City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the past 40 years, Wellspring has helped Saratoga County victims of domestic violence find safety, support and healing - providing crisis and support services mostly out of a 3,000 square foot office in the Collamer Building on Broadway.
This week, the agency announced plans to construct a new 8,000 square foot facility in Malta and the launch of a fundraising campaign to assist in that relocation.
The new building will be located on Route 9, just south of Malta Avenue, and is anticipated to be completed in late 2021.
“For most of our 40-year history, Wellspring has been in the same office location, even as the agency has grown exponentially in programs offered, number of clients assisted, and staff size,” says Maggie Fronk, executive director at Wellspring.
“We’ve been working on it for about 10 years. We spent a long time looking for just the right property. It was one of the first things we did as part of a long-range strategic plan when we changed our name from Domestic Violence Rape and Crisis Services, to Wellspring, to reflect a lot of the more positive and preventative work we do,” said Fronk.
The new facility, at nearly triple the size, will allow safe spaces for counseling, rooms for programming to be used to enhance client job skills to help them obtain self-sufficiency, and a wing devoted to prevention programs.
“As wonderful our current location is, you don’t see us - and that is a big issue because the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault happen out of sight and so when the agency is also out of sight there’s not that driving reminder that ‘oh, there’s a place I can get help,’” Fronk says. “What I think happens is people often come to us when they’re in dire crisis; I think there is something to just driving by and saying: there is a place. I don’t have to wait until there is a crisis. I can just go in and talk to somebody.”
The new location, Fronk says, is clearly visible and will sit in the central part of the county so it’s accessible to all areas of the county Wellspring serves.
Currently, the 24/7 hotline answers more than 1,500 calls annually. Last year alone the organization provided in-person counseling and case management services for 1,000 abuse survivors, and provided 70 people adults and children with safe housing in rent subsidized apartments throughout Saratoga County - a total of 14,971 nights of sleep without fear of abuse. Legal advocacy is provided on a daily basis.
Pandemic restrictions have made things more difficult for some. “Think about it: the things we did for health safety – staying home, not seeing friends – those were all necessary from a health perspective, but they created an environment rife for abuse to continue and to escalate. You’re home 24/7 with your abuser and your children. You have all kind of stressors whether it’s home schooling, loss of employment, financial worries, health worries. You’re socially isolated. All those allow abuse to escalate,” Fronk says. “We also knew people who tend to call our hotline and reach out for support or come in for counseling – if you’re home 24/7 with your abuser and your children you can’t pick up the phone and make that call. You don’t have the privacy to do it.” To that point, the agency launched a web-based chat line earlier this year so victims may “talk” discreetly to an advocate by simply typing on their computer or smartphone.
Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. In Saratoga County, it is the second most violent crime – topped only by drunk/drugged driving - and the primary cause of family homelessness. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence incidents increased 42% between 2016 and 2018, and the number of rape/sexual assaults increased 146%.
“When things started to open up, we did see more clients coming to shelter, but you know I don’t think any of us think the world is normal yet,” Fronk says. “I don’t think we’ll see the full impact of COVID until we’ve taken care of the health crisis. Only then will we find out just how much people have endured.”
All services provided by Wellspring are free and confidential. Wellspring’s operations are funded by local, state, and federal grant funding as well as philanthropic contributions from the community
The total cost of the project is $3 million. The sources of funding include Wellspring’s building reserves, a loan from The Adirondack Trust Company, and a fundraising campaign with a goal of $1.8 million. More than half of the fundraising goal has been reached, leaving $665,000 yet to be raised. To support Wellspring’s mission, visit the Wellspring website www.wellspringcares.org/make-a-change/donate or call 518-583-0280.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Bake, batter, glaze, and healthcare marketing: ingredients at first glance seemingly stirred into an unlikely mix, yet the blend works perfectly.
Ed Mitzen toured The Bread Basket Bakery late last spring, eyeing the Springs Street building up for sale as a potential investment. Longtime owner Joan Tallman started the bakery out of her basement in 1982 and was interested in retiring. However, with a desire to see the bakery continue, she was looking to find someone interested in acquiring both the building and the business.
