It’s unanimous: Commission will draft new charter

Charter Review Commission sets goal for Spring 2017 public referendum

boyd-proposes-resolutionSaratoga Springs – By a tally of 15-0, the Saratoga Springs City Charter Commission voted to draft a new charter that could set the course for fundamental change in how city government functions. The new charter would present an alternate form of government to the current Commission form. Options include the strong mayor-council and city manager-council forms.

“Changing a city’s charter is not something to be undertaken lightly,” said Bob Turner, Commission chair.  “After six months of analysis and interviews with dozens of city officials and community members, I think members of our commission felt confident in their understanding of the charter in order to make this decision.  It was a long process, but well worth it.”

img_1060The Commission, comprised of 15 volunteers appointed by Mayor Yepsen, also set a goal of holding a Spring 2017 public referendum, when voters would consider its recommendations. A change to the current ‘Commission’ form of government would have to be approved by the electorate.

In another action taken Tuesday, the Commission decided that a new form of government, if approved, would not go into effect until 2018 at the earliest. “I think many members of the commission are concerned about the challenges of transition from one form of government to another,” said Gordon Boyd, Commission member who proposed the resolution to craft a new charter. “Giving elected officials time to minimize transition challenges probably makes sense.”

members-deliberateIn tandem with the drafting of a new charter, the Commission will also propose updates to the current charter. “Charters with the Commission form of government have served the City for a century,” said Matt Jones, Commission member leading the effort to revise the existing charter. “It’s our responsibility to offer the option of improving the current document that our city has worked under during many years of tremendous economic growth.”

Under the current charter, Saratoga Springs is mandated to form a commission to review the City Charter every ten years. Since June, the Commission has interviewed 20 current and former city council members, ten department heads, seven other mayors and city managers, conducted a survey of City Hall employees and potential candidates, held a town hall meeting, and has engaged in countless discussions with citizens and community stakeholders.

Results of first-ever city employee survey to be released


Results of first-ever city employees survey on the Saratoga Springs charter to be released

Charter Review Commission to vote on motion to draft new charter

Saratoga Springs – On Tuesday evening, the Charter Review Commission will review results of the first-ever survey of City Hall employees about how well city government functions and how the Charter can be improved.  The Commission will then consider its next steps, including a motion on whether to draft a charter with an alternative form of government to the current ‘Commission’ form.

WHEN:          Tuesday, December 13, 2016

TIME:             7-9pm (Public Comment 7-7:15)

PLACE:         City Hall, 474 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Under the current charter, Saratoga Springs is mandated to form a commission to review the City Charter every ten years.  In June, the Mayor and City Council appointed 15 volunteers to the Commission.  It will propose such revisions or amendments as the Commission may deem appropriate, make a report to the public, and submit any such revisions or amendments to the electors of the city at a public referendum.

The Commission has been meeting frequently to study how well the current charter is meeting the needs of the City. Over the past six months, it has conducted interviews with 18 former and current Commission members, nine department heads or directors, six mayors and city managers from other cities, and members of the 2001 Charter Review Commission; held a town meeting, conducted a survey of City Council Candidates, a survey of City Hall employees, reviewed charters from several other upstate cities, and met with community stakeholders.

Recommendations by the commission to revise the current charter or change the form of government would have to be approved by the voters.

The meeting will be webcast live at this link:

 Contact                 Beth Wurtmann (518)321-4607, Minita Sanghvi (336)210-3258



Civic Leadership Survey Results

Survey Finds Spa City Commission Government

Discourages Candidates from Running

Commission form of government shuts out qualified Candidates

Saratoga Springs – Leading Saratoga Springs business and civic citizens say that they are interested in serving the public, but the time demands of the commission form of government discourages them from running.

Under the Commission form of government, the Commissioners of Finance, Accounts, Public Works, and Public Safety are responsible for administering their department as well as serving as legislators.  Many have suggested that potential candidates don’t run because they had the skills or time necessary to do a good job.

The Charter Commission identified the pool of City Council candidates by surveying members of city boards and asking the Party Chairs, Downtown Business Association, Chamber of Commerce, and other non profits to forward the survey to “anyone you think would be a good leader for our city and could/should/might run for city council at some point in the future.” It received 182 responses.

