The recent video showing Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim in an uncontrollable rage shouting expletives at the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety has gone viral and exposed the darkness that overshadows our city.
For those of us who have been following the City Council’s antics, we know that every member of the current Council has contributed to the decline in civility. Accounts Commissioner Moran, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim have been the most bitter and aggressive. Still, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi’s and Public Works Commissioner Golub’s passivity have, in their own way, empowered the other three.
The reality is that if these three so easily indulge themselves in verbally abusing their colleagues at the Council table, think about what kind of liberties they must take when dealing with the employees who work under them. We have some proof of this in the expletive-filled emails directed at employees by Mayor Kim as revealed by recent FOILs that can be found at the end of this post.
It should be no surprise then that the regional president of the union to which most employees in the city belong has written the following letter to Mayor Kim with cc’s to the other Council members and the city’s Human Resources Administrator. It characterizes the environment in city hall as toxic.
There are also several lawsuits pending against Council members regarding the “hostile work environment.”
Can This Council Change?
Mayor Kim’s statement to Saratoga Today only serves to document how deep and intransigent the problem is. His toxic emails with their f-bombs threatening employees are chilling and are included at the end of this post.
Sadly, Mayor Kim seems to live in a kind of bubble removed from both facts and the pain his behavior causes. This is what he told Saratoga Today
“They asked for every single email that I ever sent. So, I think that’s a pretty low percentage. I’m not excusing myself, but sometimes you see something and that’s how I react.”Ron Kim to Saratoga Today May 12, 2023
As for facts, the FOIL that produced Kim’s ugly emails did not request all of his emails as he alleges, just as the police who he had encountered prior to the meeting were not wearing riot gear as he asserted.
Here is the actual FOIL:
More dangerously, in spite of the wide condemnation of his behavior, Kim obstinately reserves the right to cast away restraint in the future. (“…you (sic) see something and that’s how I react.”)
As our Mayor, Ron Kim represents the citizens of this city. Despite the stressful situations he encounters as Mayor, the people who elected him deserve to have confidence he will have the self-discipline to maintain his dignity even under the most trying circumstances.
With his position of power, Kim holds a special trust regarding those who serve under him. They must have confidence that they will not be subjected to scorn and humiliation. His behavior in his encounter with Deputy Commissioner Tetu and Commissioner Montagnino was simply inexcusable. Worse, the baseless and withering attacks he and Montagnino directed at former Director of Risk and Safety Marilyn Rivers (she is suing the city), a dedicated and highly respected employee, was not only reckless and cruel, but it also had to spread fear all through city hall with employees wondering whether they might have to endure what Ms. Rivers did.
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran also has an unfortunate record himself. He was successfully sued by one of his employees over workplace incidents. He routinely indulges in insulting remarks at the Council table. Calling Commissioner Montagnino a “psychopath” drew whoops and cheers from his Black Lives Matter supporters but only made the atmosphere required to carry out the Council’s deliberations impossible.
Similarly, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi played to the BLM people by complaining that Commissioner Montagnino had not informed her that there would be a risk at the meeting requiring the police. As Montagnino was the target of the night, this was an opportunity to show her credentials to her allies Kim and Moran by piling on.
In the meantime, the police quietly stood for hours in a stairwell. Far from the narrative put forward by BLM that they were all murderers, they were there to protect the Council, the public, and the BLM activists. In spite of the chaos in the Council meeting room, with BLM chanting and waving banners, the police waited patiently in the event they might be needed.
Sanghvi’s unfortunate remarks at the expense of the men and women who spent the night trying to protect her were just one more unfortunate aspect of the evening.
It is time to return order and civility to the Council table and to city hall.
Mayor Kim does not seem to have the skill set required to chair the Council meetings.
A responsible chair’s duty is to facilitate the thoughtful deliberations of the Council so they can do the city’s business.
To do this, he must constrain his colleagues from any behavior that would promote unnecessary hostility by insisting on the highest standards of conduct.
When a chair (KIm) fails to meet these obligations, he/she needs for others at the table to intercede and insist on courtesy. In fact, it is the responsibility of every member of the Council to do so. I have yet to see any member of the current Council play that role.
Black Lives Matter Issue
Given the sympathy of most people for black Americans regarding the violence nationally against them so tragically seen regularly on television and epitomized by the murder of George Floyd, it is understandable that the public would be supportive of a local group that characterizes itself as being dedicated to racial justice.
Up until recently, Black Lives Matter has shown great skill in shaping their narrative in the media to tap into this sympathy.
Most people assume that the local BLM tactics are an extension of the tradition of Martin Luther King’s non-violent tactics. But Reverend King always championed love and forgiveness in his militancy. I have written about the contrast between King’s approach and the current local leadership of BLM in previous posts.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King
While BLM frequently quotes King on the need to be prepared to say and do things that make people uncomfortable, they clearly eschew King’s dedication to love vs hate.
