Agenda for October 25 Meeting

Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission to interview current, former Mayors, Commissioners, County Supervisors

Current and former Saratoga Springs city officials are scheduled to appear before the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission Tuesday evening, to express views on how their departments have functioned under the city charter. Also, for the first time, there will be a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

WHEN:          Tuesday, October 25, 2016

TIME:            6:15-9pm

PLACE:         City Hall Council Chambers, 474 Broadway, Saratoga Springs


6:15-6:30         Public Comment

6:30-6:35         Introductory remarks, approval of minutes

6:35-8:00         Scott Johnson, Mike Lenz, former Mayors

Richard Wirth, former Commissioner of Public Safety

Ken Ivins, former Commissioner of Finance

Skip Scirocco, Commissioner of Public Works

8:00-9:00         Matt Veitch, Peter Martin, County Supervisors

Joanne Yepsen, Phil Klein, former County Supervisors

Photos: Commission’s First Town Meeting

Thank you to all the city residents who attended our first Town Hall meeting on October 18! It was a healthy civic discourse on how our charter is functioning with thoughtful and articulate suggestions and opinions for the Commission to consider. The Tang Museum’s “A More Perfect Union” exhibit was a glorious setting that also inspired a reciting of The Pledge of Allegiance. Some photographic highlights:

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Saratogian: Public Speaks Out on Charter

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> The review of the city charter is well underway, which means it was time for the Saratoga Springs public to have their say Tuesday night.

The Charter Review Commission held a public hearing at the Tang Teaching Museum on Tuesday in which members of the public were invited to speak out on the city’s charter with any questions, concerns or comments they may have.

The charter is the city’s legal framework, a document that puts in place the role of government in the city. By law, the it is reviewed every 10 years. The Charter Review Commission has interviewed numerous former and current elected officials up to this point, but this was the first public hearing.

Opinions were mixed among those who commented before the Commission. Some believe the charter should not be changed. Others had stronger feelings, and think that the form of government does not benefit the city.

The Saratoga Springs form of government, a commission government, is one of the few still left in the state. It is comprised of five City Council members; the Mayor and four commissioners for finance, accounts, public safety and public works. Each member of the Council has equal voting power, which some on Tuesday said leads to power struggles. The forms of the government the commission have considered is a strong mayor form of government and a city manager form of government.

Commission chairman Bob Turner stated that this year’s commission did not want to approach the review in the same way as past commissions have done. In the past, Charter Review Commissions have decided from the start what form of government they wanted to put in place. Turner said this isn’t the case this time, and the commission will hear from all parties before making a decision on what changes they are to make, if any, and submitting them to the City Council.

Resident Bonnie Sellers said that the city cannot afford the added expense of a city manager, who would make a significant amount more than the City Council members do now.

“If we can’t afford the salary then we also can’t afford the added expenses that go with it,” Sellers said. “Granted the city managers [that were previously interviewed] we’re very knowledgable and gave a wealth of information but that may not be the right thing for Saratoga.”

Sellers also said she thinks that the commission form of government works for Saratoga Springs, noting that the state comptroller rated Saratoga Springs as the most financially-sound city in the state.

Molly Gagne had a different take. She said the southwest part of the city, where she lives, is ignored by the city’s government, which prompted the formation of the Southwest Neighborhood Association.

“Everything that happens that’s good in Saratoga is because people like you [members of the community] step forward and pick up the pieces,” Gagne said. “I think this place is wonderful in spite of our government, not because of our government.”

John Herrick, the former chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee, said that it is very difficult to find candidates to run for office, so a form of government needs to be aware of that.

“When I was the Republican chairman and first went out recruiting, I spoke to 50 people and five of them said ‘yes, I would run for office,’” Herrick said. “They don’t want to go through the rigors of a campaign. They don’t want to be away from their families, Those are the two primary reasons that people don’t want to run and it’s all ages.”

The Charter Review Commission will continue their review of the charter. The next meeting is October 25 at City Hall where the commission will interview county supervisors and elected officials who have not testified yet. A second public hearing will be scheduled soon.


Charter review public hearing to be held next week

saratogianOfficials to review city charter, public to comment on and hear ideas next week

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> A City Charter Review public hearing that was originally scheduled for this Tuesday has been moved to next Tuesday, Oct. 18 so as to not interfere with Yom Kippur. However, the Charter Review Commission will still meet this Tuesday to get a sense of what members are feeling thus far about the different options that lie in front of them in regards to changing the charter.

Contrary to reports, the Charter Review Commission has not decided on what changes to the form of government they will recommend to the City Council, and will not make those decisions until hearing from the public. According to commission chairman Bob Turner, attempts to change the City Charter in the past have been conducted with an idea in mind already, which is not something this commission wanted to do, he said.

Turner confirmed the change of date for the public hearing, as Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening. Instead, the Commission will meet to discuss which changes to the Charter they think have sounded most beneficial thus far. Which changes would better allow for citizens to run for elected office and which changes would keep taxes low, are just some of the questions the commission will ponder. “This is way for us to express and think about the different concerns of committee members,” Turner said. “It’s a way to make our decision making as systematic and unbiased as possible.”

