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New chair in place, Saratoga Springs city council readies appointments to review board

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs City Hall

The Saratoga Springs police department will have additional oversight when the new Community Review Board is up and running after a protracted process. The city is also preparing to hire a new police chief later this year.

Democrats who control the current city council campaigned on the issue of getting the city’s Community Review Board operational after the previous iteration of the legislative body couldn’t come to full agreement on a CRB ordinance.

A new CRB ordinance was adopted last May, and by September of 2022, a chair was announced. However, that choice, Reverend Michael Bell, later withdrew from the yet-to-be-filled review board for personal reasons.

In December, Mayor Ron Kim appointed city resident Kristen Dart to head the CRB. Kim spoke with WAMC this week.

“We have a great chair, Kristen Dart. I know that she’s ready to get to work to establish procedures and processes because this is a new commission and I know she wants to get it on its feet as soon as possible,” said Kim.

Dart, a former member of the city’s Police Reform Task Force and a community advocate, is the first person named to the committee. The creation of a CRB was a key recommendation from Task Force in 2021.

The former council adopted dozens of recommendations made by the Task Force, but had separated out a handful of others, including the CRB.

Dart called the appointment as chair an exciting opportunity.

“It’s a great honor to be trusted as the first chair, something that’s new, something that the community had clear communicated that they wanted,” said Dart.

According to the city code, the CRB’s mission is to “receive, process and, whenever possible, amicably resolve grievances regarding the conduct of employees of the Department. The CRB shall also act as a vehicle for generating and expressing informed opinions relating to public policy regarding law enforcement in our City.”

The CRB will have the power to issue “administrative subpoenas to compel the testimony of witnesses, the production of documents, or both.” Following investigations, the CRB can made advisory conclusions or recommendations to the city council.

The question of granting a CRB criminal subpoena power was central to the debate over the CRB in recent years.

That argument aside, Dart says her primary goal is to build trust.

“My goal is that we build a relationship both with the community and with the police department where they want to be cooperative because they’re doing the work in a way that they’re supposed to be doing it, and so if we do a job of building trust, both the community and with the department, hopefully that’s not a battle that we have to have,” said Dart.

The city council at its last regular meeting on January 17th continued to stall over making appointments to fill out the five-member CRB, after commissioners drew lots to determine the order in which choices would be made. Councilors agreed in principle to have choices ready by the next meeting on February 7th.

City Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino told WAMC he is disappointed by how long it’s taken to fill the CRB but added…

“There’s a reasonable probability that we will have all five members of the CRB in place by the close of the meeting of February 7th,” said Montagnino.

Meantime, the Public Safety Commissioner will also be tasked with reviewing applications for the Spa City’s next police chief.

Montagnino said Shane Crooks, the city’s police chief since 2019, informed him of his intent to step down late last year and is considering retiring in June.

The Democrat said there are three people within the department who have passed the civil service test and qualify to become chief. But Montagnino has also expressed desire in changing city procedure to conduct a wider search. He said he’s approached the city’s civil service commission about the idea.

“While the civil service commission seems receptive to the idea, at present there’s been no change to the existing system, so as a matter of law right now, we are limited to the promotional track,” said Montagnino.

Kim supports that idea.

“I think Saratoga Springs has grown enough to really look for a chief that is not necessarily somebody who has spent 20 years in the building – it doesn’t mean that they would be totally excluded from the process, but I think we should pick the best,” said Kim.

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