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, 03 April 2023 11:47

Missing Records: Minita Sanghvi’s Ongoing Mismanagement Of The City’s Website

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Missing Records: Minita Sanghvi’s Ongoing Mismanagement Of The City’s Website
The Saratoga Springs Design Review Board (DRB) met on March 8, 2023, to review the applications submitted by city restaurants for outdoor dining, but there is no record that this meeting ever took place. Finance Commissioner Sanghvi, who is responsible for the city's website where records of meetings are supposed to be made available to the public, seems unconcerned.
The Missing Meeting
I was recently looking for video of the March 8, 2023 Design Review Board meeting for a story I was working on.
There are two places on the city's website to view videos of public meetings (more on the problem with this design later).
I looked first on the page labeled "Video Archive" on the city's website. There was an entry for the meeting and a copy of its agenda, but there was no video nor were there minutes posted. [Note: The "Where is it ?" on the shot below is my comment]
I looked next on the webpage called "Live Meetings" , but there was no reference there that any meeting ever even took place on March 8.
A Violation of the Open Meetings Law
I contacted the New York State Committee on Open Government regarding the missing records.
Christen Smith, a senior attorney in that office, responded. Here are relevant excerpts from her emails:
If the municipality has a regularly and routinely updated website and utilizes a high speed internet connection, it would be required to either post its minutes or post an unabridged recording or transcript. However, even when a video or audio recording or written transcript of the meeting is posted, minutes must still be made available within the statutory timeframes to anyone making a Freedom of Information Law request for the minutes.  
Christen Smith, Senior Attorney, Marh 29, 2023
In addition to the advice provided, I offer the following opinion. A public body’s failure to post meeting minutes or an audio recording or written transcript of a meeting within two weeks of an open session or one week of an executive session in which action was taken, is inconsistent with the requirements of Section 106(3). I checked the Saratoga Springs Design Review Board section of the City’s webpage before responding to you initially and you are correct that such minutes, records or transcripts have not been posted and it has been more than two weeks since the meeting of concern.
Christen Smith, Senior Attorney, March 29, 2023
It is clear that the failure to properly post the video and/or minutes of the March 8, 2023 DRB meeting violates the New York State Open Meetings Law.
Commissioner Sanghvi Shrugs Off Her Responsibility
Part of Minita Sanghvi's job as Finance Commissioner is supervision of the IT Department which is responsible for the maintenance of the city website. Commissioner Sanghvi has a history of failing to maintain the website properly and dismissing problems with it when they are brought to her attention.
I emailed Commissioner Sanghvi and advised her that the city's website was missing the required video and minutes for the March 8, 2023, meeting. I pointed out that the city's website is the window into city government for the public, and as its manager she is the guardian, a grave responsibility.
I had hoped that she would share my concern about this breakdown and assure me that she would move vigorously to determine why the information was missing, determine who was responsible, and, if possible, find the missing files.
Instead, she sent the following:

On Mar 21, 2023, at 5:03 PM, Minita Sanghvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> wrote:
We've reached out to the Mayor's office. They are looking into it. When I get a response from them, I will update you. 
Commissioner Sanghvi

And a week later, I received this from the Commissioner:

From: Minita Sanghvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: March 27, 2023 at 12:44:10 PM EDT
To: john kaufmann21 <john.kaufmann>
Subject:Re: Video
We have spoken to IT and the Deputy Mayor but they may need to talk to someone in the Planning Department. Perhaps this is something you can take up with the Mayor's office since Planning is under their purview.
If we hear of anything in the meanwhile, we will update you.
Best, Commissioner Sanghvi

I then wrote Commissioner Sanghvi a stronger email reminding her that she was responsible for maintaining the website. I noted that her office is just fifty feet from the Mayor's office and that her staff includes a deputy, an executive assistant, and an administrative assistant, so it was hard to understand why she would need me to seek information from the Mayor's office.
What is most disturbing is that she clearly sees this as a matter that concerns me rather than her.
On March 28, she responded as follows:

Mr. Kaufmann, 
We will look into this as best we can. And will get back to you when we have another update.  Minita Sanghvi

Again it is apparent that she fails to grasp that this is a serious problem that she needs to aggressively address. "As best we can" does not encourage confidence. Readers who follow this blog will recall that Commissioner Sanghvi routinely opines about her championing of transparency, and yet she seems utterly oblivious as to how central maintaining city records of meetings is and the importance of her role in making them available to the public.
As of the date of this post (April 3, 2023) there has been no further response.
Commissioner Sanghvi's Chronic Failure To Keep The Website Up To Date
The missing DRB meeting records are emblematic of some additional ongoing problems with the availability of records on the city's website.
I rely heavily on the city's website for this blog, but more importantly, the public relies on it. If there is a proposed building project in a neighborhood, this site allows homeowners and renters to observe the deliberations of the city's land-use boards to assess what impact it may have on them. The same is true for the city's many committees and task forces, as well, of course, for city council meetings.
For as long as I can remember, the public has been able to view videos of past Saratoga Springs city government meetings by clicking on the "web archive" menu on the city's website. For the past three months, however, videos of recent land use board meetings have only sporadically been posted there and then only when I have complained to Commissioner Sanghvi.
When I originally wrote to Commissioner Sanghvi that I could not find recent meeting videos, she sent me a link that turned out to be to the "Live Meetings" page of the city's website. Like most innocent users, I had assumed that the purpose of a "Live Meetings" choice was to view a meeting currently in session, and the purpose of the web archive page was to view past meetings. There had been no notice posted alerting the public that videos of past meetings could now be found on the "Live Meetings" page.
When I pointed out to Commissioner Sanghvi the confusion created by duplicate locations with conflicting names, she ignored the potential problem and actually boasted that having the archive on the Live Meetings page was good because it gave users more choices. Except, there isn't a choice if the archive page is not updated, and the only place to find a video is on the Live Meeting page. The obvious problem is that there is only a choice if you update the archive page when you update the Live Meetings page.
I wrote software for a living, so I have some experience with interface design. Multiple locations for the same activity only work if the website manager rigorously ensures that both locations are properly synchronized.
Commissioner Sanghvi seems to live in a bubble in which unpleasant truths cannot penetrate.
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