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Lewd email sparks investigation into misconduct of Saratoga Springs City Council member

Residents of Saratoga Springs lined up for public comment
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Residents of Saratoga Springs lined up for public comment

An investigation into alleged workplace misconduct involving a city councilor in Saratoga Springs is highlighting tensions between officials as Election Day approaches.

During an already discordant meeting, Saratoga Springs’ all-Democrat city council voted 4-1 Tuesday to hire an outside law firm to investigate “allegations of discriminatory conduct” involving an elected official.

The agenda item brought Tuesday by Democratic Mayor Ron Kim, who is seeking a second term, is focused on a September 5th email chain, in which first-term Commissioner of Public Safety Jim Montagnino made comments linking the condition of a retired police horse to sexual relations with his wife. Montagnino confirms the veracity of the email.

Montagnino, who is also running for re-election in a three-way race, has feuded repeatedly with Kim. The Democrat contends the investigation is politically motivated, and read the full text of the email under scrutiny to WAMC.

“Hello, Mike. Hope you're feeling better," read Montagnino. "I heard you had the COVID cooties. I just dug myself out of that hole too. My first reaction upon reading your email was, ‘please don't tell my wife that [atrial fibrillation] Afib is a “major heart defect” that renders one “not rideable” as my Afib never got in the way of that before.’ My second, more reflective reaction: let's dig up what health information we had to see whether we were aware of a ‘major heart defect.’ The answer to that question should determine our course of action. Thanks, Jim.”

Tensions between Kim and Montagnino have often spilled over into public meetings. Montagnino suggested the investigation brought forward by Kim is in retaliation for an incident earlier this year when the Public Safety Department released police body camera footage of Kim using profane language in an exchange with Montagnino and Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Jason Tetu.

“Ron, was on a recorded conversation with the hallway rant situation where he said to me, ‘I know… I know, I'm going down, Jim. But you're going down with me.’" Montagnino continued, "and this, unquestionably, is the mayor— spent time looking for something that he could somehow hold up to the light and turn sideways and come up with something as an October surprise, to make me look bad.”

Speaking to WAMC, Mayor Kim, a former Commissioner of Public Safety himself, said the investigation will have two parts and must be done by lawyers who are not connected to the council.

“The Objective part is--by any objective criteria would that be a sexual harassment message? The subjective is how did the people who actually received the message view it? That is what this investigation will do," said Kim. "Is have an attorney will look at it who is not conflicted who understands the law, etcetera."

In response to the mayor’s agenda item, Commissioner Montagnino at Tuesday’s meeting levied accusations of discriminatory conduct against each of the other members of the all-Democrat council in a “friendly amendment.”

This included reference to Mayor Kim calling Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran an alcoholic. Speaking with WAMC, Moran said Montagnino’s comment was reprehensible and false.

“I think it also reflects that when you attack somebody personally and dehumanize them you are doing so because you really don’t have an area to attack." Moran continued, "there is no policy difference. But, in fact, this is someone who is making a personal attack because they have nothing else to go with, and it’s disgusting.”

The amendment did not pass. Montagnino rejects any claims of wrongdoing on his part.

“I sent this email. I hit reply all, right?" Montagnino said. "I'm not I'm not claiming I didn't do it. I'm not claiming it was a mistake. I'm not claiming I hit the wrong button. No, I own it 100%.

Montagnino continued.

“I'm 67 years old. I'm a retiree with a pension who took this job and told everybody from the Saratoga Springs Democratic city committee screening committee, that I am who I am. And I'm not bending myself to fit anybody's purity test, anybody's mold.”

Montagnino claims no one within his department has come forward with any complaints regarding the email.

While Kim and Montagnino are facing challenges for their seats in November, the remainder of the five-member city council is running unopposed.

The four sitting council members have endorsed a challenger to Montagnino in the Public Safety Race, independent candidate Kristen Dart, who was named by Kim to chair the city’s first Civilian Review Board police oversight committee.

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