Tensions Continue As Saratoga Springs Moves Toward Mediation With Activists
In another sometimes tense meeting, the Saratoga Springs City Council provided updates on items related to police reform and mediation with Black Lives Matter protesters Tuesday night.
Appearing before the city council, local residents and activists expressed anger and frustration over the city’s progress in implementing police reforms and tactics in dealing with outspoken residents and Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
Two weeks after an explosive city council meeting where multiple police officers were on hand, the presence of the officers unnerved some in the crowd inside council chambers Tuesday night.
City resident and racial justice activist Molly Dunn, who told councilors she had been recently doxxed by those with opposing political views, questioned why during recent meetings bikers in vests sat in the rear of council chambers.
“They rest on police cars and tell citizens that they are here to protect the police. Have you deputized them? Who are these people? Who are these people in the back row here with Confederate flags on their vests?” asked Dunn.
Calvin Bauer, a member of the Downrange Veterans Motorcycle Club and resident of Ballston Spa, responded.
“We’re here because Black Lives Matter protests keep happening and we were just wondering if that was ever going to get cleared up in Saratoga. That’s the only reason why we’re here.”
Tension persisted throughout the meeting.
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan provided an update on the search for a professional moderator to foster communication between Saratoga BLM and the city, as brought up two weeks earlier.
In addition to asking for dialogue on permitting for events in Congress Park, BLM organizer Lexis Figuereo expressed concern over using public dollars to support mediation.
“We just want to keep on making sure that this mediation is going to go forward, and we also look forward to having conversations even before mediation because we don’t have to wait for mediation for that. We honestly are not happy about it taking funding away from our city to have to deal with mediation,” said Figuereo.
Madigan responded during her agenda about the cost, as she explained her office had reached out to multiple mediation firms, with interviews to begin later in the week.
“This is going to require some taxpayer funds and I understand that you, Lexis, are concerned about funding because there are many things that were outlined in the 50 recommendations that the council is looking at that will also require additional funding. And I can tell you that as Commissioner of Finance and putting out the 2022 budget I will be meeting to understand some of those costs, including what it might cost to put in place a civilian review board, and I am taking those costs seriously and hope to present some things to you and the public in the 2022 budget, as we move forward.”
Madigan mentioned that she had narrowed a list of candidates down to five mediation firms. Mayor Meg Kelly, a fellow Democrat who is not seeking re-election, asked Madigan if Saratoga BLM and group MLK Saratoga would take part in the interview process. Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton also weighed in.
“When you’re interviewing these companies are the Black Lives Matter or MLK going to be involved in those interviews with the companies?” asked Kelly.
“At this time it’s myself, my deputy, one other meeting from my team – we have a standard list of questions we will ask to all of them. This will be over Zoom because some of these companies are not local and I will be recording them and I will be providing them to Black Lives Matter.”
“I just thought it would be a good invite, that’s all,” said Kelly.
“Well, I can look at that,” replied Madigan.
“Presumably…I’m presuming that whoever the mediator is will be agreed upon by both parties, is that the goal?” asked Dalton.
“It’s the goal,” said Madigan. “It’s been a lot of work and I’m trying to get through the process, so you know, but yes. This is open to the community. It’s a public process.”
As public meetings have recently become shouting matches, Democratic Commissioner of Accounts John Franck expressed his desire that any mediation sessions be held in a more informal environment, possibly in the large multi-purpose room on the top floor of city hall.
“Hopefully…Commissioner Madigan, I appreciate you going forward with this that, when we do get to that level that we can just change the format a little bit,” said Franck.
“Commissioner, you’re absolutely right. That was going to be a part of my update, so thank you for bringing it up. We are going to have an informal way of meeting. This is not going to be us sitting here and you getting two minutes to talk,” said Madigan.
Dalton, who is running an independent campaign for mayor, discussed her plan to have a committee reviewing implementation of the city’s state-mandated police reform plan completed in March provide more frequent updates to the public. Dalton floated the idea of a spreadsheet with updated information on the 50-point plan. The implementation committee last provided an update to the city council in June.
Kelly pushed back at Dalton’s suggestion, signaling frustration between the appointed members of the implementation committee and city leaders.
“I have two people that are almost ready to walk because it is really difficult to be treated the way that they’ve been treated. And I’m just going to say that on the record because they don’t deserve it. And I’m going to say I hope we can mend the bridge and move forward and I don’t know how to do that. I really don’t.”
“Be treated by whom, be me?” asked Dalton. “You say I’m not treating them well? That’s what you’re trying to say.”
“Listen, I have stuff on here that they sent me, Commissioner,” replied Kelly.
“OK, so I just want to explain what we’re talking about here,” said Dalton. “So, yes. This committee did come before the city council in June and gave an update. It was a very detailed update, they’re doing the work, but I don’t anticipate, I don’t expect the public to go back, rewind, and try to find that update back in June, buried in the city council meeting, if they want to know where we are with this implementation. So what I’m trying to do is actually help the committee by putting out something that shows the update that they’ve given, so that people know they’re doing the work. This is not added work for them, this is a benefit to them because I think it’s unfair for them for people not to know that they’re doing this work.”
Dalton continued in a back-and-forth with Kelly.
“I don’t understand what the confusion is,” said Dalton. “It makes me very nervous…”
“You shouldn’t be nervous, you should just go back and read your emails,” said Kelly.
“I’m not nervous, I’m saying it makes me very uncomfortable that they’re so unwilling with providing me with that update. The fact that they’re so defensive about providing me their work. That to me is very unsettling,” said Dalton.