Another Aborted City Council Meeting. Everyone knew that the BLM group planned to disrupt the meeting. It was openly discussed at a meeting held on the Skidmore campus on April 25.
The May 2,2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting was once again so disruptive that it had to be adjourned. Mayor Kim, yet again, relinquished control of the meeting to Black Lives Matter. The members of the Council sat mostly passively, with the exception of unhelpful remarks by Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran toward Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Montagnino taunting Mayor Ron Kim about his failure to take any action to bring order.
Interestingly, Mayor Kim began the meeting by moving the consent agenda from its normal position to have it voted on before the public comment period began. The consent agenda includes authorization to pay the city payroll. If this authorization is not taken care of, city employees cannot be paid. Mayor Kim also warned the BLM people present in the audience that he expected there would be “repercussions” (arrests) if the meeting were to be interrupted.
These actions suggest that Kim anticipated allowing the meeting to be shut down by a BLM demonstration.
The vote on the consent agenda was followed by two hours of public comment dominated almost exclusively by BLM activists and some Skidmore student allies repeating the usual litany of vituperative attacks directed primarily towards the Saratoga Springs Police Department, Commissioner Montagnino, and Saratoga Springs in general. When the meeting finally began the only item discussed and voted on was a Resolution on Restorative Justice that was on the Mayor’s agenda. This passed 4-1, with Montagnino voting no. After that, chaos broke out, with the BLM group chanting and shouting till Kim gave up and adjourned the meeting without any further city business being addressed.
It was an open secret that the BLM people planned to disrupt the Council meeting once again. Skidmore students were enlisted for the event at a meeting on the college campus on April 26.
Some media coverage, however, reported that the demonstration that precipitated the Mayor’s adjournment was prompted by remarks made by Commissioner Montagnino. The Commissioner knew that the BLM had planned to disrupt the meeting, and Montagnino was smart enough to know he was being inflammatory when he accused the BLM people of being complicit in the vandalism of the Union soldier statue in Congress Park. It was a reckless and irresponsible remark. Still, the media coverage failed their readers by supporting the narrative espoused by Lexis Figuereo that they were just responding to Montagnino when BLM had in fact planned ahead of time to disrupt the meeting.
The Council meeting has been scheduled to reconvene on May 4 at 2:30.
A Sober And Critical Look At Kim’s Restorative Justice Resolution
Kim’s resolution on restorative justice grew out of the recommendations of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force appointed in 2020. It is useful to review this proposal in light of how others have addressed this issue.
[JK: I wanted to put a link to the resolution for this story, but as documented below, the link to the resolution is now unavailable. I will be discussing the breakdown of effective management of IT by Finance Commissioner Sanghvi in a later post, but here is a screenshot of this latest failure.]
The most famous campaign to address past injustice is the South African “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission, set up in 1995 in the aftermath of apartheid. Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), was key in creating this body.
The “Truth” part involved investigating and exposing and acknowledging the cruelty of a system where the opponents of apartheid were routinely tortured and murdered. The “Reconciliation” part was to find a path forward to unite a nation where the victims of this cruelty could live with both their pain and with the white South Africans who supported these past policies. In some cases, this involved the prosecution of those who committed serious crimes.
Nelson Mandela, the leader of the ANC, set an example of reconciliation. Brutalized by the police, he spent twenty-seven years in prison. Yet upon his release, he showed no rancor. His focus was on how to bring his nation back together and move forward. His most important quality was his ability to inspire the people of South Africa to understand each other and to set a path to justice and compassion.
For Mandela, this process was not about apologizing. It was instead about acknowledging the harm done and then finding ways to address those wounds. Addressing those wounds was not about worthless apologies but about identifying concretely the policies and institutions that needed change and identifying the people in authority who needed to acknowledge the problems and address them.
For sixteen years, I was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (now called LifeWorks). The last thing I wanted to hear from an employee who had screwed up was an apology. What I wanted instead was an acknowledgment of the error and a plan to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Shame Is Not A Strategy. Guilt Is Not A Strategy
Conspicuously absent from Mayor Kim’s “restorative justice” resolution is any effort to take the first necessary step of doing the work to actually identify specific actions and policies that need to be acknowledged and addressed.
Saratoga Springs exists within the United States. The fact that black people (and Jews, and Irish, and Italians, and women and others) were discriminated against throughout this country is axiomatic. A general apology for this history, however, takes us nowhere.
As with the South African example, identifying and acknowledging specific examples of racism, either individual cases or institutional cases, and providing proposals for addressing how these can be reformed is where the hope lies. Blanket condemnations and vague apologies, as contained in Kim’s resolution, may bring enjoyment to some but do little to produce real change.
Our Local BLM
The reality is that Lex Figuereo and his allies are the polar opposite of Mandela. Any reasonable observer of their tactics at City Council meetings can see that their goal is to humiliate and indulge in unrestrained rage. Insulting elected officials is self-indulgent nonsense. This picture of BLM people in front of Montagnino’s office is a testament to the infantile nature of so much of what they do.
BLM events are not really about politics; they are about psychodrama. Michele Madigan, who served in the previous administration, put aside money for a mediator and offered to meet with Figuereo. In the standard operating procedure for Figuereo, he strung her along only to refuse to participate. Figuereo is not really interested in sitting down, identifying specific problems (truth), and seeking solutions. Figuereo’s identity is invested in drama and media.
The narrative that if elected officials will just sit down with Figuereo and his allies that an accommodation can be achieved is a myth.
The Missing Factor: Truth
BLM makes wild accusations about the city’s police. If you listen to them, you would think that we were living in Alabama in the 1950s, that Bull Connor is the chief of police, and that any moment a phalanx of police armed with guns and dogs and tear gas are about to brutalize them.
Missing from their rants is substance-truth. If the police need further reform, it begins with BLM doing the hard work of actually documenting incidents of real abuse. Without identifying examples of failure in police procedures with details of who, what, and where, there can be no corrective action.
Mayor Kim’s resolution calls for restorative justice. Let’s get beyond the culture wars and consider what restorative justice is.
“Restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding the person who caused it accountable for his or her actions. Accountability for the offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done.”
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Law School
In this definition, the process begins with identifying real events that are documented for the purpose of change.
Kim’s poorly crafted resolution misses the point about what restorative justice is. Instead, his nebulous resolution fits right into Figuereo et. al.’s playbook. It calls for “…a community-wide dialogue with residents and institutions on defining what restorative justice means to Saratoga Springs in the 21st century.” This amorphous charge can only lead to more confusion and conflict.
The vague language in Mayor Kim’s restorative justice committee resolution is an exercise in noise and will result in little or no constructive findings.
An Odd Date For His Final Report
I find it particularly suspect, that Kim’s resolution would have his committee report its findings on December 19, 2023. That date is conveniently after the city’s next election.
Kim, the other Council members and Figuereo are, as they say in popular culture, co-dependent. With the exception of Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, they all crave media coverage without substance. They feed off each other.
Kim got his story into the Times Union about his plan to establish a “restorative justice committee” (no great feat), but that is all he has achieved. This new committee (one of too many) will produce nothing.
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