SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Saratoga’s City Council meeting painted red Tuesday night as attendees wore T-shirts emblazoned “JIM MONTAGNINO YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING”.
Those Spa City locals protesting the public safety commissioner issuing a court summons against Black Lives Matter leader Chandler Hickenbottom.
“As a Black woman, I’m used to being too loud or, you know, speaking too much, quote on quote, but if I don’t speak, who else is going to?” asks Hickenbottom when addressing the controversy Wednesday.
“I think and feel that what he’s doing right now is holding his power, monopolizing his power,” says fellow Saratoga BLM Leader Lexis Figuereo.
The charge of disorderly conduct stems from a February 7 council meeting where Hickenbottom went over her public comment time and Mayor Kim’s repeated calls to order were unsuccessful, prompting the meeting to adjourn for the day.
“We are constituents of this community. We should be allowed to speak and bring up our grievances at any time. If we speak over our allotted time, we shouldn’t be charged criminally for it,” Figuereo said during his public comment at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Montagnino speaking with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton Wednesday saying he filed the charge to send a clear message.
“A deterrent against shutting down meetings in the future,” he says simply. “I have no problem if people go a little over time, get a little spirited, maybe the occasional swear word. I’m from Brooklyn, I’ve heard it all before. I couldn’t be a public servant without growing a thick skin and that’s how democracy works. It’s not supposed to be neat and tidy, but it has to be orderly, in some fashion.”
Montagnino also says city business was delayed when the February 7 meeting was adjourned until Thursday, February 9.
“I had an agenda item to approve a contract with a psychologist to provide mental health assistance to three of our police officers. That was delayed because that contract wasn’t approved. The doctor had then rebooked the times penciled in for us and we had to reschedule. The mental health services our people needed got significantly delayed because of that disruption.”
Montagnino further clarifying he did not file a no contact order against Hickenbottom.
“The box that I checked was for a no illegal conduct order. People were talking last night—many people—that I was trying to bar Chandler from coming to subsequent meetings. That’s completely untrue,” he says.
“I deliberately opted not to ask for a stay away order. Just to say, while the case is pending, don’t commit another offense, such as disrupting another council meeting,” Montagnino further adds.
However, Montagnino’s stance is one Mayor Ron Kim says he disagrees with. He says he’s asked Montagnino to drop the charge and order of protection request against Hickenbottom.
“I’ve spoken to Commissioner Montagnino several times about this. I think it’s an unnecessary distraction,” Mayor Kim says. “Yeah, the [February] meeting was interrupted, but there was really no damage to the city or to its interests, what have you. In that respect, I think it’s been a little overblown in terms of what happened.”
“We might not agree with what they have to say, we may differ in how we think the best role is on a particular issue, but in the end, it is good that people want to come to our meetings and be heard,” he continues.
A judge rejected the order of protection request and Hickenbottom was arraigned on her disorderly conduct charge Tuesday morning. She says she believes Montagnino issued the summons in order to prevent her from speaking at future council meetings.
“Basically, use a tactic that women use to get away from their abusers to now suppress my voice,” she says.
“Let us not forget, it’s Women’s History Month, today is International Women’s Day. That’s supposed to be about empowering and supporting women, and here we have a Black woman being suppressed,” Figuereo adds.
Hickenbottom says she’d originally reserved time at the February 7 meeting to confront city leaders she says were elected on campaign promises of police reform and to engage with BLM. She and Figuereo say since those candidates, including Montagnino, took office, many elements of the city’s promised 50-point reform plan remain unfinished.
“We haven’t heard anything on in-depth research that they’re doing to show there’s actual changes and there’s no excuses for why the chokehold ban isn’t done, the ban on no-knock warrants isn’t done. Those have nothing to do with money and safety. Those would keep people safe. Also, number 35 which is something that my group is very much fighting for, is to have a program similar to a CAHOOTS response team, which would be an emergency response team that would deal with overdoses, mental health situations, and homeless people as an alternative to police officers pointing guns in their face,” Figuereo explains.
Montagnino responds some major elements of city promises have moved forward, including appointing members to the Saratoga Civilian Review Board and pushing accreditation for the city police department. He also says he disagrees with BLM’s stance against the process to appoint a new police chief once Shane Crooks retires.
“They made it sound as though I picked three names out of a hat from which the successor would be chosen. It’s a competitive title in the civil service series. There are three people who took the test for police chief and scored at the top three. By law, I have to choose from among those people,” says Montagnino.
Of the three candidates, one is a lieutenant who was involved in the Darryl Mount case. Mount was a 21-year-old Black man who died following a foot chase with police. BLM has repeatedly called on a more in depth investigation into the officers who were involved in that chase. The second chief candidate is brother to the police chief who led the department at the time Mount died, and the third candidate was involved in arrests following the July 2021 Black Lives Matter protest. The police conduct during that protest remains under investigation by the NYS Attorney General.
“That doesn’t look good. How does any of that look? Not good to the city, not good to us as citizens of Saratoga, so no. Not good representatives of the community,” says Figuereo.
“I believe a person should be selected based on merit alone,” Montagnino says of the challenges to the chief candidates.
Mayor Kim says public comment time will now be expanded to four minutes each during council meetings, and he will initiate an additional public forum.
“We are going to have it up on our website that people can request a time. It will be first come first serve. If they want to afford themselves that opportunity, we’ll be happy to talk to them,” says Mayor Kim.
“It’s a step in the right direction. Obviously, it’s an improvement on what we had so far. To be able to improve and have another chance to speak, another public forum, to have a conversation and not be muted is a good thing. We’ll see how it works out,” says Figuereo.
Montagnino says he’s also planned a presentation on the city’s 50-point reform plan to address each and the progress towards completion.