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Amendment defeated as Spa City continues debate over closing times

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino (file photo)
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino (file photo)

As the conversation about late-night safety in downtown Saratoga Springs continues, the city council this week voted down a proposal that would have allowed the city to revoke operating permits of businesses linked to acts of violence.

Debate continues in Saratoga Springs over how to address late-night violence following the 3 a.m. shootout on November 20th on Broadway that injured three.

On Tuesday night, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino read to his fellow Democrats on the city council a letter from police chief Shane Crooks regarding the county’s 4 a.m. bar closing time.

“On Friday and Saturday nights, calls for service continue to increase and peak on Saturday and Sunday mornings around 1 a.m. An earlier closing time for the drinking establishments would also allow for a reduction in staffing needs, which would ultimately reduce the strain on the police department,” read Montagnino.

While past city councils have supported moving up last call, actions by the city have failed to convince the county Board of Supervisors to appeal to the State Liquor Authority for a county-wide change. The county board did pass legislation last year in support of state legislation to allow individual municipalities to request an alteration of operating hours.

Instead, Montagnino on Tuesday proposed amending city code to allow the city to revoke the operating permits of bars and restaurants linked to violence after 2 a.m.

“It would essentially place a burden upon those establishments that opt to continue selling liquor after 2 a.m.,” said Montagnino. “And that burden would be one of a heightened level of care over the screening of patrons, the serving of patrons, and the conduct of patrons.”

But the measure stalled, with three members opposed and only two in support.

Commissioner of Public Works Jason Golub took issue with the language of the amendment.

“I think it’s poorly written, I think its open to so many different interpretations that I’m not even sure it could be, or is legal. I think it contradicts what our own city attorney suggested as language, which was, once again, been ignored. And I think it contradicts the need to spend more time and understand what the real problems are and what the solutions can be, including, potentially, closing the bars at 2 a.m.,” said Golub.

Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi also voted against the measure.

“The more prudent way would be to start with a security audit and see how we can improve and make our city safer for everyone, because that’s what our community needs first,” said Sanghvi.

Also opposed was Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran. The Democrat is the co-owner of a downtown brewpub and also stressed the importance of communication with the business community.

“This is a real problem, they get it, they’re on the front lines. We need to help them. We need to work together,” said Moran.

Moran on Tuesday announced the formation of a committee of bar owners and the Public Safety department. Moran’s announcement follows a conversation last week between Mayor Ron Kim, Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and bar and restaurant owners.

A security plan released by the business community on Tuesday includes a downtown safety committee that will hold monthly meetings, twice-annual safety workshops hosted by the city police department, and the hiring of an independent security firm to audit current safety protocols.

Only Mayor Kim voted to join Montagnino in support of his amendment. The Democrat cautioned against discussion with little substantive action.

“We could study this forever. We will never find empirical evidence that says, ‘if we do X, this will absolutely happen.’ But I can tell you that if we take no action, we will be blamed for that failure,” said Kim.

Also Tuesday, Commissioner Montagnino withdrew a separate agenda item that would have condemned Republican Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen for requesting a gag order that is preventing city officials from the discussing the shooting.

The order, issued by a judge, was imposed three days after the mayor and Public Safety Commissioner held a press conference and released security and police body camera footage of the incident hours after it occurred. Heggen has called the actions by the officials reckless and an endangerment of an ongoing investigation.

Heggen, in a letter delivered prior to Tuesday’s meeting, rejected a request by the city attorney that the gag order be lifted, but said she was open to “potentially modifying its terms” following a private meeting with city officials.

Image of Commissioner Montagnino's proposed amendment that was voted down on Tuesday
City of Saratoga Springs
Commissioner Montagnino's proposed amendment was voted down on Tuesday

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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