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, 01 April 2024 10:42

Daily Gazette Writer Andrew Waite’s Shameless Attack on Mayor Safford and Commissioner Coll.

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

In his March 25, 2024 column, Daily Gazette writer Andrew Waite took Mayor John Safford to task, claiming Safford had failed to deliver on his campaign promise to bring civility to City Council meetings because of the audience behavior at the March 19 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. The problem, according to Waite, is the "mayor's failure to establish meaningful dialog with outspoken members of the community as well as missteps by the Mayor and Public Safety Commissioner Coll..."

Most of us are familiar with the "Uncle Henry" syndrome. "Uncle Henry" is the family member who must be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of the family must endure his apocryphal pronouncements about things he has little understanding of or knowledge about. Waite has demonstrated his entitlement to this role with this column as well as others he has written (most notably his similarly flawed column on the Attorney General's report on Saratoga Springs).

Some Basic Facts

Parts of Waite's March 25, 2024 column are simply untrue.

Waite asserts:

"He’s [Mayor Safford] not running meetings any more smoothly than when former Mayor Ron Kim failed to keep things on track..."

Waite, March 25, 2024

This is simply untrue. Mayor Kim had given up any control over the public comment period. He first expanded the time limit for individual public comment to four minutes and then abandoned any limits altogether. Kim's meetings were marathon events that, at times, ran over five hours. On at least two occasions, Kim had to adjourn the Council meeting without completing the city's business because of the out-of-control behavior of members of Saratoga Black Lives Matter.

Mayor Safford was able to largely enforce his three-minute limit on speakers at the March 19 Council meeting. Only after Conservative Committee Chair David Buchyn used a quote from Lexis Figuereo that included the "n" word was the public comment period disrupted. Even then, in contrast to Kim, Safford's patient repeated efforts to bring order were successful after only five or six minutes.

The Council was able to conduct all of its business without interruption and adjourn around 9 p.m. These are definitely improvements.

Misassigning Blame

Most disturbing was Waite's assignment of blame for some of the regrettable behavior that did still occur at this Council meeting.

Central to Waite's article is his allegation that the source of BLM's uncivil behavior at meetings is the failure of members of the City Council to engage with them. This is so patently false and so easily refuted that it exposes the utter lack of Waite's journalistic integrity. He is oblivious to the idea that the BLM people bear any responsibility for the toxic character of Council meetings.

First, consider the uncivil behavior (hint: it is not the Mayor).

Here is Waite's opinion on how to stop this behavior:

"If Safford and Coll are serious about trying to bring civility to the city, they have to be serious about establishing meaningful relationships with members of the community – especially vocal and well-mobilized Black Lives Matter activists."

Andrew Waite, March 25, 2024

Apparently, Mr. Waite is unaware of and has not bothered to research Mr. Figuereo's unwillingness to enter into direct dialogue with members of the City Council over the past four years. For example, as long ago as 2021 then Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan proposed that the city hire a mediator to work with the city and BLM to respond to BLM's demands. In fact, the city allocated money for this. Madigan invited BLM to participate in the selection of a mediator.

Figuereo rejected the offer and told the city to spend the money on the homeless instead. He had no interest in engaging beyond the group's repeated, toxic protests.

This effort was not isolated. Over the years, many Council members have tried to engage with Figuereo one-on-one to no avail. Most recently, Pubic Works Commissioner Jason Golub, at a Council meeting, urged BLM to meet with him to discuss their concerns rather than continue to disrupt Council meetings. To date, BLM has not bothered to take him up on that offer. As recently as March 8, Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll called Figuereo and invited him to have lunch and discuss his concerns. Figuereo put him off, telling him he would get back to him the next day. He never did.

A week and a half following the call, at a Council meeting, Figuereo blamed Coll's letter to the editor in Saratoga Today for his unwillingness to meet with Coll. The letter was critical of BLM, but the tone was professional. (Use the link to assess it for yourself.)

Nevertheless, Waite puts on blinders and his Uncle Henry hat and takes Figuereo's complaint that nobody wants to talk to him and have a relationship with him at face value.

More Misassigned Blame

Waite has also decided that "Coll has been part of the problem" because he "chose to fact check the New York State Attorney General's report" without "acknowledging and condemning gross misconduct by past city officials." Waite later admits that "...perhaps the AG report did deserve some scrutiny for conflating facts about which particular law enforcement unit demonstrated aggression at various levels." What Waite refuses to acknowledge is that Figuereo is involved in several lawsuits against the city. It is simply ridiculous for Waite to demand that any city official make a statement "acknowledging ....misconduct by ...city officials" while these cases are pending. It is equally odd to see any of this as somehow justifying BLM's disruptive behavior at Council meetings

The Case of Jarrod Iler

Waite once again puts on his Uncle Henry hat in his discussion of the consideration of the hiring of former Troy police officer Jarrod Iler for a position with the Saratoga Springs Police Department. Some years ago, Iler had shot and wounded a black man the Troy police were trying to pick up for a parole violation. The man attempted to flee police in a car and tried to run down Iler, who fired his gun. Iler was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury and went on to serve with distinction as an officer in Port Lucie, Florida. When Coll became aware of the Troy incident, however, he withdrew Iler from consideration, taking full responsibility and instituting a more vigorous vetting process for future hires. Waite ignores the fact that Coll had announced that Iler had been dropped from consideration before the March 19 meeting. No one from BLM had contacted Coll to voice concerns about the potential hiring and to urge him not to be hired; nevertheless, Waite insists that Coll backed off because of the public outcry. Waite also never asks why BLM bothered to show up to protest when they knew, as documented in the video of the meeting, that Iler was not going to be hired. They were not there to protest his hiring as that issue was dead, and they knew it.

In fact, this was simply another of the many opportunities for the BLM people to spend an hour and a half insulting and attempting to humiliate the members of the Council.

All of this was lost on Mr. Waite.

A Cheap Shot By Waite

Mayor John Safford is a kind and generous soul. He has the thankless job of trying to manage a meeting in which angry and troubled people abuse their privilege to speak during the public comment period to insult and belittle the soft targets of Council members who have to silently listen to them.

Safford was well aware of the volatile nature of the meeting and that attempting to remove a BLM person from the meeting had the potential to descend into a scrum during which someone might be hurt. It was apparent that raising his voice or otherwise behaving belligerently would only raise the temperature in the room. To his credit, he maintained the persona many of us know him for; a person trying to do the right thing.

This is not the way Waite saw things:

But in trying to enforce his own rules, Safford sounds a lot like a meek parent issuing empty threats to a young child without follow-through.

Andrew Waite, March 25, 2024

Waite owes Safford an apology.

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