Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

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

Tuesday, 18 June 2024 09:08

Sanghvi Tries To Pay $49,946.60 For Undocumented Legal Bills For Moran And His Deputy Related To On-Call Scandal

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Minita Sanghvi has an item on her agenda for the June 18,2024, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting to pay $49,946.60 to an attorney to represent Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and his deputy, Stacy Connors, related to the on-call scandal. Sanghvi also has a resolution to transfer the city funds to pay for this. The language of Sanghvi’s resolution also authorizes more payments to the attorney in the future.

An actual bill or contract from the attorney or even the attorney’s name is missing. As the cost seems excessive on its face, it is disturbing that, as far as one can tell, the City Attorney has not reviewed a bill to determine if it is reasonable. It is even more disturbing that Sanghvi would put this forward for payment given the lack of documentation of the work that was done and a breakdown of the fees that were charged.

Readers may forbear my skepticism, but it seems more than coincidental that neither Sanghvi nor Moran attended the pre-agenda meeting this morning (June 17), at which they would have had to explain all of this. When Sanghvi’s deputy was questioned about the resolution and transfer of city funds to pay this bill, she declined to answer, telling the Council members present that Sanghvi would address the resolution at the Tuesday night meeting.

This is part of an ongoing pattern where Moran and Sanghvi add items after the pre-agenda meeting. This deprives the Mayor and other Commissioners of the ability to prepare for the Council meeting and denies the public of notification of the actions they are going to bring forth.

Here is a press release from Saratoga Springs Republican Chairman Mike Brandi and Sanghvi’s resolution.

SSSGOP Calls on City Council to Reject Moran’s Request for Taxpayer Funds for Private Attorneys to Respond to Criminal Subpoena

June 17, 2024

The Saratoga Springs Republican Committee is calling on the city council to reject the proposed resolution advanced by Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi, which would provide $49,946.60 to pay the bill of a private attorney retained by Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran and Deputy Commissioner Stacey Connors in their defense against the criminal investigation related to the on-call scandal.

State Law and Public Officer Indemnification

Firstly, under state law, public officers are only entitled to indemnification in criminal matters after charges are dismissed or they are found not guilty. Taxpayers should not be burdened with the costs of a public official’s defense if there is potential for guilty conduct. This principle ensures that public funds are used judiciously and not in defense of potentially criminal actions.

Locally, Section 9-1 of the City Code provides for indemnification and defense of city officers in legal actions arising out of their official duty or scope of employment. It is an absurd proposition for one to claim that their official duty includes potentially criminal conduct. Certainly, the city would not be paying for a criminal defense attorney if an elected official were driving drunk in a city vehicle. This situation is no different.

Lack of Transparency and Adherence to City Policy

Secondly, neither Commissioner Moran nor Deputy Commissioner Connors have disclosed the identities of the attorneys they have hired. Nor have they provided a copy of the bills that are to be paid with this $49,946.60. Moreover, the city’s purchasing policy has not been followed to ensure that the city is obtaining a fair rate for these legal services or that the city is protected in the case of vendor misconduct. Attorneys retained by the City are required to produce evidence of certain insurance requirements, which has not occurred here. Finally, Section 8.1 of the City Charter makes it clear that only the Council may engage legal professionals. Moran has no independent right to retain counsel for himself at the cost of the City. Transparency and adherence to established procedures are fundamental to maintaining public trust and fiscal responsibility.

No Demonstrated Conflict or Incompetence in City Attorney’s Office

Thirdly, there has been no demonstration that the City Attorney’s Office is conflicted or incompetent in handling the subpoena. Precedents such as the cases of former Mayor Kelly and former Commissioner of Public Safety Dalton only involved the allocation of outside counsel after it was clearly established that there was a conflict of interest in them sharing counsel with the city. This crucial step has not been met in the current situation.

Chairman’s Statement

“Commissioner Moran’s brazen attempt to siphon taxpayer funds for his personal legal defense slush fund is not just inappropriate, it is an outright abuse of his position,” said SSGOP Chairman Mike Brandi. “The residents of Saratoga Springs should not be forced to bankroll his legal troubles, especially when there is no legitimate reason to bypass the City Attorney’s Office. Moran should not be allowed to play fast and loose with the law and then expect taxpayers to bail him out when he is found with his hand in the cookie jar. This blatant disregard for protocol and transparency is a slap in the face to every taxpayer and yet another blight on Moran’s already tattered record.”

Background on Investigation

The Saratoga County District Attorney has initiated a probe related to on-call pay for Saratoga Springs Deputy Commissioners. On April 24, 2024, Saratoga County Judge James Murphy III authorized subpoenas that were served on the city on April 25, 2024. The investigation is looking into misconduct regarding the claiming of thousands of dollars of on-call pay by certain city officers.

The SSGOP stands firm in its commitment to fiscal responsibility and transparency in government. We urge the city council to reject the request for taxpayer-funded private attorneys for Moran and Connors. It is imperative that taxpayer money is protected and used appropriately, ensuring that public trust is upheld.

Please contact Mike Brandi at this email with any questions. 

The Resolution

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