“I know absolutely nothing about the bakery business and the absolutely last thing you want to see is me meddling in any kind of baking endeavor,” Mitzen says with a laugh.
A solution emerged: Tallman’s son, Matt, agreed to stay on as the general manager. So too would the bakers and chefs. Ed Mitzen and wife Lisa purchased the popular bakeshop in July and will continue the Bread Basket Bakery tradition in downtown Saratoga Springs.
“We didn’t want to change anything about the bakery – the scones, the cakes, the pie recipes, the logo or the name,” Mitzen says. “The only thing Lisa and I thought would be a nice touch would be to donate all the profits to charity and keep the bakery intact the way Joan envisioned it and ran it the past 30-plus years. It’s such a charming staple and beautiful location in the city, so it’s a real honor to continue the tradition. Everybody wins. And I get to show up and get a free blueberry muffin every once in a while.”
The business closed for a few weeks in September for renovations and a baker who had worked for one of the Emeril restaurants in New Orleans was brought aboard.
The goal Mitzen says is to present a check - at least quarterly and potentially monthly - to non-profits across the region. The recipient organizations have yet to be chosen, but in keeping with the bakery’s new mission of donating all of its ongoing profits to charity, the Mitzens will this week present a check for $25,000 to Capital Roots, the Troy-based nonprofit whose mission is to reduce the impact of poor nutrition on public health.
“Anything we make in terms of profitability we’re going to donate back to charity. We’re still getting our arms around the financials for this year, but Lisa and I wanted to make a check presentation to sort of prime the pump for what’s going to come,” Mitzen says. “ I can’t say that we made $25,000 in profit over the past few months, we haven’t, but we thought it would be a good thing to do just to let everyone know that it’s real, that we’re going to be donating the money and once we get into the holiday season and business starts to pick up with pies and cakes and breads, we’ll be able to get a better handle on exactly how much we’re making.”
Mitzen founded Fingerpaint marketing company in 2008 and has maintained a philanthropic presence in the community. In 2017, the Mitzens offered to fund the construction of a permanent Code Blue emergency homeless shelter next to the existing quarters of its parent company Shelters of Saratoga. Neighborhood pushback negated the development of a permanent shelter at the location, and Code Blue continues to operate on a transitory basis. “It’s frustrating because I know we could have had a building built by now, but we’ll get there eventually,” Mitzen says. “Mine and Lisa’s offer to build the shelter still stands, it’s just that navigating the political and legal landscape of Saratoga is not always easy.”
Fingerpaint maintains five offices around the country, each operating under different protocols depending on safety guidelines the varying states where the offices are located. “For the most part the offices are partially open with restrictions and precautions in place, so people have the ability to come and go.” As a business owner with employees, Mitzen says there have been new lessons to be learned that may be applied in a post-COVID business world.
“I think you’re going to see it will come back to a certain degree, but we’ve all learned different ways of doing things through all this. Admittedly I was a huge anti-proponent of working from home. I always felt if someone said they wanted to work from home they would be mowing their yard and watching ESPN, that they’re not committed, but now I’ve done a complete 180. Our folks have been unbelievably productive – probably more productive than they’ve been in the office,” he said. “I do think as human beings we require social interaction to be emotionally centered and to thrive and I do think at some point we’ll gravitate back to that when it’s safer.
“The thing I love about the Bread Basket model is that it’s sustainable. We’re not just writing a check and going away. It’s around this idea of social entrepreneurship where we can help established businesses, or help people get their businesses going that ultimately helps to give back to their employees and their communities,” he says. “I grew up in Vorheesville in a traditional middle-class neighborhood and had a very happy childhood, but I also am very aware that there are a lot of people who haven’t fared so well, especially recently. You look at the gap between the haves and the have-nots, which has been exponentially increasing, and I just feels really good to help other people. It’s very rewarding.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs City Center is scheduled to host the grand opening for its new parking structure in November.
Parking rates for 2021 parking will be free for the first hour of parking, and $1 per hour after that first free hour, with a $15 cap on the 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. period.
The lowest level along High Rock Avenue will be made available for the Saratoga Farmers’ Market as well as other community events as requested by the city. The top floor of the parking structure may occasionally be used for events as well. A limited number of charging stations for electric vehicles will be available on the second floor.
