Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Friday, 08 March 2024 15:16

BLM Is Back, and Now They Want an Apology

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

New York State Law does not require municipalities to allow the public to comment at meetings. In contrast, Saratoga Springs’s government’s commitment to listening to the public is enshrined in its charter, which requires a public comment period to be included at all Council meetings.

The current administration’s policy limits speakers to three minutes each during the Council’s public comment period. The policy of having time limits for individual speakers goes back many years. Until the arrival of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, it was an accepted and noncontroversial policy routinely adhered to by its citizens.

Rules Do Not Apply To BLM

At the March 5, 2024, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, most speakers adhered to the time limit, and Mayor John Safford attempted to enforce the three-minute rule uniformly.

BLM members Lexis Figureo, his sister Chandler Hickenbottom, and Tracy Sangare were the three glaring exceptions.

All three openly flaunted the rules and taunted the Mayor when he attempted to enforce the limit.

In the following video, Mayor Safford attempts to quietly advise Figuereo that he has exhausted his time. Undeterred, Figuereo continues his rant, telling the Mayor, “I will continue to speak. It’s called freedom of speech.” When Mayor Safford similarly advised Hickenbottom that she had exhausted her time, she told him, “I don’t care.”

This is the nub of the issue. Lex Figuereo, Chandler Hickenbottom, and Tracy Sangare do not believe that the Council’s reasonable limits, as allowed by state law, apply to them, and any attempt to enforce the three-minute limit is falsely condemned as racist and a violation of their freedom of speech.

The Disturbing Role of the Attorney General

The New York State Attorney General, rather than constructively addressing the disruptive behavior of the local BLM, has actually stoked further discord in our city.

How is it possible that the Attorney General’s office is not aware that local BLM members are continually violating the city’s code of conduct at City Council meetings, and how is it possible that they have incredibly characterized any effort to enforce its rules as violating BLM’s Freedom of Speech? This blindness, after three years of investigations, is simply breathtaking.

Figuereo makes clear that, in his eyes, the Attorney General supports his behavior and boasts that his lawsuit against the city for allegedly suppressing his freedom of speech will make him rich.

Giving BLM a Voice

This blog is committed to allowing its critics to have a voice.

In that spirit, here is the unedited video of the March 5, 2024, public comment period during which representatives of BLM ranted for an hour and ten minutes about the blogger and his editor (Jane Weihe), Mayor Safford and Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll.

The Reckless Behavior of Some of Our Elected Officials

As noted, the city is already the subject of a lawsuit filed by Lexis Figuereo in federal court. There is also the real possibility that more lawsuits will be filed. I am told that our insurance carrier has contacted Council members asking them to withhold public comment on the Attorney General’s report due to the potential harm poorly considered comments might have on their efforts to defend the city in these suits.

Travelers Insurance declined to reinsure the city last year, and we were lucky to find another carrier who would. The city’s premiums have increased by close to a million dollars, and ignoring our insurer’s advice will do little to help the city’s coverage in the future.

BLM speakers pressed the Council to acknowledge and apologize for the alleged harm they had suffered. Given Figuereo’s lawsuit and the city insurer’s admonition to refrain from public discussion on the issue, it was imprudent for any member of the Council to accede to this.

That did not restrain Accounts Commissioners Dillon Moran, Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, and Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub from making such declarations. Dillon Moran went on at great length with an emotional apology.

To his credit, Jason Golub observed that BLM’s repeated marathon denunciations at Council meetings did little to advance their cause. He told BLM that they would have a far greater impact if they met privately with members of the Council to discuss their issues and offered to do so personally.

Would that BLM would accept such sound advice. As this blog has noted repeatedly, however, for BLM, the excitement of berating members of the Council and being covered by area media is an end unto itself. It gives them a deep sense of empowerment that our officials must sit quietly while BLM taunts them and attempts to humiliate them. There have been many other offers by previous City Council members to meet with BLM to discuss their concerns. BLM has consistently rejected those offers. We’ll see if they will accept Commissioner Golub’s offer this time.

The Quandry For Mayor Safford

The policy of limiting the period for public comment to thirty minutes was not enforced at the March 5 meeting. As documented, the limit of three minutes per speaker was also not uniformly enforced.

I do not envy the Mayor. Enforcing his policies during the public comment period will not be easy. Still, if he does not, he will disappoint the many people who elected him to bring back civility and order.

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