The members of the current Saratoga Springs City Council, like past Councils, feel strongly that closing the bars in Saratoga at 2AM would help to control the increasing number of problems occurring on Caroline Street late at night. Saratoga Springs' two County Supervisors, Matt Veitch (R) and Tara Gaston (D), are major impediments to achieving this goal, however.
As many readers know, Saratoga Springs cannot set its own bar and restaurant closing times. According to state law, closing times must be uniform county wide, and Saratoga County has currently set the closing time at 4 AM. Bars and restaurants may close earlier if they so choose and many do, but mandating an earlier closing time requires the cooperation of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Saratoga City Councils, including this one, have repeatedly asked the Board of Supervisors to take action to institute earlier closing times without success, and they will never have success as long as the two Supervisors who represent the city oppose this move. Both Supervisor Veitch and Gaston made clear their opposition to changing the closing time at the December 6, 2022, City Council meeting.
Here are the Supervisors speaking at that meeting:
It was particularly disheartening that after these statements, the members of the Council offered so little pushback.
Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino claimed he had a letter from Police Chief Shane Crooks strongly supporting bar closings, but he failed to press this point with the Supervisors. I asked Montagnino for a copy of the letter and for relevant statistics that support the letter. He has regrettably not yet responded. Hopefully, he has shared this information with Supervisor Gaston.
Supervisor Gaston's Unfortunate Attack
Having made clear her opposition to changing the bar closing times, Supervisor Gaston, made an odd attempt to somehow blame the previous Council for not persuading the Board of Supervisors to take action. She claimed the previous Council had intemperately attacked the Board of Supervisors for not changing the closing hours. She asserted that the previous administration basically told the County Board of Supervisors, "you suck"(her words). I have reviewed the video from the August 3, 2021, Council meeting at which the previous Council passed a resolution unanimously requesting the County to change the bar closing time. There was little discussion and nothing criticizing the County. I have written to Supervisor Gaston asking for some kind of documentation for her harsh accusations.
Having Their Cake And Eating it Too
So our two Supervisors have made it clear that they do not believe that there is any point in making the closing hours earlier. They refuse to advocate for the County to change the hours, yet they credited themselves for a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors to amend state law to allow local municipalities to set their own bar closing times.
I would call that contradictory. They do not support the County allowing Saratoga to change the hours, but they do support the state allowing the change? So how to explain this? Gaston and Veitch, along with their colleagues on the County Board of Supervisors, know what a herculean task it will be to pass this kind of legislation affecting every county in the state. This is a way for them to confuse the voters into thinking they somehow support early closings (which they don't!) while actually undermining the effort.
The Way Forward
Solving the problems on Caroline Street will be challenging, and in the end, there is no cure all. I join those, however, who feel that closing bars earlier would provide some relief. Commissioner Montagnino's proposal to try to move bar owners to close earlier by threatening to revoke their licenses was ill-conceived and most likely illegal. Commissioners Golub, Sanghvi, and Moran are to be commended for voting this down and searching for other ways to address the problems the city is facing.
I myself feel that it is possible to convince the County to take action to change the bar closing times. Achieving this would take some careful and thoughtful work meetings, probably first individually with key Supervisors to hear and address their concerns. Getting an understanding of what pressures Supervisors are experiencing in the communities they represent is important. For instance, how many bars currently stay open til 4AM in, say, Halfmoon? My understanding is that Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo is sympathetic to the concerns of our Police Chief. Enlisting law enforcement to voice their opinions with the Supervisors might be effective. All this, however, would require a patient and thoughtful approach, and I'm not sure who on this current Council could fill this role, with the exception of Jason Golub. Unfortunately, certainly not Mayor Ron Kim or Commissioner Montagnino, who have spent useless time and energy on a poorly conceived proposal that fortunately went nowhere. And yes, to move the County will require that our two Supervisors get on board.