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, 10 May 2024 12:49

Moran and Sanghvi Attempt to Block Legal Bill Payment

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

The May 7, 2024, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was yet another unwelcome trip down memory lane as Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi tried unsuccessfully to block paying a bill the city was legally required to pay. Readers will sadly remember similar attempts by these and other members of the last administration to avoid fulfilling the city’s financial obligations.

At issue at this meeting was paying a bill for approximately $4,800.00 from former Mayor Meg Kelly’s lawyer for work done regarding the New York State Attorney General’s report on the Saratoga Springs Police Department’s Response to Protests in 2021.

In a previous post, I published the opinion issued by the city’s two attorneys, which made clear that the city is required to pay the legal bills of elected officials arising from actions performed in carrying out their duties.

As the attached video documents, Moran and Sanghvi simply ignored any inconvenient documents, laws, or regulations that might expose the fallacies in the narratives they crafted for the benefit of what they hope is a credulous public. They launched a full-throated attack on former Mayor Kelly in an attempt to block the payment of her lawyer’s bill.

The Attack

Readers will remember that this attack on Kelly was launched by comments made by Kristen Dart at the last Council meeting. Dart’s attempt to stop the payment of Kelly’s lawyer because, she argued, the Mayor had allegedly acted outside the scope of her role as Mayor was refuted in a legal opinion from the city’s attorneys. Moran and Sanghvi now abandoned that tactic and launched a panoply of new and different arguments at this meeting.

Moran’s and Sanghvi’s first arguments focused on part of the Attorney General’s report which falsely claimed that former Mayor Meg Kelly had failed to comply with the AG staff’s requests. Moran and Sanghvi purported to be morally outraged at the possibility of paying lawyer fees for someone who had failed to comply with the AG’s investigation.

Inconveniently for Moran and Sanghvi, however, Kelly’s attorney, Karl Sleight, had provided the city with correspondence thoroughly documenting his communications with the AG’s office, clearly refuting their allegation of non-cooperation. Sanghvi had crafted a fancy slide presentation containing the text from the AG report, and out of malice or incompetence, she found no need to acknowledge Sleight’s correspondence, let alone refute it. [This link to an earlier post explores all this in detail.]

More importantly, and indicative of how myopic Moran and Sanghvi are, even if the false information in the AG’s report had been accurate, it still would not have absolved the city of its obligation to pay Kelly’s attorney’s bill.

Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub and Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll patiently tried to explain all this to them, but it did not deter Sanghvi from continuing her flawed arguments.

One part of Sanghvi’s slide show compared the number of texts Robin Dalton had provided to the AG to Kelly’s. Sanghvi saw this as proof of Kelly’s non-compliance. As the video documents, Golub, who, as he points out, is a lawyer, was especially effective and clear in his attempts to explain to her the problems with this argument.

Sanghvi and Moran next became focused on what they saw as a contradiction in Mayor Safford’s comments. Safford had said he understood that the bill from Sleight would be the last, yet the resolution, they complained, said the city would pay future bills. Sanghvi and Moran claimed they had been told by the City Attorneys that the AG report was closed, so how could there be future bills? Sanghvi wanted a friendly amendment to cap the bills.

Here again, Golub, in his quiet style, repeatedly explained to them that nothing prevented the AG’s office from reopening their investigation, which is why both things could be true, i.e., that the investigation was over, implying there would be no more bills, but that further legal action and more bills which would have to be paid were possible.

Coll attempted to explain the danger of this stratagem to Sanghvi. He reminded her that it was hard enough to attract candidates for office given the $14,500.00 salary. However, it would be disastrous to leave open the idea that the city would not fully indemnify city officers with whatever it took to defend them.

Sanghvi, apparently in an attempt to save face, suggested that they cap the current bills with Kelly’s, and if there were more legal issues in the future, they could fund more then. If she’s ok with funding future bills, why is she opposing that language in the resolution>

In the end, Sanghvi voted not to pay the bills, even after noting that her job as Finance Commissioner was to pay bills. Moran abstained, while Coll, Safford, and Golub voted yes to pay the bill the city was legally obliged to pay.

The ignorance of Sanghvi and Moran displayed at the meeting, along with their foolish intransigence, only adds to the concern that if they could be so out of touch with the law on this matter, what is going on in their offices daily.

In Praise Of Meg Kelly

I am particularly disturbed by Commissioners Sanghvi and Moran’s callousness in their gratuitous cavalier attacks on former Mayor Meg Kelly. It is not clear to me what their purpose is in continuing to launch these attacks, particularly on a fellow Democrat who is not going to run for office again. Does Sanghvi somehow think this will help her run for the NY State Senate in which she is currently engaged?

Our elected officials are paid a meager $14,500.00 a year. This inadequate salary has not been adjusted since its establishment thirty years ago. While the positions are ostensibly part-time, many who serve, such as Kelly, devote more than full-time to the duties. For all intents and purposes, these officials are virtually volunteers. Let me emphasize this last point. They virtually dedicate their lives to serving the citizens of this city for two-year stints. In Kelly’s case, it was four years.

I cannot think of any Mayor who achieved more than Mayor Kelly during my almost 50 years as a resident in this city. As just a few examples:

  • This city had been trying to build an EMS/fire station to serve the eastside plateau for decades. Finding an affordable plot of land had eluded administration after administration. As Mayor, Kelly negotiated a deal with the New York Racing Association for virtually nothing, making the project viable.
  • The city had secured grants to build a bike path in the Geyser Crest area, but the project had languished for years due to conflicts with property owners and the town of Milton. Kelly patiently and persistently worked with all the players to resolve the outstanding issues, and today, the community benefits from her efforts.
  • When Kelly took office, the building inspection department was a dysfunctional mess. Michael Biffer, who had done outstanding work in a thankless job as the former head, had retired, and there was a leadership vacuum. The backlog of building permits and inspections was disgraceful. Kelly reformed that department and radically improved its productivity.
  • During the COVID epidemic, the county’s Department of Social Services refused to provide lodging for the homeless. This was not just a moral issue but a threat to public health. Through Kelly’s efforts, generously supported financially by Scott Earl of Twin Bridges Waste and Recycling, she arranged for them to be housed at the Holiday Inn.
  • Construction of the City Centre parking facility had also languished for years due to what appeared to be intransigent litigation. Kelly worked successfully with all parties to resolve the conflict.
  • Kelly ended the gun show at the City Centre. [Something I actually opposed doing but which had wide spread public support]
  • Kelly did an extraordinary job navigating the crisis of the city hall fire. Moving the city operations to other locations, rehabilitating the building, and maintaining unity among the Council members was quite an achievement.

Mayor Kelly could be tough. When she ran for her first term as Mayor, she refused to take my calls. She also ran a tight ship. If I wanted to meet with her, I had to first provide her with a memorandum outlining my issues.

She strictly limited the public’s input at City Council meetings, limiting speakers to two minutes. Her sometimes imperious style offended many. Like every other speaker, I was sternly cut off at the end of my allotted time. I felt, though, that the important issue was that the City Council’s deliberations were efficient during her tenure.

The most revealing thing about Kelly has been her work with the homeless after she left office. It reflects her compassion and her take care of business persona. Meg Kelly walks the walk.

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