Agenda for December 5 Commission Meeting

Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission

City Council Room City Hall

7pm Public Comment

7:15 Introductory Remarks by Bob Turner/Approval of Minutes

7:20 Survey of Civic Elites report and discussion

8pm Invited Steve Rodriguez, former chair Saratoga Springs GOP party, Charlie Brown, Chair Saratoga Springs Democratic party

 9:00 pm Adjourn

Spa City Charter Commission identifies strategic goals

Saratoga Springs – Strategic goals have emerged fresh off a six-month analysis by the Charter Review Commission. The group of 15 appointed citizens identified the goals Tuesday evening, after gathering a wide range of perspectives on how city government functions under the current charter. The Commission is also anticipating the results of a survey that asks officials and community leaders about their willingness to run for office.

“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 Chair. “Changing a charter is not something to be done lightly.”

The Commission identified a series of criteria for evaluating potential changes to the charter. These criteria are the important values that are widely shared in our community and will form a checklist for considering changes.

Goals include promotion of:

  1. Accountability and public representation
  2. High quality, efficient services and infrastructure
  3. Economic development and sustainability
  4. Long-term planning, investment
  5. Recruitment and training of a diverse, inclusive workforce
  6. Ethical and professional behavior among city employees and leaders

“These goals will be our road map going forward,” Turner said. “We want a city government that listens to citizens, encourages them to participate, and where anyone can run for office. We also want the city to be innovative and nimble when it comes to services and long-term growth.”

At its next meeting on Monday, December 5, the Commission expects to hear results of its civic leadership survey on the willingness to run for office under the current Commission form of government. Hundreds of surveys were shared with land use boards, Leadership Saratoga and key city stakeholders. The results are anonymous.

“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. In addition to revisions to the current charter, the Commission is considering other forms of government, including the council-manager and strong mayor-council.

A recording of the November 29 meeting can be viewed at this link:

The Commission welcomes citizen feedback through its email address:

Saratogian: Charter commission hears from member of 2001 group

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> As it continues to review the city charter, the Charter Review Commission interviewed a former member from the 2001 commission who has had recent public disagreements with the City Council.

Mark Lawton gave his testimony Tuesday to the commission. Lawton was thrown out of a City Council meeting during the public comment period in July by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. The conflict arose during a tense council meeting while Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s ethics code violation was the subject of much debate and scrutiny. Lawton, along with other public commenters, had accused members of the Council of running a smear campaign against Yepsen during that time, to which Madigan retaliated. Lawton was frustrated Madigan used his name and began yelling at her, so Madigan had him escorted out of the meeting.

As tense as Lawton’s relationship is with some of the current City Council, he has a long history with the city and a thorough knowledge of the charter, having served on the 2001 Charter Review Commission under then-Mayor Ken Klotz. The charter that was adopted then is the city’s current charter.

The city operates under a commission form of government, one of only a few left in the state, in which the mayor and four commissioners make up the City Council and all five members have equal voting power.

During the commission’s review process, which started in the summer, there has been much debate over whether this form of government is beneficial to the city. Former and current elected officials, as well as county supervisors and city managers from other cities, have been interviewed by the commission in an effort to decide what is best for the city. Some feel the current form of government is working, such as Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, but the majority of those interviewed said a change is in order.

On Tuesday, Lawton said when the 2001 charter was being drafted, the commission agreed all changes or additions had to be unanimous, which made it difficult to settle on whether changing the form of government was necessary. The commission form of government was kept under the predetermination that it could be worked with and fine tuned; the charter could be written in a way to make that form of government good for the city.

“There were a lot of strong opinions,” Lawton said. “There were those who wanted no change, period. There were those who wanted a strong mayor form of government. And there were some that believed there was a chance we could improve the commission form of government to the point where it could function, to the point where it could provide what the citizens needed and wanted. They wanted access and they wanted transparency. They wanted to know their government and they wanted to know that they had access to it.”

Lawton said when he was teaching students about government, he never would have taught this form of government — except as an example of what to avoid or change.

Lawton said one of the biggest problems with this form of government is that politics often clouds people’s judgement.

“There are super problems when you mix politics with management,” Lawton said.