City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A long-standing city practice that normally passes smoothly and without incident screeched to a halt this week during a 30-minute, at-times heated discussion among members of the City Council.
At issue: a $25,000 cost allegedly “hidden” among several other items of a “Consent Agenda” for the council to simply pay and approve without knowledge or discussion.
That one item aside, council members expressed even greater concern when questioning whether the practice had similarly occurred in other instances, and over a longer period of time.
“It seems like somebody purposely tried to hide it... this decision to spend $25,000 of taxpayer money without our knowledge,” city Mayor Ron Kim said.
The “Consent Agenda” is typically part of the City Council meeting agenda tended to near the start of the twice-a-month meetings.
Robert’s Rules of Order refer to the “Consent Calendar” as one which allows for the grouping of items together. It is usually comprised of miscellaneous payments and non-controversial routine matters which may be approved in its entirety as a time-saving feature by a board.
A deep-dive into two decades-worth of City Council meetings seems to indicate those routine matters used to appear on council members’ individual agendas as separate entries. At some point during the summer of 2006, and specifically beginning with the Aug. 1, 2006 council meeting, a grouped “Consent Agenda” appears on its own at the meeting start and includes notice of accepted donations, the approval of previous meeting minutes, budget amendments and budget transfers.
Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino said he learned of the $25,000 payment cost - which is related to an insurance deductible settlement of a long-pending lawsuit against the city - after aggressively seeking answers to many questions the evening before this week’s council meeting.
“I made a number of phone calls and inquiries and I didn’t find out until seven o’clock last night (Aug. 1) that this $25,000 deductible was a part of the settlement of the case – and it appeared tucked in on page 52 of an 80-page consent agenda,” he said.
“It seems to me, if this kind of thing is occurring, it’s now incumbent of me as a member of the City Council to have to comb through the thousand-or-more items on individual lines of the consent agenda just to make sure that somebody’s not pulling a fast one and slipping something by us,” Montagnino said.
“If I hadn’t asked those questions yesterday, this consent agenda would have been passed without discussion and I would have found out later that I’m now roped into a problem (and having to explain) how I as a City Council member could have allowed that to slip by without discussion, without transparency and by not even knowing,” Montagnino said. “This is totally reprehensible; this is unacceptable.”
“The way this issue came up… this was not even known to us, and was (simply) placed on the consent agenda,” Mayor Kim said.
There are a variety of people who work for the city - not just council members - who have the authority to place bill-paying items on the consent agenda.
During the meeting, the council moved to remove the item from the Consent Agenda. It also authorized the mayor to send letters to the insurance carrier, the court and to counselors ausking for a detailed explanation of how the deductable arose and why the City Council wasn’t informed it is to pay $25,000.
Questioning whether there had been previous settlements similarly placed on the consent agenda in the past, the council additionally requested a detailed report from the city’s Risk and Safety Department as to “how many times this kind of activity has occurred in the consent agenda.” The remaining items on the consent agenda were approved.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A proposed city ordinance aimed at “aggressive” panhandling was narrowly defeated in a 3-2 vote by the City Council on Aug. 2.
The vote followed a 35-minute public hearing – during which 12 citizens voiced opinion about the issue – and a 45-minute discussion among the council.
Council members were in general agreement that the proposal had certain merits – prohibiting solicitation outright near bank entrances or ATMs, or when directed at an occupant of a vehicle while standing on a sidewalk, among them. But concerns were raised over a lack of specific data regarding the measure’s effectiveness in municipalities where it has been in use, such as Rochester, as well as a murky subjectiveness regarding what constitutes the feeling of annoyance on behalf of the one being solicited.
The Rochester law prohibiting aggressive panhandling, upon which the Saratoga Springs measure is based, went into effect in July 2004 with fines ranging from $25 to $250. But in Rochester, that ordinance is rarely used, the council reported.
Not Panhandling, But “Aggressive” Panhandling
The simple act of “panhandling” by itself – that is, asking for money – was never an issue in the proposed ordinance; that action alone has repeatedly been ruled as protected by the First Amendment’s free speech provisions in courts across the country.
“For someone to walk up to you on the sidewalk and say, ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime?’ – that’s not violating any law doing that,” Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino said during the council’s Aug. 2 meeting. “If it’s not aggressive solicitation, then it’s not prohibited.”
Asked whether there already are statutes on the books that could be applied, such as harassment, Montagnino clarified differences between harassment and the proposed aggressive solicitation ordinance.
“The harassment statute requires proof of an intent to harass, annoy or alarm another. The aggressive solicitation statute doesn’t have that element in it - the city wouldn’t have to prove that you intended to bother anybody,” he said. Ultimately, that subjectiveness was one of the sticking points that tilted the vote against the proposal.
