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Saratoga Springs Mayor John Safford reflects on first 100 days

Republican Mayor John Safford addressing Saratoga Springs residents
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Republican Mayor John Safford addressing Saratoga Springs residents

Saratoga Springs’ first Republican mayor in a decade is now 100 days into his first term.

In a three-way race in November, John Safford beat out first-term Democrat Ron Kim and One-Saratoga endorsed former Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. One of his primary campaign promises was to return civility to city hall and public meetings.

Safford says the first step has been creating good rapport among members of the city council after feuds that spilled into public dominated the previous term.

“You can even see that at the meetings that we're not fighting among one another, we're not talking over one another. And that translates into City Hall. We're very used to now stopping at each other's offices and just talking one on one kind of working through difficulties or questions we may have in some of the legislation that we're working on. So, there's a lot of that a lot of I wouldn't call it collaboration, but it’s a willingness to listen to one another because we do have different points of view. And I'm very happy to say that the other commissioners are very interested in my opinions, which might not be the same as theirs,” said Safford.

Safford imposed new rules over the public comment period like reduced time per speaker and an overall shortening of the public comment period to 30 minutes. Under Kim the public comment period had no time limit.

Recent council meetings have seen some disruptions, but Safford says he’s made strides in returning respect to the public meetings.

“The only thing that I really require is that they stay within their timeframes for public comment. And we're pretty open to free speech. Obviously, we've had a lot of discussions with open meetings. And frankly, for people my age free speech is not quite the same as we would want it to be. But we respect the fact that people have a right, you know, we give them a voice. And pretty much they say pretty much what they want. I would wish—we're kind of working toward you know, the people who come up to speak should be relating to something in government or something that maybe is on the agenda. And I'd like to see more of that. Some of them have been sort of a show. But you know, we're letting them have their three minutes. And, and showing respect to the fact, even though we don't like what they say sometimes. We were not trying to stop them from talking, as long as they stay within their three minutes,” said Safford.

The city has been working toward establishing a permanent homeless shelter for years. Safford made the shelter and supporting the city’s unhoused residents a central point of his campaign.

“My interest is what's called a navigation center. And that's where I'm headed. That's what I'm looking for when you came in, I'm looking for property. And certainly, other people within the commission are looking at properties right now where this might be used. In the end, the taskforce identified five different places we might look at. But we're continuing to try to find you because there's a lot of requirements to meeting a place. But I'm working now on what a place would look like. And that would help to support the idea of a navigation center, navigating people to a better situation for their lives, and maybe even housing that they can maintain,” said Safford.

Some stakeholders and organizers would like to see more financial support for the city’s proposed shelter come from the county. Safford says he’s open to all potential sources of support.

“I recently had a meeting with the county and I have another one coming up. Most of the funding that comes for this type of need is federal money. Oh, the state has some too, but it all funnels through the county. So, if we're going to try to funnel more of that we do have to have a relationship with the county and we do I do I have a personal relationship with a lot of the county people and I plan on using that as effectively as possible to see where funds are coming from.

Safford adds that his office is also working with the city planning department to make its services more accessible, as well as local law enforcement to embed a social worker with beat officers.

On public safety, a long-awaited state Attorney General’s report found that former city leaders had violated the rights of Black Lives Matter protestors through intimidation and targeting over a two-year period.

“Well, you have to remember, there's been two councils since that time. So, Tim Coll and I are as far removed from that as anybody can possibly be, but we are dealing with the consequences of those very difficult days. I mean, I was in town at those times. So, as you know, Commissioner Coll is a 30-year FBI. He’s written millions, not millions, but thousands of reports. He knows how those reports should be written his he's not — he's against some of the facts, the way that they're presented in it. And, frankly, I listen to what he has to say, I'm not really engaging very much in it, because you know, we have a lawsuit. So, I'm not inclined to say too much about my opinions. The only thing that I can do is, is be as open as you know, a lot of the some of the people who are suing the city or come and speak at the meetings, and all I can do is continue to show respect for whatever they have to say and listen to them and not say much more. So, I'm kind of very neutral on this whole thing, just letting it play out.

Democrat Tim Coll, who ran with GOP endorsement, critiqued some of the specific language in the report which, for example, grouped Saratoga Springs police in with other agencies that responded to protestors by firing pepper balls and deploying armored vehicles.

With both public parking and short-term rental rules facing major changes, Safford says he is happy with the strides made in adjusting some major city legislation based on the conversations between councilors and during public hearings.

“I admire the fact that you had Jason Golub take on parking, and that you had Dillon take on STRs. And they've been working on it for over a year. The fact that they have been very open to having conversations with me and the fact that we don't always agree on things, but they have been open to suggestions and have made changes based on our conversations internally. You know, these things haven't been fought out at the meetings. These you know, we're meeting, we're talking. There have been a number of modifications that have been made to both parking, which is why I was in agreement with it, and STRs. This new proposal that is going to be brought forth here very shortly is very different from the original one. And very accommodating to what we heard,” said Safford.

Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub’s public parking legislation was approved this month. Parking in city-owned garages will cost visitors $2 per hour between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran is working toward finalizing legislation that would regulate the city’s short-term rental market.

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