Saratogian: Commission supports new form of government


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Last week, the Charter Review Commission voted unanimously in favor of a council-manager form of government. In a traditional council-manager form, the council selects the mayor and each council member shares the same powers. It’s more of a ceremonial role. The commission believes strongly that Saratoga Springs needed a mayor who could provide dynamic leadership and rejected the weak mayor model during a Jan. 26 meeting.

“The vast majority of cities have a hybrid form that combine the political leadership and coalition building of the strong mayor model with the professional expertise and administrative efficiencies of a city manager or administrator,” said commission chair Bob Turner.

The commission supports direct elections for the mayor and also four-year terms.

“I think we want a mayor who is accountable to the voters,” said commission member Laura Chodos.

Mike Los said he felt that the mayor would be more effective in collaboratively working with stakeholders to address city challenges if he or she were not bogged down with the details of managing the city’s staff.

“I think Saratoga Springs voters want a visible leader who can reach out to the community and build consensus on a vision for the future,” said Barb Thomas.

Under the proposed charter, the mayor would have the power to create ad hoc committees, as they can now, as well as appointment to land use and ethics boards, but the commission felt that the appointment to city boards should be subject to a confirmation vote by the city council since many have a seven-year term.

The commission did not decide whether the mayor should be full time or not.

“Every former mayor who has spoken to us said it was a 50+ hour a week job with part time pay,” said Turner

Gordon Boyd thinks Saratoga Springs needs someone who can articulate the city’s interests to outside stakeholders like NYRA, the State government and the business community.

The commission reviewed the research of New York’s preeminent constitutional scholar and SUNY Professor Gerald Benjamin on the appointment and removal of city managers. The commission supported having the city council be able to appoint and remove the city manager,

“I like having a one-year contract for the city manager to keep him or her on toes working to meet the needs of the city and city council,” said Pat Kane.

The commission also supported having clear qualifications in the charter for the manager/administrator, covering the education and experience of the city manager in the charter.

“Both law professors I have spoken with said this prevents a city council from hiring an unqualified political crony to do their bidding,” said Turner.

The commission will hold its next two meetings on February 2 and 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. at City Hall

The commission will discuss the role of county supervisors, ethics provisions, the city attorney’s office, the identification of departments and land use boards, vacancies, the Recreation commission and the city clerk.

A draft of the revised charter should be finished by the middle of February with a special election for the charter referendum being held on May 30.

Gazette: Spa City charter review group defines mayor’s role

Position would remain central to government

TU: No shows lead to canceled Saratoga Springs meeting on funding new city government vote

No shows lead to canceled Saratoga Springs meeting on funding new city government vote. Without quoroum, meeting is canceled.

By Wendy Liberatore Updated 11:40 pm, Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Saratoga Springs

The three commissioners who came out against a referendum for a new city form of government were no-shows at a special council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting, called by Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, was meant to approve $37,000 in funds for the creation of a new charter and a public vote in the spring.

Yet Madigan and commissioners John Franck and Anthony “Skip” Scirocco did not appear. Without a quorum, the meeting was canceled.

“It’s a shame that we will not be having an official meeting,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “It’s unfortunate our colleagues are not here to uphold their duty.”

Several members of the charter commission, an independent body, suspect that the commissioners are stalling on their legal obligation to fund the commission because all five, the mayor and the four commissioners, will eventually lose their jobs if voters approve a new charter.

The vote will call for Saratoga Springs to be run by a city manager and a council, not its current form with a mayor and four commissioners.

Madigan said that is not the case. She said she asked the mayor to cancel the meeting because she knew Franck, who had a business engagement, could not be there and felt that all five members of the council should be there.

“Commissioner Scirocco agreed and also stated that he wanted all five members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on this important matter,” said Madigan.

“I am the Commissioner who requested this meeting and I am the Commissioner who requested it be canceled if all members could not be in attendance. There was no reason for the situation that occurred today at 4 p.m.”

Yepsen said she emailed all the commissioners and strongly encouraged them to be present, even after Madigan suggested canceling. To avoid any confusion, Madigan said the commission budget will be on the agenda at the next regular city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“This illustrates the challenges of this form of government,” said Gordon Boyd, a member of the 15-member commission. “One commissioner wants one thing and another wants something else and then it’s stymied. Nothing happens.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen did attend the meeting and reassured the charter commission that he supports their work. “I feel very strongly that this should move forward,” said Mathiesen. “I think the group is going in the right direction and I hope all the citizens will be informed. It’s paramount to our city.”

The charter commission has planned a referendum to take place on May 30. Bob Batson of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School is expected to write the charter by the end of February. “The most important thing is the document,” said Bob Turner, the chair of the charter commission. “It needs to be done by the end of February so that we can have three months to educate the public.” • 518-454-5445 • @wendyliberatore

Agenda for January 24

City Hall, Saratoga Springs

7pm Public Comment

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

7:20  Discussion of Role of Mayor under Council Manager form of Government

7:50 Discussion of Finance Provisions of Charter, Mark Lawton invited

830 Discussion of City Attorney and Recreation Commission

9:00 p    Adjourn

Agenda for January 26

City Hall, Saratoga Springs

7pm         Public Comment

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

7:20         Discussion of City Attorney

7:50         Discussion of Recreation Commission

8:10         Duties and Responsibilities of Department Heads

8:30          Discussion of City Manager qualifications, hiring, and firing

9:00          Adjourn

Times Union: Saratoga Spa panel seeks council-manager setup

Saratoga Spa charter commission fleshes out May 30 referendum

Updated 5:48 pm, Saturday, January 21, 2017

The city’s Charter Review Commission has decided that a “council manager” form of government will go before voters this spring.