A limited number of yearly parking passes are being made available for sale. The yearly passes - 100 of them are being made available, are priced at $150 per month, and paid yearly at a rate of $1,800. An inaugural bonus for those who sign up and pay now offers complimentary parking from the November grand opening to Dec. 31, at no charge.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city Planning Board this week is expected to hear a site plan review regarding a mixed-use project at South Broadway and Driscoll Road.
Plans call for the construction of a new 10,000 square foot building that will house an animal clinic, office, retail, and multi-family residences. The proposed development of a new two-story building is on land currently vacant.
According to documents filed with the city, Dr. Susan Sikule, owner of two Just Cats Veterinary Clinics – one in Guilderland and one in Saratoga Springs - currently has a contract to purchase the near 6-acre parcel where the existing Saratoga Springs veterinary facility would be relocated.
The proposed mixed-use building will consist of seven apartment units on the second floor and three separate commercial tenants on the first floor, one of which will be the clinic.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The newly restored Saratoga Music Hall opened to the public last Tuesday when it hosted a city council meeting that featured the first public hearing of the proposed 2021 budget.
The proposed annual budget seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as “this COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments.
“These are very trying times,” Mayor Meg Kelly said during the meeting. “It’s $7 million short. We all have to take our hits (but) I think together we can all pull this off.”
This week’s public commentary largely focused on the potential Recreation Department budget – a topic amplified as a result of an email apparently sent from the recreation department, and circulated among thousands of residents during the previous weekend that pleaded with residents to attend City Council meetings and budget workshops to express concerns.
“Recreation in Saratoga Springs is at stake and we NEED YOUR HELP” read the email, “Ask our City to NOT DEFUND recreation.” Many did. With public seating limited to less than three dozen participants at one time due to COVID protocols, speakers briefly addressed the council regarding potential cuts to recreation programs then exited the building, allowing others who waited in line outside to enter and speak. The public hearing segment lasted approximately one hour. Members of the council warned of the danger of isolating one particular department and stressed the importance of looking at the budget as a whole.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation about the budget and about recreation in particular,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who first presented the proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget to the City Council earlier this month. “In this COVID economy the (emailed) communication lacked context and it lacked details and it lacked a lot of what we’re doing right now at the City Council… it was all over social media, and it was pure anger, rage, and panic, and that is unfortunate.”
“We all, in our own way, have a personal connection to the Rec Department and the tremendous effect it has on children’s mental health,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who explained she has four children aged between 4 and 10, and realizes the impact of the recreation in the city. “I don’t want to set the tone here that we’re only out for who we represent. When you put out just one tiny piece of what the budget is going to look like and you play to people’s emotions to make it seem as if we don’t care about our kids and that that’s the first thing that’s going to go - it really sets a whole different tone for the budget season that I find regretful. The whole thing is we’re working together to make sure we have the best results for everyone in the city,” she said. “What I encourage people to do is to go to the individual workshops to understand what it means to the entire city.”
Budgeted expenses for the city’s Recreation Department have been reduced under the proposed budget, but not eliminated. There is currently $1.2 million in the budget, maintaining the costs of the Director of Recreation, one staff person, and building and grounds maintenance and utilities. “This means recreations programs cannot incur any additional costs to the city. It does not mean that Recreation is shutting down,” Madigan said.
Madigan has proposed increasing property tax rates by 6% and to minimize the number of required layoffs, the budget contains a 10% reduction in all city employee salary lines. “With a 10% pay cut we can limit the layoffs, but they are still significant: 25% reduction in Public Works labor lines and 15% in Public Safety - police and fire.” Basically, she said, a lower pay cut requires more layoffs, fewer layoffs will require a larger pay cut.
“We all appreciate recreation and need recreation, but we all have to get together as a council and see what we can do,” Mayor Kelly said. “Essential services are always first.”
“Right now, we do not have those essential services figured out. That has to be the first priority,” Commissioner Dalton said. “Water, sewer, roads, fire, EMS and police. Unless we can assure those essential services are intact – we have nothing. We can’t operate. You won’t be able to drive to the ice rink. We won’t be able to respond to a medical emergency. So that has to be our first priority as a city. Once we get those covered, then we can look at anything else.”
The Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission is a 7-member board of community volunteers appointed by the mayor to oversee the Recreation Department. Mayor Kelly pointed to Recreation Department Administrative Director John Hirliman. “We have to see if we can do this as budget-neutral and I have John Hirliman, who has always worked magic in this department, and as a council we all believe in his abilities,” she said. “I have great faith in my team to pull some programs together.”
“We all understand the tremendous financial crisis we face due to the pandemic. I’m going to work my tail off to make sure we have recreation programming,” Hirliman said.
Separate budget hearings are tentatively scheduled to take place this week involving the Public Safety Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Mayor/ Recreation departments. Visit the city’s website to confirm times and dates of those meetings, at: saratoga-springs.org.
A second public hearing of the budget will take place in November. Revisions of the potential budget may be made through the end of November, at which point the 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be adopted.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first of two public hearings regarding the city’s 2021 budget will be staged at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20. The proposed budget, at just under $41.9 million, is approximately $6.8 million less than the originally adopted budget for this year.
“The 2021 Comprehensive Budget is driven by reduced revenue due to the effect of the pandemic on the national, state, and city economy,” said city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who introduced the proposed budget to the City Council earlier this month.
Due to the pandemic, 2020 current revenue projections are about $12 million less than the $48.7 million represented by the 2020 adopted budget, and 2021 revenue is estimated at $6.8 million less than the adopted 2020 budget, resulting in available revenue of approximately $41.9 million for 2021, Madigan said.
To partially off-set a pandemic-induced financial shortfall, discussions about employee lay-offs – which would cut costs, and property tax increases – which would increase revenue, are on the table.
Year-to-date sales tax collection through August 2020 is 22.43% lower than the same period in 2019, NY has held back 20% of state revenue sharing for municipalities, and NYRA Admissions Tax, which provided the city just under $430,000 in 2019, was this year non-existent with no public admissions to the summer meet.
“The city budget is one of our most important policy documents. It will also be key to the city’s financial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is an extraordinary event for our city, a year-round destination accustomed to numerous activities, special events, with substantial citizen and visitor participation,” Madigan said.
“City taxpayers have enjoyed a stable tax rate for an unprecedented 8 years of my tenure as Commissioner of Finance,” Madigan said. “For the first time during my tenure, we have suggested a noteworthy tax levy increase over 2020 in the amount of 6%.” That 6% increase in property tax rates would generate $949,000 in revenue for 2021. It would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year; a home assessed at $400,000 by $12 per month or $144 per year, and so on.
The city’s single largest expenditure is personnel service. This, together with benefits, represents about 84% of the total General Operating Budget and includes wages, social security, retirement, and healthcare benefits.
Budgeted expense reductions include a 10% cut in all wage appropriations for full-time employees, serving to mitigate the number of required layoffs, and lessen the impact to police, fire, and DPW labor and other wage lines. Absent federal fiscal stimulus, layoffs will be required. In addition to the 10% across the board pay cut that has been budgeted, additional staff reductions are included for DPW labor lines at 25%; and for DPS at 15% for police and fire personnel lines.
“The 2021 Comprehensive Budget is a plan designed to be amended if further revenue becomes available – such as much needed assistance to local municipalities from the Federal Government,” Madigan said. “While there are few layoffs that require a January 1 target, additional layoffs are not off the table. The Departments of Public Works and Public Safety, which are the departments with the largest personnel lines, will each require a plan to work through year-end 2021.” The proposed budget, she said, is designed to be fluid and flexible as the new post-pandemic economy develops, “specifically designed to prepare us for our challenges, while being amendable as new revenue and expense information is available and opportunities unfold. “
Tuesday’s council meeting marks the first public hearing of the budget. While the first floor of the newly renovated City Hall had reopened to the public for a handful of meetings recently, the city announced that beginning this week, City Council meetings will be closed to the public for in-person engagement. The announcement was posted on the city’s social media page, where it appears public comments have also recently been altogether disabled or restricted. According to the post, meetings absent of a physical public will continue “until the Music Hall at City Hall is functional as a public meeting space.”
A livestream (and subsequent recording) of the meeting will be posted on the city’s website, the public will be able to participate in public hearings and public comment during the meeting via Zoom, according to the city.
