Wednesday, October 19, 2016
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.
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