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Thursday, December 3

Where politics and profession intersect

As you have read in today's paper, the current commissioner of Public Safety, and the commissioner-elect are engaged in a sparring match over the right to appoint new chiefs in the police and fire departments. The current chiefs both announced that they would retire on Tuesday, making way for a series of promotions that will allow the department to avoid one of seven lay offs each department will experience under the 2010 comprehensive budget.

While the appointments are, without a doubt, to be made by a politician one way or the other, I hope that both Ron Kim and Richard Wirth will keep in mind that the chiefs will be selected from a very short list of seasoned professionals. And, those professionals will likely be around much longer than any of the politicians in question.

There is word that Wirth will seek to remove anyone appointed by Kim. It's one thing to make a staffing change is there is truly a problem, but to cause upheaval just because one political machine or the other wants the credit for appointing the chiefs feels shortsighted and foolish to me.

I hope that Kim and Wirth will be able to reach some kind of an agreement, by which Kim can make an appointment that Wirth can live with, so that the city's emergency services can continue to operate without upheaval in the upper ranks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two of the three candidates for Chief of Police have not been active politically.

One of them - Captain Michael Biss - aided Richard Wirth's successful campaign for election as Public Safety Commissioner.

Which candidate do you think Wirth wants for Police Chief?

December 3, 2009 at 2:36 PM 
Blogger demroc said...

probably the guy that has been running the department for the last few years and knows the personnel should have the call. plus he still is the commissioner. could he wait and give the courtesy to wirth? sure, does he have to, no. human nature is what it is, it's not surprising watching the last 2 years, if he decided to appoint someone. if he does, i think wirth is stuck with the appointments.

December 3, 2009 at 3:31 PM 
Anonymous mamie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 3, 2009 at 4:59 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if Wirth dosn't want Biss? You are assuming he is about politics. If your wrong will you acknowledge it. You might be surprised with this guy Rick.

December 3, 2009 at 5:44 PM 
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Honestly, this is all much ado about nothing...more smoke so that the public doesn't ask the truly intelligent questions.

First of all, all police(or fire) operations that I've ever known operate with an ACTING chief in the instance that an appointed leader abruptly leaves. Second, it's Kim's right and duty to appoint an ACTING chief. Third, that ACTING chief shouldn't have a problem with or hold it against the city if he or she isn't appointed the chief after Wirth takes office in January.

Now onto those important questions, which have been so sourly missed by ALL media reporters over the last few days. First off all, ARE the chiefs saving Saratoga Springs any money by retiring? If so, how much? What are their retirement packages?

Next, who is eligible for the job, and must the city hire within? And is there any difference between these candidates and what they will earn as chief? Frankly, I am really embarrassed by the fact that none of these questions have been answered when this story is now four days old. And by no means am I singling out the Saratogian.

December 3, 2009 at 7:41 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Mike Biss supported Wirth and does this mean that he should not be allowed to be chief if he is the best candidate? What message are we sending? If you support a political candidate you will never be promoted? Are you implying that we should punish Biss or any one else who supports a candidate and take away their right to compete in promotions? Thats crazy.

December 3, 2009 at 10:23 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you say Mike Biss is political, you are right....he was front and center working for the Democrats in the Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand television advertisements....Alexander "Sandy"Treadwell was the Republican choice.Mr. Wirth should not bite the hand that feeds him.

December 3, 2009 at 10:27 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mamie, why would you judge Chris Cole in regards to anyone else? Judge Chris for what Chris has done and what he can do. If you prefer Mike Biss, thats fine, I like Mike also and I would be happy to see either one of them get the promotion. As far as Gene Cole is concerned, he is retired and keeps to himself. Whay bash Gene. I had oppertunities to deal with Gene and he had many chances to do me dirty, but he never did. He was always fair to me and went the extra mile to be fair when others had no problem causing me grief. Gene always looked intimidating but I learned that deep down inside he was a real nice guy who insisted on taking care of loyal and good people.

December 3, 2009 at 10:45 PM 
Anonymous mamie said...

Biss is a war veteran with plenty of experience and can motivate the troops. He also will handle the troops where necessary. Cole will not. My guess is Kim will pick Cole because he seems to make mistakes on everything.
If Finneran were eligible he would appoint her.

December 4, 2009 at 7:03 AM 
Blogger Andrew J. Bernstein said...


First of all, it's been well reported that the new chief must be appointed from within the department. The names of the three candidates has also been well reported. Please see the last two stories I've written on this topic if you're still unsure of this information.

Secondly, there is no process by which Kim could appoint an "acting," chief, under our city charter. Other cities may have provisions for this type of appointment, but we do not (according to Civil Service). Instead, Kim could make a probationary appointment -- but I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that he will not.

Aside from the obvious reason of wanting to exercise as much authority as he can, making a probationary appointment could lead to further headaches later on, as the promotion to chief will only be the first of several promotions all of which would have to be probationary, and could then set the department up for a second re-shuffling in a few months.