The line-by-line 190-page budget proposal and accompanying documentation is available for viewing on the city’s website.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A public meeting regarding the next incarnation of the skatepark in Saratoga Springs will take place 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at City Hall.
In January, the city put out a call for bids regarding Skate Park Consulting and Design services, to include conceptual design for the installation of a new skatepark to replace the existing one at the East Side Recreation Park on Lake Avenue.
That property is managed by the City of Saratoga Springs and owned by the Saratoga Springs City School District. The site is shaped like a semi-circle that is approximately 180 feet long and 60 feet in radius. It currently is and will remain completely fenced in.
The proposed new project will be required to meet common standards for the latest skatepark design principles primarily for skateboarders, scooters, and BMX riders to develop their skills, and feature a mix of street and transitional-style terrain, with elements designed for all age groups and ability levels, according to city documents.
BALLSTON SPA — Mayor Woolbright walked through Wiswall Park on a sun-filled Wednesday afternoon draped in a shadow of memories of the grand San Souci Hotel. The fashionable multi-story structure which once stood a few yards away housed hundreds of guests during its 19th century heyday. It was the largest hotel in the nation at the time.
At this week’s ceremony, Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright showcased the newly restored fountain fed by the San Souci Spring, one of the initial springs that drew visitors to the village in the 1800s. If the restored fountain provided a visible symbol of the village’s renewal, the event’s unveiling of an economic development plan represents its rebirth.
“The release of this smart and strategic economic development plan heralds a new beginning for the village of Ballston Spa, and makes it abundantly clear that we are open for business,” Woolbright said, showcasing the 72-page economic development plan.
A product of the Saratoga Partnership’s Next Wave Communities initiative, the plan was guided by the input of residents, government leaders and members of the business community. More than 400 took part in local surveys, six focus groups were conducted, and a public forum staged. The development of the plan combines the community’s vision of itself, as well as recognizing village assets and resources.
“Ultimately this is your plan, based on your vision,” said Shelby Schneider, President and CEO of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership. The Partnership worked with the village for more than one year to create the plan, which outlines a strategic and tactical approach to attracting visitors, residents and businesses to Ballston Spa by enriching and promoting the assets, resources, charm and character of the historic village.
According to 2019 data, the village measures 1.6 miles and is home to 287 businesses and 5,469 residents. The median household income is $61,378 and the average home value just under $240,000.
The Economic Development Strategy seeks to enhance the Central Business District by achieving an environment that provides a positive shopping experience and bolsters the village atmosphere for businesses, residents and visitors alike. These would be attained by implementing, among other things, architectural and transportation/ walkability improvements, developing market rate housing for adults to “age-in-place,” fostering supportive conditions for small businesses, and updating the village master plan, which was last updated in 1994.
The 72-page economic development plan outlines four major goals, and includes a matrix of timelines for implementation, to strengthen Ballston Spa’s economic and fiscal vitality. They include: Enhancing the Central Business District; Enriching the Village’s Quality of Place; Providing support and resources to small businesses and creating an economic development and community branding strategy.
Mayor Woolbright said the plan will build on the rich and storied past of the village and “help create a thriving village for our children, and their children.”
The gathering in Wiswall Park included former longtime village Mayor John Romano, members of the current village board and regional business and tourism leaders, many of whom raised a toast with cups filled with spring water. Rory O’Connor, Chair of the Steering Committee called the plan “a declaration of opportunity.”
The survey points to downtown parking availability, infrastructure and repair upgrades and lack of business diversity as some of the top challenges the village faces. Nafeesa Koslik, who hails from the city of Hyberabad in India, said during the ceremony that she was confident she has found the perfect place to make her dream a reality. Her restaurant, Nani’s Indian Kitchen, is slated to open on Milton Avenue in the coming weeks.
James Beaudoin, owner of the prominent 125 Bath St. property, was also in attendance. Beaudoin said he looks forward to playing a role in the “exciting vision for the village’s future,” and helping to make it a reality. After many years of being unable to do so, the Bath Street property is slated for potential future development.
