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Tensions remain as Saratoga Springs city council discusses legal payments for employees

Former Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton addressing the current Saratoga Springs city council
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Former Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton addressing the current Saratoga Springs city council

Tensions on the Saratoga Springs City Council are continuing over the question of paying legal bills for city employees.

Democratic Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and his deputy have racked up a more than $60,000 legal bill.

In February 2023 the previous council approved additional on-call payments for deputy commissioners.

Questions over the legality of changes made to the resolution afterward have sparked investigations by the District Attorney and State Police.

Moran said he sought counsel from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a New York City-based law firm, to avoid any conflicts of interest and, reading from communications with city attorney David Harper, added the city is obligated to cover the bill.

“‘In the instant case, Commissioner Moran consulted me regarding whether he needed outside counsel to represent him in the matter of ongoing investigation related to on-call pay. I told him he needed outside counsel. Under the form of our government city council must vote to approve payment of legal fees for outside council and the resolution must pass by a simple majority vote of three-to-two vote.’ We spend money on lawyers all the time, all day, every day,” said Moran.

It's not the only legal bill for the city that is raising eyebrows among some councilors.

The conversation at this week’s city council meeting follows a contentious meeting last month when covering additional legal bills for former Mayor Meg Kelly was ultimately approved on a three-to-one vote. Moran abstained.

A report from the state Attorney General found both Kelly and former Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton, as well as other city employees and police, unconstitutionally targeted and intimidated local Black Lives Matter activists in 2020 and 2021. The city has been allocating funds to cover their legal expenses in the years since.

Dalton addressed the council during Tuesday’s public comment period.

“My full cooperation and response to the aforementioned subpoena cost $15,755 over the course of two years. In contrast today there’s an agenda item that asks the city council to approve a $60,000 legal bill in response to a subpoena served to the city this spring. In this instance legal advice and representation were secured by an elected official with no approval or discussion by the city council that I am aware of. There was no debate over whether the $1,200 an hour rate was reasonable, if there should be a cap on the amount of money that the city could cover, or what the total cost might be,” said Dalton.

The question over reasonableness dominated the meeting. The city has not set such a standard and Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll wanted to hold off on voting for Moran’s bill.

“Again, we should be looking at location or geographic area. I think there’s dozens of excellent attorneys in the Capital Region. So that does give me pause, the geographic location. The $450 an hour that Commissioner Golub is putting in for versus $1,235 an hour,” said Coll.

Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub chimed in.

“Now we have a legal opinion from our lawyer who says we have an obligation to pay this bill, which is the same obligation we had to pay our former officials bill. And now we are not going to pay it. Let me finish,” said Golub. This is gets us to exactly where we don’t want to be with indemnification. What is the point of having legal counsel if we’re going to ignore it?”

“So, we all agree we need to be indemnified, I think our obligation is what’s reasonable,” said Coll. “We don’t have a standard, I agree with that, but what if the bill was $60 million, we should just pay that too because we don’t have a reasonableness?”

“You’re applying your subjective standard after the fact and that is dangerous,” said Golub.

Moran's payment was ultimately approved in a three-to-two vote. Mayor John Safford and Coll voted no.

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