Lexis Figuereo, his sister Chandler Hickenbottom, and the other leaders have expressed disdain over calls for them to show restraint and courtesy. They clearly believe that the only way to make change is to pour taunts and insults on people in power. Their protests are marked by the profound anger they feel and by their sense of entitlement to unleash that anger.
For an example of just how intense that anger can be, I offer the following video clip of Lex Figuereo.
Here Figuereo engages in an expletive-laden and belligerent challenge to a black Schenectady minister over his participation in a “Back The Blue” demonstration. In this case, the police had to intercede to avoid what appeared to be potential violence. Figuereo refers to the minister as a “fu*&ing coon,” “fu*&ing house n****r,” etc. His fury is palpable.
In contrast to this kind of toxic outburst, the narrative BLM offers to the media is that they are simply exercising their right to free speech and that any attempt to limit them in terms of the City Council’s rules for public comment is an act of oppression.
One cannot deny their willingness to pursue this strategy in spite of the potential for arrest. They have the courage of their convictions.
With respect, I seriously question the effectiveness of this approach. I share King’s view that the tactics by which a movement struggles are as important as the ends for which it struggles. However laudable one’s goals are, the manner people choose to achieve those goals will be undermined by tactics that are inconsistent with those goals (“Darkness cannot drive out darkness”).
King was also ready to seriously engage his skeptics in thoughtful dialogue. He knew that change would only come by convincing skeptics of the value of that change. Without broad public support beyond his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there would be no progress.
Deja Vu All Over Again
So the central question for people like myself is, are the tactics employed by BLM expanding public support for change and achieving their goals?
My sense is that, to the contrary, they have squandered the support that existed initially in response to George Floyd’s death. The huge, diverse crowd that filled Congress Park following Floyd’s murder is gone. The small group that shows up to disrupt the Council meetings has not expanded.
While Figuerreo likes to boast that nothing they wanted got done until they returned to being disruptive this year, a closer look at what they say they’ve achieved doesn’t support this.
The Council finally did appoint a Civilian Review Board. Still, those appointments were ironically delayed when the Council meeting was shut down after Chandler Hickenbottom refused to give up the microphone during the public comment period and began addressing the Council by promising to “rip you a new one.” And while BLM has claimed victory for the passage of a Council policy on no-knock warrants, it was not the ban the Police Review Task Force had asked for but instead a restriction that is similar to the policy that already exists on the state and national level. Similarly, a proposal brought to the table by Commissioner Sanghvi to implement a Task Force proposal to apply assets seized in “controlled substance arrest and criminal activity” to “city-based programming for the treatment of addiction, homelessness, and other restorative justice initiatives…” noted that this was to be done “to the extent allowed by existing New York State statutory requirements”. The problem is, as the previous Council was castigated for trying to point out, NY state does not allow this kind of dispersal of seized assets. Commissioner Sanghvi’s resolution was essentially meaningless and subsequently withdrawn.
What BLM has evolved to instead is a groundhog day drama. The same people show up and indulge in the same practices and the same slogans. Other than disrupting the ability of the Council to transact its business and the occasional videos on local television, little is accomplished.
Time For A New Approach
The chaos and anger engendered by the BLM protests need to end. The disruption of the Council’s deliberations only contributes to the toxicity that is corroding city hall.
What is needed now is for BLM to adhere to the same rules of addressing the City Council that for years have been the standard: two minutes at the microphone plus silent courtesy for other speakers.
Commissioner of Public Safety candidate Tim Coll has observed that the state legislature and some cities in New York State employ a sergeant at arms to address disruptive behavior at public meetings. Trained, independent men and women who are not political and who are knowledgeable about the behavior allowed by the NY State Open Meetings law (comments should not be “abusive, threatening, profane, or in any way illegal”) are empowered to escort members of the public who become unruly from council chambers.
I agree with Coll that our City Council needs to incorporate a sergeant-at-arms into city meetings, and Mayor Kim needs to allow that sergeant-at-arms to fulfill his/her responsibilities.
- Mayor Kim needs to acknowledge that he has an anger management problem and needs to seek assistance.
- Mayor Kim needs to insist that his colleagues maintain a civil and respectful manner in addressing each other. In the event that there is a breach of etiquette, he needs to use the power of the chair to intercede and insist on decorum.
- The council needs to employ a sergeant at arms with the authority to remove members of the public who violate the protocols for city meetings.
Documenting The Toxic Environment In City Hall
A Letter From The City’s Union
This letter is from the regional president of the CSEA to the members of the City Council expressing concern about the environment in city hall.
The following emails from Mayor Kim target a city employee for some kind of retribution using profanities.
The following email from Tony Izzo clarifies that the email above was directed to at an employee.
Kim had apparently asked a DPW employee about the cost and availability of the casino and of High Rock Park for some kind of event. The employee sent him the pamphlet that includes the fees. The following email documents Kim’s reaction.
In any other institution behavior like this would be grounds for termination.
Kim’s Profane Riddled Meltdown In City Hall
By now most everyone in the city has seen the video of Mayor Kim’s outbursts against Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Tetu. The police had advised Kim, in effect, that he had exagerated the threat of emails he had received and they did not merit police action.