Votes in favor: Mayor Ron Kim and Commissioner Montagnino voted in favor of the proposal; Commissioners Jason Golub, Dillon Moran, and Minita Sanghvi voted against.
A modified measure may be revisited in the future.
BALLSTON SPA — A much-postponed public hearing regarding potential new development on the grounds of Saratoga County Airport has most recently been rescheduled to take place at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 at the county municipal complex in Ballston Spa.
The public hearing regards a proposed lease with Prime Group Holdings for the construction of a 15,600 square foot hangar for the storage of aircraft, a paved automobile parking area, and relocation of approximately 650 linear feet of existing airport perimeter roadway.
The company has proposed leasing approximately 0.83 acres of currently undeveloped property at the airport for 20 years.
Prime Group Holding will foot the estimated $2.5 million development cost, and maintain ownership of the hangar, including maintenance, and pay any applicable taxes.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Funny Cide. Tiz the Law.
Sackatoga Stable operating manager Jack Knowlton will be the featured speaker on Aug. 16 at the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge where he will talk of his adventures and take part in a Q&A session.
The event – presented by Second Chance Sports and The Learning League, will be held to raise funds and awareness for creative programs, engineering, therapies and equipment for autism and PTSD rehabilitative medicine.
“I’ve worked with them before and I’m willing to help out and talk to people who might be interested in what I have to say,” says Knowlton, who has been the Operating Manager of Sackatoga Stable since the mid-1990s. He has served as the racing manager for dozens of racehorses - including 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide as well a multiple Grade 1 Winner Tiz the Law - victorious in The Champagne, Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes, and a second-place finisher in the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
Ask him what people most are interested in when he speaks and the answer is obvious.
“Believe it or not, even though Tiz the Law is more recent, it’s Funny Cide,” Knowlton says.
During a magical run in 2003, Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby, becoming the first New York-bred horse to do so. Seventeen years later, Sackatoga’s Tiz the Law secured victory in the Travers, and in The Belmont – the latter being the first New York-bred to do so since 1882.
“Funny Cide captured the imagination of this whole area for sure and a large part of the country when he made his run for the Triple Crown. Fortunately, he was able to race another four years and also have some success doing that,” says Knowlton, who has also served as a member of the NTRA Jockey Insurance Working Group, on the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York State and on New York State’s Task Force on Retired Race Horses. He also played a leadership role in assisting the New York State Gaming Commission in organizing Aftercare Summits in Saratoga Springs in 2015 and 2016.
Funny Cide has been at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions since 2008, and next year marks the 20th anniversary of Funny Cide’s most special year.
“Talking about it, it never gets old. Winning the Kentucky Derby is what everybody who has ever been involved or ever will be involved in thoroughbred racing wants to do. You want to go to the derby, you want to own a horse, you want to win the derby,” says Knowlton, who is hoping for a good run with some of the stable’s horses in this summer’s meet.
“You know, a little stable like us with only New York breds to run in the Kentucky Derby twice - and then to win it once…”
Proceeds from the Tuesday, Aug. 16 event at Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge 161 will be used for equipment, therapies and scholarships. Tickets are $75. The event starts at 7 p.m. Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge 161 is located at 1 Elks Lane, Saratoga Springs. For tickets and/or additional information, contact Billy Yaiser at 518-226-5888.
Saratoga Springs — In conjunction with the release of their second album, “Angel Dust & Cyanide,” the Black Feathers have just kicked off a four-month long tour that will have the UK-born Americana duo stage a show at Caffe Lena on Sept. 23.
The new album finds songwriters Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler embracing the chaos of the past couple of years and calling upon a large cast of musicians to bring their new songs to life - Country Music Hall of Fame’s Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt, Muscle Shoals rhythm section) and Dan Moore (massive attack, Beth Orton) – among them.
Comprised of 12 new songs – including their striking take on portishead’s “glory box,” which acts as the album’s lead single – “angel dust & cyanide” re-forms the band’s sound into something altogether more comprehensive, drawing upon acoustic and electric guitar bass, drums, hammond organ, dobro, violin, cello, viola, piano, and synths to create a musical world of their own.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s Department of Public Works alongside the local LA Group design firm have collaborated on a plan that would turn an existing paved lot immediately adjacent to the City Center parking garage into a community park featuring stone-dust walking paths, newly planted trees, and an amphitheater “where artists and musicians could gather,” city DPW Commissioner Jason Golub said this week.
“For a number of years there has been a community discussion about the development of Flat Rock Park… but since that time it has remained a land-locked parking lot and an unusable piece of city-owned property offering no benefit to the community,” Golub said, explaining the workings of a plan that would, in a reversal of the popular Joni Mitchell tune: un-pave a parking lot and put up a piece of paradise in its place.
“Much of the (previous) discussion centered on the City Center parking garage. The two remaining city-owned parcels were left for later phases of the project,” Golub said. “Part of the City Center agreement included that the center lot would remain a green space when construction was completed.”
