Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

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

Wednesday, 09 November 2022 09:15

Commissioner Sanghvi: Broken Promises, No Answers

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Commissioner Sanghvi: Broken Promises, No Answers

I attended the November 1 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting attempting one more time to get answers to questions about the city's proposed 2023 Comprehensive Budget.

Along with the city's charter and its comprehensive plan, the Saratoga Springs Comprehensive Budget is one of our key documents. The budget will determine what services the city will provide its citizens and what its citizens will be required to pay for these services. It will directly impact every household in Saratoga Springs.

With that in mind, your loyal blogger attempted to study the proposed 2023 budget and sought answers from our elected officials only to be met by silence from the key official responsible for crafting the Comprehensive Budget, Minita Sanghvi, the Commissioner of Finance.

This post documents a series of broken promises by Commissioner Sanghvi, who, in the end, refused to answer questions asked of her weeks ago about her budget.

Trying to Get Answers

On October 6, 2022, as required by our charter, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi presented her proposed budget to the City Council and showed a Powerpoint presentation to her colleagues and the public. While the Powerpoint presentation contained some interesting information, it was brief and not entirely helpful.

In order to help the readers of this blog to better understand the budget, I emailed Commissioner Sanghvi. The email asked how the members of the public could get answers from her.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

John Kaufmann October 10, 2022

Commissioner Sanghvi responded:

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow 5-10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi October 11,2022

Following her instructions, I attended budget workshops (see previous posts) and emailed her my questions on October 13. My questions included asking what services she had eliminated to achieve the cuts in the Public Works and Rec Department budgets and what provisions were included in her budget to deal with funding 16 new firefighters once the SAFER grant runs out. (see a complete list of questions at end of this post.) Knowing her written responses might need clarification, I also wrote to her asking if we could meet.

Ten business days passed. Regrettably, I received no answer to my questions from Commissioner Sanghvi, as she had promised, nor did I receive a response to my request for a meeting.

I then attended the November 1, 2022, Council meeting. During the public comment period, I addressed the Council. I noted that more than ten business days had elapsed since her email promising to answer my questions. She responded that she was too busy working on the budget to answer any questions (see video). I noted that I had asked for a meeting and had not heard from her. She told me, "I would be happy to meet with you." She advised me that someone from her staff would reach out to me (see video).

On November 2, 2022, I received an email from Commissioner Sanghvi's executive assistant offering me three dates in December to meet with the Commissioner.

I wrote back, reminding her that the budget had to be passed by the end of November which would make a December meeting pointless.

I never heard further.

Commissioner Sanghvi's Responsibility to Her Constituents

In her ten years as Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan set a standard for openness and availablility. Some of the success she enjoyed in crafting budgets can be attributed to her willingness to listen to everyone. Those who follow this blog will know that this blogger was not uncritical of Ms. Madigan; but to her great credit, she was always available to answer my questions.

Commissioner Sanghvi has continually presented herself as somehow a break from the past in her commitment to transparency.

“I think accountability, transparency, civic engagement, communications, are all cornerstones of good governance and we are hoping that we will do all of that for the next two years and beyond.”

Minita Sanghvi, Saratogian January 9, 2022

Her promotion of "participatory budgeting," which is supposed to promote public involvement, is made hollow by her resistance to answer questions from citizens over the city's actual budget.

Her lack of candor and her unwillingness to answer courteous questions regarding her budget cannot merely be explained away by inexperience. It raises disturbing questions about character. There is still time for her to reconsider. Let's hope that she finds her better angel.

The Email Exchanges

From: "john kaufmann21" This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
To: "Minita Sanghvi" This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Thursday, October 6, 2022 9:05:08 PM
Subject: Budget

I listened to your budget presentation. I did not hear anything about specifically how the city will prepare to pay for the sixteen firefighters from the grant once it runs out.

