Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Tuesday, 05 July 2022 08:44

Commissioner Montagnino Gives Away the Kitchen Sink

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Commissioner Montagnino Gives Away the Kitchen Sink

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has carried on a dubious campaign to reverse the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) recently approved contract that established twelve-hour shifts. In order to reduce the shift hours he “negotiated” a contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) that is generous, to say the least. His presentation at the June 21, 2022, City Council meeting drew a skeptical response and never came to a vote.

The language in the proposed contract had an effective date of July 2, 2022. As the next Council meeting will be on July 5, 2022, it appears that Commissioner Montagnino was overly optimistic. Apparently, he had expected the MOA to be adopted at the meeting where he introduced it, but that didn’t happen. Instead, his proposal met with uncharacteristic pushback from the Mayor and Finance Commissioner.


Some Background

In 2021, during the last administration, the city negotiated an agreement with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) to change the shifts from eight to twelve hours, something the PBA had wanted for a long time. The agreement was seen as advantageous to both the PBA and the city. The PBA wanted the longer hours because it would allow for more days off. The city saved money because the final agreement had the patrol officers working eighty-four hours every two weeks at straight pay. This meant that the city saved four hours of overtime every two weeks per patrol officer. Over time, that adds up to substantial savings for the city. Montagnino’s new proposal would scrap this agreement.

Commissioner Montagnino Takes on a Dubious Fight

Commissioner Montagnino, with only a few months in office, decided to unilaterally change the 12 hour shifts back to eight hours. He claimed the long shifts were dangerous in spite of the fact that the New York State Police, among others, have been operating on twelve-hour shifts for some twenty years.

As the city and the PBA have a written contract, Montagnino’s attempt to unilaterally impose the shift hours reduction ran into a brick wall. The union “grieved” the decision. There was no way that Montagnino could ignore a signed agreement. He then assumed the role of city negotiator and reopened the city’s contract with the union.

It was clear from the outset that the city would have to pay dearly if it wanted to renege on its agreement with the PBA after less than a year.

It also was just one more of a growing number of decisions by Montagnino that was creating a toxic environment in his department.

The Police Department has been hemorrhaging staff and rather than focusing on addressing this, Montagnino entered into yet another contentious, unneeded conflict. Even if the concept of shorter shifts had merit, the timing of this move is hard to defend coming on the heels of demotions in the department, interfering with ongoing police cases, and oh, yes, adding adultery as grounds for dismissal.

Montagnino, having announced his plan to shorten the shift hours, was unable to retreat. The result was a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was Christmas in June for the police union.

What The New Contract Would Add for Officers

The proposed agreement includes:

  1. An increase in the patrol officers’ salaries for 2025
  2. A major increase in the bonuses paid to officers working the less appealing shifts for nights and weekends.
  3. Making Travers Day, in effect, into a holiday with double pay from 9:00 AM on that day to 5:00 AM the following day. Even more, if an officer works overtime.
  4. An annualized bonus add-on to salaries based on longevity. So for example, a police officer who is in their sixth to ninth year is paid $75.00 times the number of years. An officer in their ninth year makes an additional $675.00 per year. the bonus goes up to $200.00 after twenty years so an officer in their twentieth year gets an added $4,000.00.
  5. The overtime rate is increased.
  6. There is a fitness requirement which under the current contract grants four hours off would now get eight hours off.

There may well be more, but I am not sure as I don’t have a great deal of expertise in reading contracts.

Union contracts are complex. They require not only a deep understanding of labor and municipal law, but also require the ability to crunch the financial numbers to avoid folly.

In these two clips, Commissioner Sanghvi questions some of the benefits.

In the most recent podcast of Talking Saratoga, Dan De Federicis also casts doubt on the financials Montagnino claims are the cost of the proposed contract. Mr. De Federicis had a career as a New York State Trooper and served as the union president of the NYS Troopers from 2001 to 2009. He also earned a law degree, so he knows something when it comes to police contracts.

In the following video clip, he and Robin Dalton challenge Commissioner Montagnino’s handling of this self-inflicted fiasco.

Will a Generous Financial Package Bring in Quality Officers?

One of the arguments made for these generous pay increases is that it will attract trained experienced police from other departments to join the Saratoga Springs Police Department. I am comfortable in principle with that argument but as a result of Commissioner Montagnino’s mismanagement morale is at an all-time low in the department. The SSPD is now badly understaffed and in at least one case an officer worked two sixteen-hour shifts back-to-back. I am not sure how successful the city will be in attracting officers as long as Montagnino is Commissioner of Public Safety.

Did Montagnino Ignore the City Charter?

Section 3 of the city charter gives responsibility for negotiating union contracts to the Mayor. Section 3 of the city charter states:

Title 3, I 

The Mayor shall, in consultation with the Council and professionals retained by the Council for the purpose, conduct collective bargaining with City employees’ bargaining units. The Mayor may delegate this authority as the Mayor deems necessary. The Council shall approve collective bargaining agreements and auxiliary agreements before they take effect.

The city used to engage outside labor counsel to handle the actual negotiations but under Mayor Kelly, in order to save money, she put together a team consisting of herself, the city attorney, and the HR director to deal with negotiating contracts.

Neither Montagnino nor Mayor Kim respond to my emails so I do not know if Kim actually delegated negotiating authority to Montagnino or if Montagnino just went ahead on his own and entered into these talks.

Mayor Kim Doesn’t Get It

In this video clip, Mayor Kim insists that the city limit negotiations to just the change in hours for shifts before considering additional benefits. He doesn’t seem to understand that the PBA is happy with the current hours. Without an incentive, there is no reason why they would change. Trying to limit the negotiations to just the hours for shifts is futile.

Commissioner Sanghvi Doesn’t Understand Where to Find the Current City Contract

In these two video clips, Commissioner Sanghvi complains that Dan Mullan Jr., the president of the PBA, has not provided her with a copy of the current contract between the city and the PBA. As the city is a party to the contract, the city already has one. All she needed to do was ask the City Attorney for it.

So Where Is Black Lives Matter?

One of the bizarre aspects of this story is the apparent free ride that Black Lives Matter provides Commissioner Montagnino.

During the last administration, BLM excoriated that Council for failing to acknowledge their allegation that the Saratoga Springs police murdered Darryl Mount. They also repeatedly demanded that the city defund the police.

Commissioner Montagnino has issued a paper clearing the police for Mount’s death, and now he is proposing a major increase in pay for the PBA.

One would have expected that Commissioner Montagnino might have enjoyed at least some of the abuse heaped on the previous Council. Why Commissioner Montagnino is being spared their rath is something of a mystery.




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