Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

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

Thursday, 13 June 2024 16:49

Moran, Sanghvi, and Golub Drag Council Back to Conflict and Chaos

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

At the June 2, 2024, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran, and Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub (hereafter referred to as the Faction) continually attacked Mayor John Safford, calling him a liar, claiming he was being partisan, and badgering him unmercifully in a pointless attempt to try to embarrass him. It does not get much uglier than this. The October 24, 2023, above letter from Brian Kremer, the city’s outside counsel for labor issues, was at the heart of the chaotic and unpleasant exchanges.

Abusing The Pre-Agenda Meeting

The contentious discussion commenced when Commissioner Sanghvi proposed a series of salary upgrades for employees in her department that were in conflict with the legal opinion cited above from the city’s labor attorney in October of 2023. Sanghvi did not put these items on her agenda until after the pre-agenda meeting. This avoided a discussion of their legality at the pre-agenda meeting where it should have occurred. Pre-agenda meetings, which are public, are supposed to give Council members the opportunity to respond to any questions about their agenda items before the regular Council meeting to minimize confusion and conflict at the Council table. Sanghvi had to know these upgrades would be controversial as the Council had disagreed about their legality at a previous meeting. She defended not bringing them up earlier because she was waiting for some pending paperwork. She wanted, she said, to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s.” She did not explain why she did not alert her fellow Council members that she planned to bring up these upgrades at the Council meeting if the paperwork was completed in time. There seemed to be no critical rush to adopt her resolution at the June 2 meeting. At least one of the upgrades was to change a job description dating back to 1999. Sanghvi has been in office for two and a half years and just now insisted the issue be urgently addressed. A reasonable person would be skeptical of her explanation and wonder if she preferred the element of surprise.

It is also worth noting, in light of the bitter brouhaha that ensued over an item on Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll’s agenda at the Council meeting, that no one raised any objections to his request to create and fund a new position in his department at the pre-agenda meeting. If Golub, Moran, and Sanghvi (the Faction) had so much trouble with Coll’s proposal, as we shall see they did at the regular Council meeting, why didn’t they raise their concerns so Coll could prepare to address them?

Kremer’s Legal Opinion

Sanghvi’s proposal to upgrade positions within her department was problematic, given a legal opinion issued by the city’s labor attorney Brian Kremer in October, 2023. Kremer’s letter stated that the practice of members of the Council bringing resolutions to the table to upgrade the positions of their respective staff for the purpose of increasing their salaries is illegal. Kremer wrote that any changes to the responsibilities, salaries, or benefits of existing positions must be negotiated by the Mayor with the union and then submitted to the full Council for action. Outside of regular contract negotiations, this is normally done by something called a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the city and the union. Title 3, I of the city charter gives the Mayor the power to conduct collective bargaining with the city employee’s bargaining units.

Regrettably, up until the June 2, 2024, Council meeting, Kremer’s opinion was routinely ignored by members of the previous Council. At this meeting, Commissioner Sanghvi, rather than allowing the Mayor to handle the contacts with the union and the drafting of an MOA, insisted on again going to the Council directly with a resolution to upgrade three of her employees. Unlike in the past, the two new Council members, Commissioner Coll and Mayor Safford, declined to vote for Commissioner Sanghvi’s resolutions. Both cited the Kremer letter, saying that it could not be ignored and that voting for Sanghvi’s request would be illegal.

This set off a bizarre and acrimonious uproar during which Sanghvi, Moran, and Golub (the Faction) agreed the process was flawed but insisted that the vote take place anyway. Sanghvi’s upgrades passed three to two, with Moran, Sanghvi, and Golub voting in favor and Coll and Safford voting against. As documented by the videos below, successfully getting Sanghvi’s dubious resolution passed was not enough for the three of them. Attempting to divert the discussion from the Kremer letter, they did everything they could to try to embarrass the Mayor for his opposition. They threw the proverbial kitchen sink at him in an unseemly attempt to deflect from the central fact that the city had a letter from Counsel that meant that what they did was illegal.

The three members of the Faction also did everything they could to try to embarrass Commissioner Coll when his agenda came up. The Public Safety Department had lost two of its three senior account clerks (one took a job in a dental office, which tells you there is a problem with city salaries). To address the potential of having no Department of Public Safety staff to handle department purchases, contracts, accounts payable, and parking tickets, Coll, rather than upgrade the senior clerk position (which Kremer indicated was not legal), created the position of “purchasing coordinator,” which, among other things, encompassed the duties of the “senior account clerk” but paid more. Coll was seeking the Council’s authorization and funding for the new position. The current senior clerk scored number one on the civil service exam, so she was well-positioned to be appointed.

The difference between what Sanghvi and Coll were seeking was pretty clear. Sanghvi was seeking to upgrade existing positions in the city’s workforce covered by the current labor agreement, while Coll was seeking to create a new position.

Both Commissioners wanted to make the positions more attractive. Sanghvi, however, chose a method that violated the law, while Coll’s approach did not.

While Coll hoped to attract his senior clerk, who had been the number one candidate based on the exam, the position was still competitive. Approving Coll’s resolution did not guarantee that the senior clerk would be chosen and receive an increase in pay.

Moran acknowledged this during the “discussion,” when he gave Coll, in Moran’s words,” a cautionary warning” that the position was competitive and prejudging who would be appointed would be inappropriate. Consistent with the Kafka-like “discussion,” this did not stop Moran from criticizing Coll for having voted against Sanghvi’s resolutions, asserting that, somehow, both approaches were the same when he had just indicated they were not.