The survey revealed changing from the commission form of government would dramatically increase the number of people willing to run for City Council.  The survey described the responsibilities for each Commissioner and then asked how likely they were to run for that office.  Only 15 people or 8.2% of the sample said they were SOMEWHAT or EXTREMELY LIKELY to run for one of the four Commissioner position. However, when asked if whether they would run for a City Council seat where they served as a part time legislator and did not have any administrative responsibilities, 50 people or 27.5% of the sample said they were somewhat or very likely to run.   The chart below shows the number of people who said they were extremely likely to run for office. No one reported being extremely likely to run for the Public Safety or Accounts Position.

One survey respondent said:  “I work full time in Albany in a managerial position where I have to be on site during the day. The time commitment of a Commissioner is the direct reason I have not run for City Council.”  Interviews with current and former commissioners revealed that many found it challenging to balance a full time job with the dual demands of running a major department and legislating, a combination unique to the Commission form of government.  Seventy percent of the survey respondents reported working full time.

The Commission positions are paid an annual salary of $14,500 and hire a full time deputy to run their office. The Commissioner of Public Safety supervises the police and fire departments, traffic safety, emergency management, and emergency medical services. The Commissioner of Public Safety is responsible for maintaining city streets, city lands and buildings, city water and sewer facilities. The Commissioner oversees a 100 person workforce and $25 million budget.

Bob Turner, the Commissioner Chair, said “We clearly have a large pool of civically engaged citizens who want to serve the city, but are unable to make the time commitment required under the Commission form of government.  The data show we are excluding a diverse set of voices and talent.”  Laura Chodos, a commission member, said “A City Council is only as good as the people serving on it.”

The Commission has met two to three times each month since June to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the charter. Its next meeting is December 13 at 7pm, City Hall, where results of a survey of Saratoga Springs City employees will be released.  

The Commission was appointed in June by Mayor Joanne Yepsen, pursuant to provisions of the existing charter requiring a review every 10 years, and of State General Municipal Law authorizing a Mayoral-appointed commission.


Times Union: Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission sets goals

opengraph_defaultCommission draws up roadmap for potential changes

Gazette: Saratoga Charter Review Commission announces goals


The city’s Charter Review Commission has come out with a list of strategic goals in its ongoing review of how local government is run.

In creating the list, the 15-member group of appointed citizens spent the past six months gathering input from city commissioners, past commissioners, former mayors and residents.

The city charter spells out the organization, powers and functions of city government and, by law, must be reviewed at least once every 10 years. Attempts to change the charter in 2006 and in 2012 were unsuccessful.

“Our goal at the outset was to make Saratoga Springs even better by designing the best possible city charter to meet the needs of citizens,” said Bob Turner, commission chairman. “Changing a charter is not something to be done lightly.”

The commission identified a series of criteria that will become a checklist for reviewing changes. They include values the commission considered to be widely-shared within the community, including the promotion of: accountability and public representation; high quality, efficient services and infrastructure; economic development and sustainability; long-term planning, investment; recruitment and training of a diverse, inclusive workforce; and ethical and professional behavior among city employees and leaders.

At its Monday meeting, the group will get the results of a survey of hundreds of city stakeholders about their willingness to run for local office. Among the revisions to the charter, the commission is considering other forms of government, including council-manager and strong mayor-council.

Saratoga Springs has an unusual form of government, in which four elected commissioners oversee the government functions of public safety, public works, finance and accounts. Together with the mayor, they make up the City Council, with each commissioner having authority over his or her department’s operation.

“The purpose of the survey is to get an accurate snapshot on whether our current form of government promotes a wide range of candidates and encourages public service,” said Pat Kane, commission vice chair.

While the commission is sponsored by the city, Mayor Joanne Yepsen said it is working autonomously and that she has purposely stayed uninvolved in its operation. She commended the group on being thorough in its review.

“A lot of us have the same goal, and that is we want to encourage more people to run for office — at least I do,” she said. “So we need to set up a system where more people have the desire to be running for these important offices.”