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.