If you watch (endure) the discussion, you will observe that the Faction (Sanghvi, Golub, Moran) all assert over and over that both Sanghvi’s and Coll’s proposals are “upgrades.” They ignore the legal meaning of “upgrade” in the context of both the union contract and New York State labor law with the informal use of the word. It is hard to tell whether their confusion is real or based on ignorance or malice. This is especially true of Jason Golub, who has a law degree from Columbia Law School.

Moran, Who Is Not A Lawyer, Repudiates the Kremer Letter Pronouncing: “It’s Not Relevant”

For not the first time, Moran, who is not a lawyer, attacked a legal opinion that did not go his way. He ripped the Kremer letter in a rant that verged on the comic. He asserted it “contradicts itself inside of itself [JK: Whatever that means], and I don’t believe it has a bearing on this scenario.” As Kremer’s letter directly addressed the issue of upgrades, this statement was particularly bizarre.

Moran’s Gross Ignorance Of City Labor Negotiations

Moran claimed that labor union negotiations are unable to be “granular” enough to deal with individual positions. In a statement reminiscent of a 19th-century robber baron, Moran claimed that only the Commissioners knew enough to deal with employee salaries and duties. Moran apparently doesn’t understand that the days of paternalistic employers handing out benefits to favored employees were supposed to have ended with the rise of organized labor. His statement that individual employee positions are not dealt with in union negotiations is flatly false, as anyone who has been involved with the city’s negotiations with its unions or any other labor negotiations would know. Changes in individual job duties are regularly argued over and settled in contracts. He also dismisses the value of a salary study. He apparently believes he knows more about what certain positions are being paid in other municipalities than any study would produce.

Moran’s sudden profuse concern for the well-being of the city’s employees is also curious, given that he has had an improper practice charge filed against him by an employee, as well as a lawsuit and grievances.

Moran and Sanghvi Accuse Safford And Coll Of Partisan Attack On Employees

At one point, Moran decides that Safford’s and Coll’s votes against Sanghvi’s proposals are motivated by partisanship. This is a particularly interesting and odd line of attack the Faction took considering Commissioner Coll is a Democrat. And what’s with the Bleeding Heart Liberal thing Moran throws out there?

A New Jason Golub Goes After Mayor Safford

In the past, Jason Golub preferred to keep a low profile at meetings, avoiding the scrums. Apparently, those days are over.

At this meeting, Golub went after Mayor Safford, insisting that he explain his vote. This kind of badgering is a new Jason Golub. Why does he insist the Mayor defend himself? The Mayor was gracious enough to respond to him.

Golub then continues his insistence that assuming the current senior clerk in the Public Safety Department is hired as the purchasing coordinator, she gets a salary increase, which is an “upgrade.” As Golub is an attorney, he must know that the term upgrade, in this instance, is a technically legal term referring to increasing an existing position‘s salary. It is worth noting that Jason never actually addresses the substance of Kremer’s opinion, preferring to confuse the public by playing with the word “upgrade.”

At one point in the proceedings, Moran interrupts the Mayor, saying there has been no second to Coll’s resolution. In fact, there was a second, and it was made by Golub. When Moran complains that there was no second to Coll’s resolution, Golub remains silent.

In a particularly troubling moment, Golub attempts to put Coll on the defensive by demanding of Coll why he voted against Sanghvi’s resolution based on the attorney’s letter but didn’t get a letter from the attorney affirming that his (Coll’s) resolution is legal. Here again, Golub avoids addressing the substance of the letter, which attests to the illegality of Sanghvi’s resolution and tries instead to change the discussion to why Coll did not seek the counsel’s opinion.

During the meeting, Coll offered that if they wanted to seek an opinion on his proposal either by Kremer or a different lawyer or even to go to the Comptroller, he would be fine with that. Not surprisingly, none of the Faction took him up on any of this because, I suspect, they knew it was pretty certain that Coll’s appointment was legal in spite of all of their bluster.

A Discussion Devoid Of Logic

Minita Sanghvi has, in the past, played a low-key role in discussions, often trying to play the conciliator. Not so at this meeting. The following is a brief excerpt. Between the discussion of Sanghvi’s resolutions and Coll’s, the hectoring went on for over half an hour.

Here, they attack former Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan for doing what they (the Faction) claim they have done. Sanghvi ignores here two important points.

First, Madigan instituted a practice of including any upgrades in the budget process. Unlike Sanghvi, Madigan was extremely resistant to changing employee grades outside of the annual city budget process. Madigan told me that there had to be some very compelling reason for this kind of action. She recalled that the school came to her because they were unable to attract crossing guards at the salary offered at the time. They were desperate as there was a major safety issue. Madigan agreed to help them by funding a salary increase.

It is also most important to note that Kremer’s opinion was written long after Madigan was no longer the Commissioner of Finance. Unlike Sanghvi, she did not have the guidance of the Kremer letter. Here, Sanghvi badgers the Mayor about Madigan’s culpability.

Bad Faith And Bad Behavior

Mayor Safford remains courteous and calm throughout the aggressive and belligerent verbal hectoring directed at him by the three members of the Faction.

Tim Coll similarly continues to be patient and non-confrontational throughout the ordeal. Coll offers obvious suggestions for resolving the conflict. He suggests going back to Kremer for clarification regarding Sanghvi’s resolution and his own. He suggests that they contact the New York State Comptroller for an opinion. His suggestions are basically drowned out by more irrelevant hectoring.

In the end, after all their complaining, the Faction voted for Coll’s resolution so it passed unanimously further demonstrating the pointlessness of their attacks.

This kind of behavior was all too common at meetings of the previous Council. The members of this new Faction that has formed would do well to reflect on the last election when every member of that Council who had an opponent lost. There is every indication that this kind of acting out is not popular with the majority of Saratogians. They would prefer that city business be conducted in a civil manner, as exemplified by the two new members.

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