SARATOGA SPRINGS - The candidates for mayor in the city of Saratoga Springs answered questions from the audience during a political forum Thursday night that featured sufficiently sharp debate to remind the 200 people in attendance that Election Day is less than two weeks away.
Mayor Scott Johnson (R,I,C) and his challenger, Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim (D, WF), each answered about 10 questions from the audience in a forum sponsored by League of Women Voters of Saratoga County that was held at the Saratoga Springs High School auditorium.
Former city mayors Valerie Keehn and Ken Klotz, as well as current members of the city and county political scene, were also in attendance.
Johnson defended his decision to move forward with building a $6.5 million recreation facility on the city's south side despite difficult economic times because the project he "inherited" from the prior administration would have cost taxpayers $1.5 million in lost funds had he decided to scrap the project.
"We are building it because there is no other choice," Johnson said. "It is the right decision given the cards we were dealt."
Kim, who was part of the prior administration that voted to bond the facility, said, "The economy was very different then."
He then disputed Johnson's claim that it would have cost the city that much to set the project aside.
"We are throwing good money at bad," Kim said. "At some point you have to say: this isn't working for us."
Kim also accused Johnson of putting recreation ahead of the needs of public safety and specifically a new police station, which Kim has advocated for since taking office in 2005. Johnson said he recognized the need for a new station, but questioned where the funds would come at a time that the city is looking at laying off dozens of employees.
Kim, who said he stands on a platform of "open, transparent government" also accused Johnson of having secretive and illegal executive sessions on three different occasions, as well being unwilling to work with him.
"The arrogance of the power of the majority has decided they're not going to work with me," Kim said.
Johnson responded that it is the public safety commissioner who has shown a lack of willingness to work with other commissioners and said Kim was guilty of "mismanagement" and "neglect" for not addressing the facility upgrades needed at the police station, which resulted in the recent awarding of $80,000 to eight female employees of the police department.
Contract negotiations were also a bone of contention between Kim and Johnson.
Currently, six city union contracts are in various stages of negotiation. Kim, who said he successfully negotiated those contracts in the past at minimal cost, said Johnson was wasting taxpayer money - $50,000 and counting - by hiring an outside firm to handle negotiations.
Johnson said the previous negotiations Kim conducted cost the city about $400,000.
"He gave them the Cadillac version of a retirement plan," Johnson said.
Earlier in the evening, Republican Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins said when first voted into office in January 2008, he had high hopes, but when Gov. David Paterson eliminated nearly $2 million that was promised to the city this year, a lot of what was anticipated became harder to accomplish.
"The blizzard on Inauguration Day was an omen of the perfect storm," Ivins said.
Democratic challenger Peter Martin said Ivins should have had the foresight to see that coming storm and that he had the time to do something about it.