The two parcels sit between the newly developed parking garage and the Lake Avenue corner. The newly released DPW design features the re-development of one of those lots into a park.
In May 2018, then-city Mayor Meg Kelly created the Flat Rock Working Group. Comprised of area residents, City Center Authority representatives, county leaders, city officials and other community members, the group was tasked with developing a Concept Plan for the 2.6-acre city-owned parcel. A subsequent July 2018 La Group presentation conceptualized the land bordering Lake Avenue as the site to be developed as “Flat Rock Park.”
By August 2019 the project plan was broken into multiple phases, with the development of a multi-level parking garage, a “pedestrian connector” between the City Center and the parking structure, and an extension of the Green Belt Trail along High Rock Avenue targeted as priority one. Specific park design plans for the remaining two lots subsequently varied, and it is unclear whether the previous administration had identified either of the lots for inclusion in projected future phases.
“The park will allow folks to come from the Farmers’ Market and have a picnic at Flat Rock, or let their kids run around on the big open lawn. Musicians can play and people working downtown can eat their lunch at the tables,” Golub says. “Our downtown needs more green space for families and Flat Rock Park will be a great addition.”
The Department of Public Works will pay for the project, and all material costs are covered in the 2022 operating budget, says Golub, adding that all construction work will be performed in-house. So far, the only fixed cost is $12,000 to CT Male for conducting soil tests to ensure there are no contaminates. Those findings will determine the overall project cost. A high-end project estimate points to a cost range between $30,000 and $40,000, but some of that may potentially be offset by grant opportunities.
“We, along with the community, will evaluate future potential uses for this area,” Golub says. “The great thing is that we will take a space that has been an unused eyesore in our downtown for years, and make it into a beautiful park that will serve our community.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In an effort to help curb “aggressive” panhandling in Saratoga Springs, the City Council this week is expected to stage a public dialogue session regarding a proposed measure to prohibit “aggressive solicitation.”
The purpose of the measure is to protect people from threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior by persons soliciting money or other valuables in public places, according to a draft copy of the proposed ordinance. A public hearing is anticipated to take place in advance of the 7 p.m. start of the council’s Tuesday, Aug. 2 meeting at City Hall. A vote on the measure could also potentially take place later that same night, although the council has yet to release its agenda.
“The purpose of the ordinance is not punitive, to not take away from the poor, but rather intended to serve a two -fold purpose,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino.
The first is to provide mechanisms for those with mental health issues to access services needed, Montagnino explained. This would be achieved by issuing court appearance tickets for “homeless court” sessions – held every other Tuesday. Those sessions are attended by service providers who can offer guidance of available services to those appearing in court.
“The secondary purpose (addresses) an aggressive minority of panhandlers in the city who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and become an annoyance to people…this ordinance will limit the means by which an individual can ask for money,” Montagnino said.
The draft is based on a similar model in effect in Rochester, N.Y. for nearly 20 years. “It is an ordinance that has withstood constitutional challenges,” Montagnino said.
Melanie Trimble, regional director for the NYCLU Capital Region office, says the New York Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the anti-panhandling ordinance proposed by the Saratoga Springs’ City Council.
“Begging and use of public sidewalks for non-criminal activities are First Amendment rights protected by the United States and New York Constitutions,” Trimble said in response to a Saratoga TODAY inquiry seeking comment from the organization regarding the city’s proposal. “This ordinance is antithetical to the values of generosity and compassion that are a notable part of New York life. While no one condones intimidation, the mean-spirited nature of this ordinance that criminalizes poverty can be lost on no one.”
The Rochester law prohibiting aggressive panhandling went into effect in July 2004 with fines ranging from $25 to $250. Repeat offenders potentially face up to 15 days in jail, if convicted twice withing 12 months.
“It’s a city code, but they don’t give tickets. They choose not to,” explained Bettie McBride, responding this week to an inquiry requesting information about the effectiveness of the law. McBride works as a clerk in the office of the Rochester chief of police. “What we do is we try to help out; offer resources to get shelter, get clothing and food.”
In 2020, the town of Colonie crafted a resolution to curb aggressive panhandling similarly based on the Rochester ordinance. Police reported they had answered 95 calls for aggressive panhandling in 2019, and 110 complaints through the first part of 2020.
During public hearings regarding the Colonie proposal, residents raised concerns that such a Local Law could open the town up to a lawsuit, that it discriminated against the poor, addressed just one symptom of broader issues related to poverty, drug addiction and mental illness, and violated a person’s freedom of speech, according to a report by Jim Franco of the Spotlight News. The resolution was adjourned without vote during the board’s meeting in late August 2020 and seems to have since fallen off the town’s radar. Messages requesting information about the current status of the resolution were left with two of the board’s past and present members, but no response was immediately received.