By law, the City Charter is to be reviewed every ten years. The Charter is a document that outlines the specific functions, powers and procedures of the city’s government. At this time, the Charter Review Commission has interviewed 13 former and current elected officials. Those not interviewed yet will be given a chance to testify on October 25. Turner said that those invited include Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco , former Mayor Scott Johnson and county supervisors. Who else the commission wants to speak to will also be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Turner said that the commission owes it to the City to “do their homework” to decide on the best City Charter possible for Saratoga Springs.

During the public hearing next Tuesday, the public is encouraged to attend and express any questions or concerns they may have about the City Charter.

“We’ve heard from elected officials, but we really want to hear about how this form of government is doing for the tax payers and the citizens,” Turnder said. “It’s not just about how it’s working for the elected officials.”

The public hearing will the first of more to come, Turner said. It takes place in the Tang Museum at Skidmore College at 7 p.m. as part of Tang’s “More Perfect Union” exhibit, which asks us to think critically and actively about the role that politics, policy, and our national discourse play in the state of the Union, Turner said.

Saratoga Springs Commission takes in-depth look at city government


Commission conducting in-depth look at how city government operates



By Travis Clark,, @TravClark2 on Twitter

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> The Charter Review Commission has been conducting a review of the city’s charter over the past month, but what does that mean, and how has the process evolved over the span of almost two decades?

The Saratoga Springs city charter is a document that establishes the city’s form of government and provides a legal framework for how that form of government should operate. By law, the charter is to be reviewed every 10 years.

The Charter Review Commission’s purpose is to propose revisions or amendments, make a report to the public and submit any revisions to the City Council at a public referendum. According to current Charter Review Commission chairman Bob Turner, the current commission is a diverse mix of men and woman nominated by the City Council from every part of the city, including Democrats, Republicans and Independents and a wide mix of professional backgrounds, from law to journalism to technology.

The current charter was adopted in 2001 under then-Mayor Ken Klotz, according to Turner. Saratoga Springs operates under a city council form of government, one of only a few still left in the state, composed of the mayor and four commissioners; on each for finance, accounts, public works and public safety. Each of the five council members have equal voting power in regards to amendments, ordinances, resolutions, etc.

Klotz’s goal with establishing his Charter Commission was to keep the status quo but make a series of incremental changes over time, Turner said. At the time, the city council government was already established, but Klotz’s charter would give it a new sense of direction.

Klotz’s successor, Michael Lenz, attempted to form his own Charter Commission in 2005, but lost re-election to Valerie Keehn in 2006. Lenz’s commission would have included Pat Kane, a highly involved member of the Saratoga Springs public, who would later be among the leaders of a charge to replace the council form of government with a city manager form of government in 2012.

Keehn’s commission advocated for a strong mayor form of government, which would give the mayor more power compared to the equal voting power of the current form of government, which current and former elected officials seem to agree causes power struggles amid the council. That would eventually go on to be voted down. When Keehn testified to the current Charter Review Commission in August, she noted that the old saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” does not apply here, saying the government must evolve.

Kane’s 2012 movement was one of three ways that a charter can change, Kane said. One is with a mayoral commission, another is if the council itself appoints a commission and the other is by citizens’ petition. Kane and his bipartisan, citizen-based group Saratoga Citizen got the appropriate amount of signatures but the initial document they presented to the city in 2010 was shot down and ruled invalid. The group would continue to fight, including taking the City Council to court in a legal battle that Saratoga Citizen would eventually win.

In 2012, the group’s charter change proposition for a city manager form of government finally made it onto the ballot but was voted down by Saratoga Springs residents 5,991 to 4,423. The current commision has not ruled out that possibility, though, as they have interviewed two successful city managers, Mark Ryckman of Corning and Jason Molino of Batavia.

Today, the consensus among former and current Saratoga Springs elected officials seems to be that the charter and form of government needs to change. WMayor Joanne Yepsen said that “there’s definitely room for improvement within city government and within City Hall.”

Most recently, the commission interviewed on Tuesday former Commissioner of Public Works Tom McTygue and former and current commissioners of Public Safety Lew Benton and Christian Mathiesen, respectively. Kane said it is a testament to the need to change the charter that long-time opponents of changing it are now in favor of it, such as McTygue, who said that there needs to be more professionalism within City Hall.

Mathiesen said on Tuesday that he was very skeptical of the city council form of government before stepping into his role, and five years later he is even more skeptical. He, and many others who have been interviewed, believe the current form of government limits those who can run because the job is so extensive that anyone with a normal “9 to 5 job” would not be able to balance it all.

“We really need to have a separate legislative body that represents the interests of our citizens, a body that makes it possible for people to run for public office and gives people a sense of belonging to our city,” Mathiesen said.

“It’s the people, not the form of government, that makes Saratoga Springs great,” Kane said. “But the form of government should enable them to be great.”