sanghvi. “The Commissioner of Finance is the chief fiscal officer of the City and shall certify payrolls.” (City Charter Title 4)  

The very last line of the resolution reads, “J. This resolution may be reviewed and brought forward by the Commissioner of Finance for future adjustments.”  Commissioner Sanghvi, upon the first submission for on-call pay, should have brought her concerns to the City Council. The justifications listed on the on-call pay sheets were not congruent with the resolution adopted citing emergencies not situations and events. Instead, Sanghvi continued to sign off on all on-call payroll submissions including those of her own Deputy.  The end of the first quarter of 2024 is March 31st.  Based on past practices and the verbiage of the still uncorrected resolution, there is potential that Commissioner Sanghvi could approve over $8,000 in on-call payroll submissions. 

This is not a good look for Sanghvi, who is also currently running for a State Senate seat. If Commissioner Sanghvi is found culpable in this matter, one might think this could seriously impact her campaign. 

fraud2.jpg

Sanghvi Funds Only Public Works On-Call Pay in 2024 Budget  

Based on the language of the adopted resolution, discussions at the February 9, 2023 meeting and the legal opinion, it is clear the intention of the resolution was to compensate the Deputy Commissioner of Public Works. What has not been exposed is that the adopted 2024 City budget, prepared by Commissioner Sanghvi, includes the familiar Deputy allotted amount of $6,500 budgeted for on-call for Public Works and only Public Works. Finance and Public Safety do not include an on-call pay line item.  The Accounts’ and Mayor’s departments list an on-call line item which Commissioner Sanghvi did not fund.

fraud3.jpg

 

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