“You look around us here and the village is pretty well built-out. There’s not a whole lot of vacant space. Now this site is over six acres-plus, and it’s in the middle of the central business district,” Mayor Woolbright explained. “It was a tannery for many years and a Brownfield Site restricted by DEC that couldn’t be redeveloped. Jim (Beaudoin) bought it, cleaned it up and he now has permission to redevelop it. He can build, he can have businesses, he can have residences. He’s working with the village on the plan of what we would like to see there,” Woolbright said. “What we would like to see is mixed-use, some retail commercial on the bottom floor, some open space in the middle, some condos or something on the upper floors, and we’d like to see a connection up to the fair ground. It’s a strategically placed property and our vision calls for a bridge over the Gordon Creek, restaurants, bars and shops lining Washington Street.”
The Saratoga Partnership’s Next Wave Communities initiative involves creating tailored economic development plans for individual municipalities in Saratoga County. Similar efforts are currently underway in the towns of Galway and Malta. For more information about Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, go to: saratogapartnership.org. For more information about Ballston Spa visit the village website at: villageofballstonspa.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A Special City Council meeting was held at City Hall on the afternoon of Oct. 1 to address public safety concerns in light of recent protests and marches held in Saratoga Springs.
“The safety of the community and all involved is the number one priority of the Department of Public Safety,” Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton said, to begin the meeting. Dalton specifically cited a protest held the previous Friday night led by the group All of Us. The regional grassroots organization describes their goals as fighting for liberty through unity and active resistance and ending all forms of oppression and exploitation.
“Over the last six days we have received hundreds of complaints from residents, businesses and people who are visiting our city, over the protest that happened in our city Friday night. The Saratoga Springs Police Department recognizes the right to peacefully protest, however, one person’s constitutional right does not supersede another’s,” Dalton said during the meeting, attended by all council members, excepting DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, who was absent.
Accompanied by video clips of the protest, Dalton provided a timeline of the march, which commenced in Congress Park and proceeded through the downtown business corridor. For safety reasons, police blocked off streets around the Broadway and Lake Avenue intersection, she said, and a video clip depicted marchers moving along Phila Street.
“Frequently the group stopped in front of area businesses to intimidate and harass diners and pedestrians,” Dalton said, showing a five-minute clip that depicted one of the group leaders in close proximity to outdoor restaurant tables and loudly addressing diners with words at times peppered with profanity. “You all can have dinner, while black people are dying,” the clip showed. “You all feel comfortable, having dinner, while we’re being murdered? Come outside walk with us.”
“Suffice to say none of the customers came back to dine at those restaurants that evening,” Dalton said. “That also happened at several other businesses, where they stopped and harassed and intimidated people who were eating.”
Protests for social and racial justice have ramped up regionally much as they have nationwide since the May 25 murder of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground by a police officer’s knee. In early June, more than 1,000 attended a rally in Congress Park. In late July, Black Lives Matter/All of Us marchers protesting racial injustice crossed paths with another group supporting law enforcement in a Back The Blue rally.
Citing “intelligence collected by outside agencies” that police say reported one of the protestors was possibly armed with a handgun, the city added the assistance of the State Police, state Park Police, and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. Later that same evening, as members of the group rallied on Broadway and impeded traffic in front of Congress Park, the sheriff’s department utilizing their MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, dispersed the crowd using pepper projectiles. The city Chief of Police authorized the action “once the situation started turning violent,” according to a statement issued by SSPD.
The most recent protest led by “All of Us” was staged two days after a Kentucky grand jury decided against charging police officers with homicide in the death of Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old emergency room technician was shot multiple times in her apartment by officers executing a search warrant earlier this year in what the N.Y. Times described as a “botched raid.”
At this week’s special council meeting, Assistant City Police Chief John Catone read a prepared statement which said SSPD respects the right to peacefully protest at public property – “such as parks, government buildings, as long as they are not blocking access to the buildings or interfering with the other purposes the property was designated for.”
Citing the video clips played during the council meeting, Catone explained that marchers had obstructed vehicle and pedestrian traffic to the point that the safety of all had been compromised.
