Most municipalities take weeks or even months to announce the appointment of a police chief. Cities often keep their options open. They solicit dozens –even hundreds –of resumes to fill such an important administrative position. That’s because it’s wise to properly scrutinize the guy who will be holding the purse strings of the overtime purse. It’s wise to know if the top cop is going to be a push-over for the police benevolent association, or if he’s going to do his job in accordance with its principles: protecting the taxpayers.
But Saratoga Spring simply isn’t like most municipalities. In fact, it’s nothing like them, as outgoing Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim proved this week with his well-orchestrated political shenanigans with his two top administrators and his subsequent appointment of Assistant Chief Chris Cole to the position within 72 hours after the outgoing one abruptly announced his retirement.
Much has been said about the abrupt resignation of Fire Chief Robert Cogan and Police Chief Ed Moore this week. Both said they were reluctantly leaving their six-figure jobs to get lucrative retirement packages so that they could save jobs in their respective departments. Those sympathetic with their cause lauded their selfless move and pleaded the city commissioners to reconsider the draconian staff cuts.
The story was leaked to reporters on Monday. And by Tuesday’s city council meeting, the issue had ballooned into a full-blown political bout between Kim and Public Safety commissioner-elect Richard Wirth. And it has proven to be every bit as contentious as the outgoing commissioner’s election-season sparring with Mayor Scott Johnson.
Over the last three days, Kim has been making a variety of claims that may or may not be true. For him, the truth really doesn’t matter because he’s going to be out of office by months’ end. First and foremost among these claims is that the city will save more than $200,000 through these retirements –some reports place this number at $260,000 –and should therefore restore some of the estimated 14 jobs cut from Public Safety.
But the next assertion is a bit brasher. Kim claims he and he alone has the right to appoint successors to the retiring chiefs because the city can’t legally have its two most important departments operating without top administrators. Along these lines, he also claimed there is no existing language in the city charter that says he can appoint an interim chief to either position, so he is legally bound to appoint at least the police chief before Dec. 12, the day Moore officially retires.
Now let’s stop here for a moment. There are some interesting machinations at work in this decision making process. Interestingly enough, Moore didn’t initially know when he’d take his retirement when he stood before reporters gathered at city hall late Tuesday afternoon. And with tears “welling” in his eyes, no one from the media was going to push him for a date. In contrast, Cogan had a definitive date in mind: Christmas Day.
Of course, this all changed quickly between the announcement and the interviews for the police chief’s position, which were conducted on Thursday. Moore quickly comes up with a date, which happens to be exactly one week after Kim makes his decision.
The whirlwind of events rightfully left Wirth incensed. Wirth, who ran on a position of restoring a bit of fiscal order to the badly managed police department, didn’t even get a chance to get his feet wet before Kim pushed him into the pond. Now he has a major dilemma on his hands: Accept the choice of Cole as given and hope for the best or cry foul and battle it out in the court of public opinion; or perhaps county Supreme Court, where any such argument would surely land, costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars. Either way, he gets screwed.
That is, unless Cole is the best man for the job. After all, he’s next in line anyway and has been running the department during Moore’s well-publicized disappearing acts. But that may be more of a reason to overlook him as the next chief.
On a side note, the city did
have somewhat of a precedence in appointing an interim due to the one-week service of the ailing Robert Flanagan back in 2003, ironically the week before Moore became chief. Flanagan, who was nicknamed ‘chief,’ replaced outgoing boss Ken King Jr., until his retirement a week later. Though there may not be a similar circumstance where this could occur these days, the brief appointment sets a legal precedence at the very least.
Now, despite the pomp and circumstance that was humming amid Moore’s announcement, he’s been nothing less than a calamity as police chief. Under each year of his leadership, overtime has increased. This suggests he’s either a very poor manager of his resources or that he’s made a point of bending to the Saratoga Springs PBA. Moore also presided over a number of ugly lawsuits, one of which involved himself. Let’s not forget that he and his number-two sued the city and won a hefty settlement that resulted from the political dickering and sexual exploits of former deputy Commissioner Erin Dreyer.
Moore was also the guy who failed to take action when his growing number of female officers complained about the lack of a woman’s changing area at the aging station. The issue eventually landed the city in court for state labor violations, which in turn lead to taxpayers’ funding a large cash settlement to the officers.
To his defense, Moore may have been told by Kim that he didn’t need to fix the issue, because Kim seemed assured that he’d be able to shove a $20 million public safety castle down the throats of taxpayers under guidance of mayoral disaster Valerie Keehn. And he came pretty damn close to doing it too.
Still, Moore’s mismanagement is more than documented, so Wirth would have been justified in wanting to clean house. This is especially the case because Moore –blinded by the prospect of rich mahogany and hardwood furniture of his prospective new office –chose to politicize his job. He did so by brazenly standing next to Keehn and then Kim on more than one political occasion.
Interestingly enough, few media sources have bothered to delve into exactly what the outgoing chiefs will actually save the city. Credit the Daily Gazette for taking an honest stab at it in Friday’s paper. Moore will carry away a retirement package of $73,000 annually while Cogan will be given $69,000 per year; not including any health insurance benefits, which were not listed in the article.
It should be noted that this will come from the state retirement fund, rather than from directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. But in essence, that’s another major problem in the city’s budgetary woes: Nondiscretionary funding. Payments into the state retirement fund and health insurance costs are two of the main drivers in any budgetary increase. These are functions that are hashed out with bargaining units and then written into contracts. What will the ultimate savings be from these retirements? Chances are they will be negligible.
In the end, this whole episode can be boiled down to Ron Kim’s formal ‘fuck you’ to the incoming council. And he carries these tidings for the rest of his ‘Democrats for Change’ cronies, each of which were banished to the nether regions of city politics. Only time will tell how bad his last-minute dickering screwed the incoming administration, but it doesn’t take a genius to see the tone has been set.