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Saratoga Springs city councilors debate city hall employee raises

The Saratoga Springs City Councilors meeting on June 4th
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
The Saratoga Springs City Councilors meeting on June 4th

Disputes over city hall employee pay increases dominated the Saratoga Springs city council meeting Tuesday.

Tensions centered on a letter city labor attorney Brian Kremer sent during the previous mayor’s term.

Kremer criticized a Position Upgrade Policy that limited the mayor’s role in upgrade, or salary raise, negotiations for city hall employees.

Democratic Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi had four upgrades on her agenda that were added after Monday’s pre-agenda meeting.

“The work of the finance staff requires attention to detail, strong communication skills, and in 2024 it requires tech proficiency. And in many of these cases we didn’t have some of the tech and some of the programs that we do now. The past job specifications failed to capture any of that. All of these upgrades have been approved by Civil Service Commission, by Human Resources Department, by the Civil Services Coordinator, and the CSEA union at City Hall,” said Sanghvi.

Altogether, the upgrades would total no more than $15,000. One of the roles had not been updated since 1999.

The upgrades passed three-to-two, but not without some debate. Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll was one of the two “no” votes along with Republican Mayor John Safford.

“We’re in a precarious position with our insurance carrier, I don’t think we should be voting on things that our labor attorney and city council is saying is unlawful. We should not be passing that. In my view. We need to fix the process, fix it immediately, right? And we can all work to do that and then come back to pass it,” said Coll.

“Now I’m very open to fixing it,” said Safford.

“What I don’t understand is, this discussion has happened before and I have not seen anything come from the legal department or the mayor’s department to fix the process,” said Sanghvi.

Coll’s agenda had an item that would create a new position in his department. In discussion it was apparent that the position would be created to retain a specific employee, working around Kremer’s opinion.

Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub jumped in.

“We’re creating a new position, and that is perfectly lawful,” said Coll.

“And you talked to Brian Kremer about it?” asked Golub.

“I talked to our HR who have had discussions with Brian Kremer, so I have talked to that person. But if you don’t want to vote for it you don’t have to,” said Coll.

“It’s not that I don’t want to vote for it, it’s that you voted against it,” said Golub.

“I voted against something our labor attorney said was unlawful,” said Coll.

“But you didn’t talk to our labor attorney about what you’re doing?” asked Golub.

“I spoke to our HR, but if you—” said Coll.

“I spoke to HR as well, they said this is totally fine,” said Sanghvi.

Sanghvi said that was hypocritical.

“What I’m frustrated about is that when I am bringing forward these positions, you are saying, ‘well this is not the process!’ And when we are saying, ‘but you didn’t follow the same process, and you haven’t spoken to the labor attorney,’ you’re like, ‘well, that’s different,’” said Sanghvi.

Frustrations flared when the discussion circled back to the fact that one of Sanghvi’s proposed upgrades followed a similar process to Coll’s in creating a new position with a higher salary.

“And then you said you voted against it—” said Sanghvi.

“We were kind of in a rhythm going through that,” said Safford.

“You were in a rhythm. So you didn’t pay attention and did not actually vote on something that was legal,” said Sanghvi.

“Well, it was passing so I felt it was all right,” said Safford.

“You voted no. It wasn’t a pass, you didn’t abstain, you voted no on something that you knew was legal and you gave the reason that it was not legal and that’s why you did not vote on it. Mr. Mayor, truly disappointing,” said Sanghvi.

Coll’s upgrade passed unanimously.

Tuesday’s meeting also featured the first use of metal detectors for all attendees, tightening security on the often contentious meetings. Safford also announced that beginning June 18th the public comment period will be limited to a strict 30 minutes, 3 minutes per speaker.