With the Saratoga Springs measure, both the city Police Department and the Department of Code Administration would have the authority to enforce and to issue appearance tickets for violations of the provision.
The described intent of the measure is to protect people from threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior in connection with solicitation in public places, provide for the free flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and to promote tourism and business and preserve the quality of urban life. “Aggressive acts can cause persons to avoid public places and lead to declining patronage of commercial establishments and tourism,” reads the draft.
Solicitation is prohibited outright in proximity to bank entrances or ATMs, as is making physical contact with a person in the course of the solicitation. Behavior that causes intimidation or fear by following someone in an act of solicitation, or continued solicitation in close proximity after a person has provided a negative verbal or non-verbal response is also not allowed. Additionally, no person shall solicit in an “aggressive manner” in a public place, or when it is directed at an occupant of a vehicle while standing on a sidewalk.
SARATOGA COUNTY — Congressional and State Senate Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23, with an early voting period set for Aug. 13 – 21.
Both the Congressional race and the State Senate race have local primary ramifications. Also note, both have recently been redistricted.
Congressional District 20, which includes Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and part of Rensselaer, counts about 500,000 registered active voters – 170,000 of them in Saratoga County. Of these, just over 61,000 are registered Republicans, 50,000 are registered Democrats, and 46,000 are “blanks” – registered voters unaffiliated with any party, according to the state Board of Elections’ most recent report, on June 6. Voters registered with the Conservative, Working Families, and “other” parties comprise the difference.
Rostislav Rar, Paul D. Tonko.
Elizabeth L. Joy (uncontested).
Elizabeth L. Joy (uncontested).
Working Families Party:
Paul D. Tonko (uncontested).
Senate District 44 counts just over 219,000 registered active voters, largely comprised of approximately 170,000 registered in Saratoga County. The district also includes a part of Schenectady County.
The party registration breakdown in Saratoga County is as follows: just over 61,000 are registered Republicans, 50,000 registered Democrats, and 46,000 are “blanks” – registered voters unaffiliated with any party, according to the state Board of Elections’ most recent report, on June 6. Voters registered with the Conservative, Working Families, and “other” parties comprise the difference.
James N. Tedisco.
James N. Tedisco.
Working Families Party:
Note, the political parties that remain in New York State are Democratic, Republican, Conservative, and Working Families. Those previously registered with the Green, Libertarian, Independence, or SAM party, are now considered No Party (NOP). All registered voters are eligible to vote in the November General Election; however, No Party voters are not eligible to vote in any Primary Elections.
General Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Note: an earlier version of this story misstated the early voting starting date in the headline. The correct date is Aug. 13.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The David Cassidy Memorial Legacy Group (DCMLG) will host its annual celebration of the life of David Cassidy on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Putnam Place.
The event kicks off with a “mix & mingle” at 3 p.m. and lasts til 11 p.m. and will feature Celebration of Life events and live performances. The showcase will act as a fundraiser to promote racing and to support thoroughbred aftercare organizations. Benefit recipients include the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, NYRA Cares, Take The Lead, Take2 and Columbia Greene Humane Society.
Debuting in 2021, the David Cassidy Remember Me Awards will again be included at this year’s summer fundraiser. Featured among the award categories are Thoroughbred Aftercare Awards, Compassionate Trainers and Owners Awards, Heart of Saratoga Awards, Animal Welfare and Advocacy Awards, Animal Rescues and Shelters Awards, Amazing Horse Racing Awards and Thoroughbred Horse Racing Community Awards.
The event will feature music, videos of memorable horse racing moments, guest speakers from the horse community and benefitting charities, silent auction, a trivia contest and an announcement of the recipients of The David Bruce Cassidy Memorial Scholarship Program and the David Cassidy Remember Me Awards ceremony.
Videos showcasing “In The Spotlight” bands will be shown on the big screen. Live performances will be staged starting at 8 p.m. featuring long-time Cassidy drummer Teri Coté, Vance Brescia, and Joe’s Boys - performing a variety of Cassidy’s solo work, music from the Partridge Family and “good time rock n’ pop” songs from the 60’s, 70’s 80’s and beyond.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — If you’ve spent time in the regional arts community over the past couple of decades you’ve likely come across the creative efforts of musician, writer and filmmaker Charles Sweeney.
His new film, “The Vow,” has recently been screening in Manhattan and will have its Capital Region showing Friday, Aug. 5 on WMHT, we are told. Check listings for screening time.
TMFF (The Monthly Film Festival) gave the film 4-1/2 out-of-5 stars and says this: “We all know the sad story of Madame Butterfly and her tragic love affair. Well, Charles Sweeney invites us to a sort of alternative ending of the famous opera. However, his short film, ‘The Vow‘, doesn’t take place in the early 20th century, but in the United States of our very present.”