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, 28 March 2022 09:22

Montagnino’s Proposal to Turn Caroline Street into an Entertainment District with Private Security Collapses

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has been hit with a one-two punch that appears to have crushed his proposal to establish a security cordon around the Caroline Street bar district.

In mid-March Montagnino went to the media to tout what he called an “out-of-the-box idea to keep the city’s entertainment district safer.” His idea was to block off Caroline Street and institute security checks similar to those used at SPAC. This would involve using metal detectors and having private security guards waning and checking IDs of anyone wishing to enter the street. He told WRGB “This could turn the entire area into a major event every week end” and make Caroline Street a “mini-SPAC”. He was not specific as to where exactly these checkpoints would be set up given the many access points to Caroline Street.

Montagnino credited Mayor Ron Kim with originating the idea. Kim told Gazette reporter Brian Lee (3/20/22) that he was aware that some thought the security checks on a public street would be a violation of the Constitution’s 4th amendment which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. “It’s not because, basically, if you don’t want to be searched, you don’t want to be ID’d, you just don’t come to that area of the town during a certain time period,” he said. Not great advice to give to those who live in apartments on this part of Caroline Street. Needless to say, not everyone agrees with Mayor Kim’s legal theory either. According to the Gazette editorial cited below, the American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has successfully gone to court to protect access to public streets.

1.The Daily Gazette Editorial

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Gazette sliced and diced Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim for the security proposal.

If treating customers and residents like potential airline hijackers, terrorists and bank robbers is the best plan Saratoga Springs officials can come up with for dealing with Caroline Street’s party scene, then the city either needs a better plan or it needs public officials with better ideas.

Gazette March 27, 2022

2.Commissioner Montagnino’s Head-on Collision with Caroline Street Bar Owners

Promoting his proposal, Montagnino told Channel 6 News on March 14 that his idea had the support of the Caroline Street bar owners. 

At a meeting on March 22, 2022, Montagnino got a different message from the bar owners, however. They told him they unanimously opposed his plan.

The meeting, requested by the owners of nine of the twelve Caroline Street bars, was attended by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, his deputy Jason Tetu, Accounts Department Deputy Stacey Collins, and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella. Conspicuously absent from the meeting was the city’s Chief of Police.  This is unfortunately consistent with Commissioner Montagnino’s pattern of marginalizing not only the head of the Police Department but pretty much all his “sworn” officers.

I spoke at length with one of the bar owners who attended the meeting about what had transpired. According to my source, Montagnino had little to say at the meeting.  Responding to questions from the bar owners, he said he was there to listen.

In the face of the bar owners’ opposition to his Caroline Street proposal, Montagnino, in an embarrassing moment playing the victim, backed off from his proposal and blamed the media for hyping the idea as if he had had no role in promoting the publicity.

Is Gaffney’s the Main Problem on Caroline Street?

The person I spoke with said that he had operated his bar on Caroline Street for some ten years.  He told me that the culture had changed and that there had been more violence on the street during the last three years than in all the previous seven.

According to my source, while there are from time to time incidents in other establishments, the bar owners unanimously saw Gaffney’s as the major and most frequent source of violence.

He told me about a meeting held in August of last year that brought together a representative from the New York State Liquor Authority with the bar owners, the Sheriff’s Department, the Saratoga Springs Police Department, and the State Police along with representatives from the City Council.  Conspicuously absent from the meeting were any representatives from Gaffney’s.

Gaffney’s is owned by Justin Manfro whose primary residence is in Westchester.

Manfro is not only one of the owners of Gaffneys but of Max London’s Restaurant, and Mrs. London’s Bakery.

Interestingly, WRGB (Channel 6) news in a story on the meeting, reported that for three weeks they have been trying to reach Manfro including visiting his attorney’s office without success.

The bar owner with whom I spoke argued that Gaffney’s fails to act pro-actively to minimize the potential for conflict.  He listed for me a variety of techniques that bars use to control the “temperature” in their venues.  He asserted that Gaffney’s does none of this.

According to him, Gaffney’s has been the subject of an investigation by the New York State Liquor Authority regarding nine violations during the last year.  I have been told that six confirmed violations in a year can result in a revoked liquor license.

My source said that none of the participants wants to see the shutdown of any business.

It would be very helpful to have a conversation with Commissioner Montagnino about all of this but as he does not respond to my emails seeking the most basic information, it seems out of the question that he would be willing to meet with me.

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