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, 28 February 2023 09:29

The Rivers Fiasco-Ron Kim’s Irrational Accusations

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
The Rivers Fiasco-Ron Kim’s Irrational Accusations
In September of 2022, the city of Saratoga Springs was served with legal papers by an attorney representing Marilyn Rivers, the city's Director of Risk and Safety.  The papers charge the city with creating a hostile work environment.  This blog is based on documents released by the city under the Freedom of Information Law and from the Rivers legal claim. They document a pattern of Mayor Ron Kim repeatedly falsely accusing Ms. Rivers of misusing her office.
In just one example, Kim obsesses over an imaginary plot in which Rivers improperly interferes in a case brought against the city by an employee who had been fired. The documents show Kim wrongly convinced that Rivers attempted to hide the city's co-payment required by the insurance company for the settlement of the case. Kim bizarrely even goes so far as to falsely accuse Ms. Rivers of practicing law without a license, a felony.
Who Is Marilyn Rivers and What Does She Do?
In considering Kim's fears and charges, readers should understand Marilyn Rivers' job and her career history.
Here is an excerpt from the city's description of the position Marilyn Rivers has held for twenty years:
Director of Risk and Safety (COMPETITIVE)
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THE CLASS: This is important financial and operational management work involving direction, control and management of City’s Insurance, Risk Management, Compliance and Safety programs and includes
responsibility to assist the City Council and each department in controlling claims costs and all applicable State and Federal Health and Safety Regulations.
The work involves the identification and measurement of all risks of accident loss, the selection of appropriate risk management techniques for resolving exposure problems, the development and maintenance of an information system in coordination with existingsystems for timely and accurate recording of losses, claims, insurance premium and other risk costs to the budgetary units. The
incumbent also administers the procurement of all insurance for, and in behalf of the City.
This is just a fragment of the document. The scale of responsibilities is extraordinary and worth viewing to understand just how challenging the job is. The position requires a college degree and experience. A more detailed list of the responsibilities and the degrees and experience required for the job can be found here:
Ms. Rivers was hired as the city's Risk and Safety Director in 2003 and has served the city faithfully for almost twenty years. During this time, she has worked with multiple administrations. The practices that Kim now finds so threatening are the very same ones she has carried out with the city's carriers and past city attorneys throughout her career. None of this is new. The testimonials about the quality of her work, as documented below, make Kim's accusations all the more bizarre.
The city's insurance broker is Amsure Insurance, and its president is Matt D'Abate. In this excerpt from an email exchange D'Abate had with Kim on May 8,2022, D'Abate tries to explain to Kim the importance of the job Marilyn Rivers does as Risk and Safety Director.
To bolster his arguments, D'Abate enlists Nora Murphy, who is senior counsel for Travelers insurance, the city's carrier. She heaps praise on Rivers:
D'Abate credits Rivers with a success he characterizes as "nothing short of remarkable."
Kim's Campaign to Marginalize Rivers
Despite Ms. Rivers' sterling record of service to the city and many awards and commendations, she somehow winds up in Ron Kim's crosshairs. As Kim begins to obsess about a danger somehow posed by Rivers, he launches a campaign meant to threaten and marginalize her.
As the documents below will show, his aggressive rejection of thoughtful warnings only seemed to spur him to even greater irrational behavior.
Rather than attempting to restrain him, Public Safety Commissioners James Montagnino and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi have only encouraged his ill-advised actions.
In an email exchange with Matt D'Abate, the president of Amsure, the city's insurance broker, Kim recklessly accuses Rivers of practicing law without a license, a class E felony in New York. He expresses frustration that D'Abate disagrees with him.
In undisguised, self-righteousness, Kim admonishes D'Abate:
In pushing back against Kim's allegation Abate offers this opinion from Nora Murphy, senior counsel for Travelers Insurance. Ms. Murphy's reaction is strong.
D'Abate Tries To Caution Kim
As part of his assault on Ms. Rivers, Kim comes up with a variety of plans to marginalize her. D'Amate offers several warnings in his email regarding the dangers of Kim's plans.