“Moving forward, should demonstrations and protests which have not been coordinated with our department occur obstruct vehicular pedestrian traffic and compromise the peace and safety of all community members, the police department will ask demonstrators, protesters to remove themselves from the roadway and stop obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” Catone said. “The demonstrators/protesters will be given the opportunity to move and if they fail to do so, the appropriate police action will take place, and they may be subject to arrest.”
He added the police department continues to make itself available to meet with rally organizers for safe protest planning purposes, but said members of All Of Us had thus far not agreed to meet with the department.
“It is time to make some changes here because we cannot have this happening time and time again in the city of Saratoga Springs – period,” Mayor Meg Kelly said. “We are not going to block streets; there’s going to be a time where somebody’s going to get run over by a car. There’s going to be a fight in the street and it’s going to be a bad scene,” she said. “I think this is a very important turning point.”
Lexis Figuereo, identified as a leader of the group “All of Us,” spoke to the council during the meeting’s public comment period.
“This is the first meeting I’m hearing anything about protests. Until people started complaining about restaurants last Friday - now you guys want to talk. Now we’re having a special council meeting. There was no Special Council Meeting when you guys shot at us,” said Figuereo, referring to the late July rally that resulted in law enforcement using pepper balls. “Why has it taken this long for this to happen, because we’ve been doing this since May. It seems to me what’s more important is property and money than people and people’s lives.”
All Of Us is advocating for what it calls its “13 Demands Against Police Brutality, State-Sanctioned Violence, and Abuse of Power.” These include structural changes be made to policing and incarceration, including the abolition of all no-knock warrants, anti-racism training for all persons working for law enforcement, and the abolition of chokeholds, among others.
In June, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order requiring local governments with a police force to perform a comprehensive review and develop a plan to improve current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices. The purpose of the order is to address the particular needs of each community, to promote community engagement and foster trust, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.
Earlier this summer, city Mayor Meg Kelly Mayor convened a Task Force to address the governor’s Executive Order. The next meeting is Oct. 14. When completed, the Task Force will present their recommendations to the City Council and the public. The council is required to adopt a plan by local law or resolution on or before April 1, 2021 and to implement the recommendations.
ALBANY — The state has launched a mobile contact tracing app in partnership with Apple and Google software that will alert smartphone users if they were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
COVID Alert NY is a voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app created for the purposes of contact tracing. Contact tracing is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and helps protect individuals, their families, and entire communities, according to the CDC. It lets people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and that they should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of the virus.
“Contact tracing is awesome and our (Saratoga County) contact tracers have been working very hard – but it also relies on your memory,” says Tara Gaston, one of two Saratoga Springs Supervisors representing the city at the county level. “If you have COVID and you’re diagnosed, they ask you: Where have you been? Do you remember when you went to that gas station, and did you brush up against that person? Do you remember when you saw your neighbor out in the front?’ It relies on you remembering every place you’ve been, who you’ve been in contact with.”
The expectation is the app will “remember” contacts in greater detail than the human memory, and it will do so without compromising privacy or personal information.
“What I do right now is I have a Proximity List,” explains city resident Charlie Samuels, an awards-winning director and photographer and early supporter of the potential benefits of the system. “I’m a documentarian, so I write down everybody I come close contact with. I have my own list. But who else keeps a list? And sometimes I forget. This would be an easy, non-thinking way to do that.”
In April, Apple and Google – normally competitors in business - announced plans to collaborate on building COVID-19 software into iPhone and Android operating systems. On Oct. 1, in partnership with Google and Apple, the New York State Department of Health launched the COVID Alert NY app which enables the software to be used, for those who choose to do so.
The app leverages a private and secure Bluetooth-based technology that alerts you if a sick person spends 10 minutes or more within 6 feet of you, and lets you alert others if you have tested positive without revealing anyone’s identity, according to the state Department of Health.
“The important thing is it doesn’t tell you where you came in contract with them, or when – except that it would have been sometime in the previous 14 days,” Gaston said. “It can be beneficial, and I love the idea especially because there’s also so much privacy built into it. I’m a big pro-ponent of privacy and I don’t want people’s information being shared.”
The more people who download COVID Alert NY, the more effective it will be. The free mobile app is available to anyone 18 or older who lives, works, or attends college in New York or New Jersey, and is available for download from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. COVID Alert NY is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Korean, Russian and Haitian Creole.