For instance: if Kim appoints Lt. Michael Chowski to chief on a probationary basis, every other promotion he makes under the new chief, for Captain, Lieutenant, Sergent, etc... will also have to be probationary.

Then, if Commissioner-elect Wirth decides, at the end of the probationary period, that he wants to appoint a new Chief, as would be his right, he would bump Chowski back down to Lieutenant, and who ever had been promoted below Chowski would also be bumped back down.

In addition to the aggravation this would cause, it would also undo the stated purpose for the retirement and subsequent promotions, namely saving one job in the department.

As to your question about the real savings, I will have the answer in my next report on this topic.

December 4, 2009 at 10:09 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernstein, you make the idea of an acting chief sound impossable. First, the city has had acting chiefs before and it can be done. Second, if you promote one, you don't have to do and undue all the the other promotions. You just hold off on them. You just leave the former position of the acting chief open and only appoint the acting chief. It is the same as if the the person was on vacation or sick leave. The other promotions go on hold. Ask yourself, do we promote and demote everytime a supervisor goes on vacation or is sick? Albany currently has an acting chief and Schenectady has done it in the past. It's not that big of a deal.

December 4, 2009 at 10:56 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew-Is there any requirement(local or maybe the state retirement system requirement to collect) as to how much notice the chief had to give before he retired? There usually is. If not, could the chief have given one days notice requiring a new chief to be in place the next day?

December 4, 2009 at 11:03 AM 
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


Under a cursory review of the charter, I couldn't find a single thing that:

A. suggests the chief can or cannot be 'acting' or interim.
B. the chief can't be hired from abroad.

This is what I found:

"6.1.2. Chief of Police. The Chief of Police shall be appointed by the Commissioner of Public Safety and shall have immediate direction and control of the Police Department, subject to the policies, rules, regulations, and
orders established by the Commissioner of Public Safety."

Given how vague this statement is, I would suggest the language you refer to is in civil service law, if in fact it exists. Unfortunately, Ron Kim has refused you the police contract, so I doubt he'd forward you a copy of the police administration's contract(they have a bargaining unit too, I believe).

Next, I won't use the term "well reported." No offense, but I don't think any part of this story has been well reported. I think there are a group of reporters that are taking words from officials and putting them into print. And that's fine. You should be able to trust your sources. Unfortunately in this case, I don't think Ron Kim has proven to be a reliable source.

I apologize in advance if I've missed something in my haste. But I think there's more of a story here that's being woefully neglected due to the time and budget constraints of the modern media.

December 4, 2009 at 11:10 AM 
Blogger Andrew J. Bernstein said...

See NYS Civil Service law 58 Section 1c for an explanation of why the city is required to make an appointment.

As for rules regarding who the candidates can be, it is a requirement of the city's Civil Service Commissioner that tests for any promotion in the Police Department are only open internally. Please forgive me for saying this was a charter requirement.

By the way, the savings to the city for having one fewer line-level officer is about $40,000, plus whatever the city was paying in benefits to the person leaving.

December 4, 2009 at 11:42 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of you have anything to say about who is the police chief. Taking personal shots at either of the candidates, or their family members anonymously is shameful. I would hope the Saratogian would edit these destructive comments.

We are starting to border on libel here. If the Saratogian or other web bloggers edit and allow personal attacks on their blogs they better make sure they are accurate. I know of some lawyers looking to venture into this area of law...

December 4, 2009 at 4:02 PM 
Blogger Andrew J. Bernstein said...

anon 4:02 p.m.: Thanks for the reminder, I've removed at least one offensive comment.

For the record, please know that the Saratogian does not ever edit comments posted here or on the website, and that we take no ownership of said comments, and hold no responsibility for opinions expressed in the comments section.

I do my best not to post personal attacks or libelous comments, but if you do see something posted that you think should not be, please feel free to email me at

Thanks, AB

December 4, 2009 at 4:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is all well and good Andrew. but if the Saratogian does publish or moderate a blog, they still have an obligation to ensure that no one is harmed by its content. Saying "we are not responsible for others words" does not make it so. You provide the forum and you do moderate and edit comments when you feel it necessary. This goes for the other vile blogs that are out there.

I will give you credit for being better than most. The disgusting free-for-all that is going on at other blogs is tragic.

December 5, 2009 at 12:34 PM 
Blogger Andrew J. Bernstein said...

anon 12:34: We DO NOT ever edit comments. Not only do we not have the ability to do so, but established case law has demonstrated that so long as we do not edit comments provided by users, we are not responsible for their content. The second we were to edit a comment, we would then own the comment and be responsible for its content. So yes, saying so, does make it so.

That being said, I will continue to do the best I can to keep discussion on this blog on-topic and civil.

December 8, 2009 at 10:14 AM 

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