Ron Kim: A Bankruptcy Attorney
Readers should understand the scope of Ron Kim's legal background. He is a bankruptcy lawyer. Bankruptcy law is, in many ways, unique. It is a highly specialized area. For example, bankruptcy has its own special courts.
Mayor Kim has no background in municipal law or litigation. The world of a bankruptcy lawyer is extremely narrow.
As readers who follow this blog will be aware, since becoming Mayor, Kim has ventured into areas of law where his lack of understanding has led him to make statements that have subsequently been demonstrated to be wrong.
Rivers' Lawyer's Claim Against City
I have printed excerpts here from the legal claim against the city of a toxic workplace. In addition to Kim, the document chronicles the maneuverings of Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and the rude behavior of his deputy Stacy Connors, as well as the unwarranted attacks on Rivers by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi.
Here Commissioner Dillon Moran tries to take over Rivers' position:
Rivers raises concerns about Moran's role in an insurance claim pending against the city:
Kim enlists Izzo to investigate Rivers. It was not Tony Izzo's finest moment. After working with Ms. Rivers for twenty years, he should have known that Rivers did not act as an attorney for the city.
Accounts Deputy Stacy Connors' petty behavior. "Address me as Deputy Commissioner Connors!"
Dillon Moran warns that Kim was setting Rivers up to be fired.
Moran warns Rivers "the City Council members were out to get her."
Kim tries to unilaterally change her job.
Yet more warnings. Moran tells Rivers on another occasion that Kim and Montagnino are trying to fire her.
Moran again tells Rivers Kim was maneuvering to fire her and tells her to "gather the troops" for a City Council meeting.
Rivers has a long history of training staff on safety protocols. Kim decides to cancel her training. As Ms. Rivers is by far the most knowledgeable staff person in city hall on safety and has done this training regularly for almost two decades, this was not only a petty act by Kim, but it undermined the city's ongoing effort to protect staff and minimize the cost of insurance. Compromising training compromises safety.
Using the most hurtful and reckless language Kim, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, falsely publicly accuse Rivers of deviousness. What their remarks really illustrate is how embarrassingly ignorant Sanghvi and Montagnino were about the city's insurance policy and how bills are processed.
Moran accuses Montagnino of, on three occasions in front of Moran's staff, "screaming" at his deputy to fire Rivers.
Undermining Kim's claim that Rivers tried to sneak the co-payment by the Council, Rivers' attorney alleges that Rivers had informed City Attorney Izzo, Human Resource Administrator Spadaro, and City Labor Counsel Kremer of the settlement.
It was only when Kim had to appear in court over the insurance case that he was forced to admit that the accusations he had made about Rivers were false and that he had known they were false when he made them.
What is the Future of the Risk and Safety Position?
It is truly hard to understand Mayor Kim's behavior in all of this. Only in front of a judge did he seem to acknowledge reality, but that moment seemed to have been short-lived.
Having driven Ms. Rivers into retirement, Kim now has apparently come up with a scheme to eliminate River's position that he has not shared with the public or his colleagues on the Council.
 There is no way to overstate the importance of the job of a Risk and Safety Director.  In a litigious age, ensuring that all requirements by our insurers are met is critical to the city government’s economic well-being, both in terms of securing insurance and in protecting our bond rating.
Ron Kim's Secret Plan
Ms. Rivers's last day with the city will be April 8, 2023. Shockingly, Kim has yet to advertise for a replacement for Rivers.  Instead, he has gotten the ok from the Civil Service Commission to hire a “claims manager position.”  The job, which would assume some of Ms. Rivers’ current duties, only requires a high school degree.  I believe that Kim plans to eliminate the Director of Risk and Safety position and replace it with this “claims manager” and the city attorney.  This is a bad idea. There is no way someone with only a high school education and the already overburdened City Attorney can perform the duties and assume the responsibilities of this position. As the documents in this post show, the city's insurance broker and the counsel for the insurance carrier have tried unsuccessfully to convince Kim of his folly.
The problem with this ugly business is not only the brutal treatment of Ms. Rivers but the jeopardy that Mayor Kim's willful obstinance puts the city in regarding matters of safety and insurance coverage. It is just as troubling that the other Council members seem to be unaware of the seriousness of Kim's move or unwilling to challenge him on it.
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