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, 15 April 2024 10:02

Times Union Watch: Liberatore Misrepresents Arrest At Council Meeting

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Wendy Liberatore and the Times Union have once again done a disservice to the public by this time publishing inaccurate information surrounding the removal from the Council chamber and arrest of a woman at the April 2, 2024, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting.

user_email=This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.&;encoded_url=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cudGltZXN1bmlvbi5jb20vbmV3cy9hcnRpY2xlL3dvbWFuLWFjY3VzZWQtZGlzb3JkZXJseS1jb25kdWN0LXNhcmF0b2dhLXNwcmluZ3MtMTkzODU3MjMucGhw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="border: 0px; font: inherit; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline;" data-auth="NotApplicable" data-linkindex="7" data-ogsc="">In an article in the April 4, 2024 edition of the Times Union Liberatore claimed that Mayor John Safford "could not keep the atmosphere calm" and erroneously reported that he asked the police to remove a woman who was being disruptive. This is not an accurate description of what occurred.

Arrest at Council Meeting Highlights Changes to Public Comment Protocol

In a way the April 2, 2024, City Council meeting was "deja vu all over again" as Yogi Berra once said. A 54-year-old white woman, who had previously participated with Saratoga Black Lives Matter in the disruption of Council meetings and been arrested, interrupted the public hearing on Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub's paid parking proposal. Once again she grabbed the microphone and wouldn't give it up, and among other things screamed at the Mayor to "shut up". In the incident she was involved in under the previous administration, the meeting descended into chaos with additional arrests. Here's how this recent incident was dealt with.

While as Mayor Safford told Wendy "you can't legislate civility" you can put in place procedures that are designed to de-escalate a toxic situation should it arise. In this case, the procedures Safford and the Council have put in place allowed the person to calmly be removed and the meeting to continue without descending into chaos, more shouting, and dysfunction as has been the case in the past.

Arresting People Who Disrupt Meetings: It's Complicated

Our city has struggled with the challenge of maintaining order in dealing with members of Black Lives Matter who have repeatedly disrupted City Council meetings for years now. Many have wondered why most persons arrested in the past for disruptive behavior at Council meetings have had their charges dismissed. To some extent, this can be attributed to the mishandling of these events by previous Council members.

The key here is distinguishing the roles of the Mayor who chairs the meeting and the police. If a person behaves in a manner that violates the policies established by the Council, the Mayor has the authority to rule the individual out of order. This behavior could include, for example, a person refusing to relinquish the microphone when their time limit for speaking has lapsed or an individual in the audience yelling or otherwise hampering the deliberations of the Council.

But neither the Mayor nor the Commissioner of Public Safety is a sworn law enforcement officer and thus they cannot decide who or when a person can be arrested. Allowing politicians to have people arrested is a slippery slope that would be subject to abuse. The decision as to whether any of this behavior rises to the level of disorderly conduct is now in the hands of the sergeant of arms (a police officer assigned to City Council meetings). The police officer has the authority to attempt to remove the person from the meeting by requesting them to leave. If the person refuses the police officer's order, at the discretion of the officer, the person may be charged with disorderly conduct and forcibly removed.

This is what happened at the April 2, 2024 meeting. The person refused to give up the microphone and the Mayor first ruled her out of order and then requested that she leave. Only when she continued to yell into the microphone did the sergeant at arms approach her and request her to leave. When she refused, he arrested her. The video documents the incident. I would add that the officer involved showed great restraint and empathy in his attempt to deal with the woman who was clearly disturbed.

So it is important to note that Safford did not ask the police to remove the disruptive speaker as Wendy reported. This was a decision made independently by law enforcement. Safford calmly tries to reason with the woman and then tells her repeatedly that she needs to leave, but it is the police officer who uses his professional judgment on when to move forward and how to proceed with the removal of the disruptive person, not a politician. Another habitual BLM disrupter who calls herself Diogenes hovers around the police officer but does not interfere with the arrest.

Mayor John Safford has worked closely with Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll to reassess the role of the Council and the police in maintaining order and to establish standards that are fair to both the Council and members of the public attending Council meetings. A new set of procedures for dealing with disruptive members of the audience were presented and adopted by the Council and these were the rules that were in play at the April 2 meeting.

It is impossible to prohibit members of the public who may become disruptive from attending meetings, but I have witnessed way too many Council meetings shut down or dragging on till almost midnight because members of the public have been allowed to remain out of control. While disruptions cannot be avoided, in my opinion, these new procedures have been thoughtfully planned and were effectively executed. The meeting continued, other members of the public were able to speak during three public hearings that were scheduled plus a public comment period, the city's business was conducted, and the Council adjourned by 9:30

Commissioner Sanghvi's Odd Memory Loss

According to FOILed documents I received, Commissioner Coll submitted a draft of rules for public comment written by Mayor Safford to the New York State Committee on Open Government (COOG) for review before the Council voted to adopt the document. The January 2, 2024, response by COOG is at the bottom of this post.

Oddly, though, Liberatore includes this remark from Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi who seems to have been unaware of or to have forgotten conversations the Council members were involved in and the memos that were circulated before the adoption of these rules.

Sanghvi said she has proposed to the mayor that the city reach out to the state Committee on Open Government and other advocates to come up with a plan for meetings.

Times Union

Sanghvi received Coll's memo with the COOG review of the proposed plan for handling public comment at Council meetings. The Mayor submitted the proposed rules to the Council for adoption and the Council vigorously debated them. Commissioner Sanghvi was the sole vote against the adoption of the rules objecting to any kind of limit on public comments.

Notwithstanding Commissioner Sanghvi's remarks to the Times Union, the COOG was clearly consulted and she had been provided with their assessment of the rules before she voted.

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These are the proposed procedures with commentary on right by COOG

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