  1. Could you please explain how your 2023 budget addresses this?
  2. What is budgeted for the new fire station in your new budget?
  3. The costs of building the facility along with equipping it were paid for when the city bonded. The new employees are going to be paid for out of the grant. Could you please explain what the money generated by your tax increase this year is going to pay for?

JK


From: Minita Sanghvi This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:13 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Budget

Thank you for your email. The budget message and the budget addresses these
questions. Both of these documents are online - Departments - - Finance - - City Budgets - - 2023 Budgets.

I understand that the budget can be difficult to comb through. May I recommend attending the budget workshops for more clarification.

Thank you,
Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


From: "john kaufmann21" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
To: "Minita Sanghvi" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2022 8:33:45 PM
Subject: Questions

Your presentation regarding the 2023 city budget raised a number of questions.

What vehicle will your office be using to accept and address questions from the public about your budget?  How and when can citizens secure answers from your department regarding questions about your budget?

JK



From: Minita Sanghvi This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 10:20 PM
To: john kaufmann21
Subject: Re: Questions

You are welcome to write to us at our email address or attend a budget workshop. Kindly allow a 5- 10 business days for a response.

Commissioner Sanghvi

Minita Sanghvi
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
518-587-3550
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


On October 12, 2022 from Kaufmann to Sanghvi:

Can we meet to discuss the budget?  I want to interview you for my blog.  I would send you my questions ahead of time.  There is very little time before the budget is due.


This email was sent on October 13, 2022

Questions:

  1. How much did the Finance Department budget for 2023 for expenses related to the new fire station.  Please break this down.  For example, how much is included in the Debt Service fund to cover the principal and interest payments for the fire station 3 bond? How much is included in the General Operating fund to cover equipment, training, uniforms and any other costs associated with the plus 16 firefighters?
  2. (Power Point Slide #14) Why is the Finance Department’s estimate for ambulance transport income projected to decrease?
  3. (Power Point Slide #15) Why are personnel costs going down in the 2023 budget?  Is the city laying people off and if so, what positions are being eliminated?
  4. (Power Point Slide #16) The hospitalization benefits were estimated to increase by 15%.  The budget is showing a 13.16% increase.  What is the percentage increase quoted by the city’s brokers?  Has the state confirmed this number?
  5. (Power Point #23) You have reduced the Department of Public Works budget by about a million dollars.  How did you achieve these cuts?  What services are to be eliminated?  What specifically did you remove from their 2022 budget?
  6. (Power Point Slide #26)  The recreation budget was reduced by $300K from 2022.  How was that achieved?  What was eliminated?

           7. Did the Finance Department fund any of the recommendations from the "Participatory Budgeting" committee and if so which ones?

 8.Did the Finance Department fund the Civilian Review Board and if so for how much?


From: Samantha Clemmey This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Wednesday, November 2, 2022 1:43 PM
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Cc: Minita Sanghvi
Subject: Meeting with Commissioner Sanghvi

Good Afternoon Mr. Kaufmann,

I am reaching out to get you on Commissioner Sanghvi's schedule for an in-person meeting. Given that the budget process is currently in full-swing, I am not scheduling non-city department related meetings for the Commissioner until the budget has concluded. The Public Hearing for the Comprehensive Budget will remain open at least until the next Council Meeting on November 15th - if you would like to make any further comments to the Council, you are welcome to do so at that time or during the allotted Public Comment period.

I would be happy to extend to you one of the following dates/times for a meeting:

  • Monday December 5th at 1:00 PM
  • Friday December 9th at 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM
  • Monday December 12th at 10:30 AM

Thank you for your patience as Commissioner Sanghvi and the Finance Department navigate through this busy period. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,
Samantha

Samantha F. Clemmey
Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Finance
Department of Finance
474 Broadway - Suite 15
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
518-587-3550, Ext. 2526


On November 2, 2022 Kaufmann to Commissioner Sanghvi:

As you are aware, my questions pertain to the 2023 budget, which must be adopted by November 30, 2022.  It is pointless for you to offer me dates to meet with you in December.

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