The panel last week voted 14-0 to offer voters a chance to replace the current system of five independent commissioners, each elected and responsible for specific aspects of city government, with the council-manager setup. That would feature an elected city council that works with an appointed city manager who oversees all city departments.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, the commission will discuss the issue, including the role of a mayor under a council-manager government, as well as finance provisions, and the role of the city attorney and recreation commission.

Voters will consider the potential change in a referendum scheduled on May 30. If voters accept the change, the new government would start in 2019. If voters reject the change, the current commission government — a century old — will remain in place.

“When we interviewed city managers from Corning and Batavia, I was impressed with their long-term vision for infrastructure improvements, technology and economic growth,” commission member Beth Wurtmann said in a statement. “A strategic 10-year plan under a skilled city manager is what Saratoga Springs needs to stay abreast with 21st century demands.”

Under the proposed change, an elected council would oversee general administration, policy and budgets, as well as name a city manager responsible for day-to-day administrative operations.

“The city manager is forced to squeeze out the waste and inefficiency or lose his job. In Canandaigua, the city council and mayor told the city manager to keep costs down,” said Bob Turner, commission chairman.

Several members also agreed that a council manager government could reduce city expenses and taxes. “I think the city would save money by hiring one professional city manager instead of five deputy commissioners,” said commission member Rob Kuczynski.

“A council-manager structure would reduce political pressures and in-fighting by having the City Council represent the will of the people and the city manager administer the daily operations of the city,” commission member B.K. Keramati said.

Under the current government, voters elect a mayor and four individual commissioners who each oversee areas including finance, accounts, public safety and public works. They have both legislative and executive authority.

“I was on the City Center Parking Garage Task Force in 2001 and saw the plan fall apart due to jurisdictional and political turf conflicts between commissioners,” said committee member Gordon Boyd. “It is 16 years later and we still have no garage. Now, we are competing with at least 30 other cities nationwide to retain Ayco. I am worried that the five silos of the commission form of government inhibit the ability to act quickly.”


WAMC: Saratogians Set To Vote On New Charter May 30th

Listen Here:

A Saratoga Springs committee has chosen May 30th for a special election where city residents may vote on a new form of government. The city’s current form of government has existed for more than a century.

Saratoga Springs’ unique commission-style government has endured numerous tests before. Most recently, a 2012 ballot question to change the city charter failed.

Now, in 2017, voters will have a chance to vote once again on a new system. The special election, set for May 30th, was put in place by the city’s Charter Review Commission.

Commission chair Bob Turner, who also works as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Skidmore College, says the committee spent eight months meeting and talking with the community about the city’s future.

“I think one of the things we heard most clearly from all the business and other community interests, was their feeling that Saratoga government could do better. Not that it was broken, but that it could do better,” said Turner.

A new charter has not yet been drafted, but Turner predicted a document that would include a form of government featuring a mayor, city manager, and a seven-member city council with four-year terms — with term limits.

For the past 102 years, the city has been led by five commissioners that also serve as department heads.

John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts, warned with the vote set to take place on the day after Memorial Day, people may not show up to the polls.

“My concern is you’re putting the constitution of the city up for a vote and by all measurements we’re going to have a very low turnout, and I think that’s a shame,” said Franck.

Franck compared the special election to the annual city school board vote, which he said has about 3 percent turnout.

Turner predicted the vote would bring record turnout.  He said holding the special election before the primary election season gets underway in June would provide a chance to take partisan politics out of the decision.

“It would give voters about three months to really study the charter and know what’s in it and give everyone a chance to appreciate the complexities of what we’re suggesting,” said Turner

But there are also objections over costs.

The Charter Review Commission, under state law, has asked Mayor Joanne Yepsen for $46,000 to cover expenses by the committee and $37,000 for the special election.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, however, said she was uncertain the five-member city council would grant the money.

“It takes three votes to allocate funds. So it seems to me, although the vote hasn’t taken place yet, that there is not support on this city council. As in, they do not have three votes for expending funds for a special election,” said Madigan.

Franck argued the costs for the special election could inflate to as much as $50,000 and said he would not vote for the budget request.

Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco called the May 30th special election “voter suppression” and said in an email the vote would be a “slap in the face to Saratoga Springs voters who have historically turned out and voted against a change in the form of government.”

Mayor Yepsen said the council needs to give the commission the funding.

“So they can do their job, make their recommendations to the entire community, not to the city council, and let the voters decide. And that’s my position,” said Yepsen.


An email sent Friday evening after press time indicated that the Charter Commission voted 14-0 in favor of a council-manager form of government. If approved by voters, the new charter would take effect in 2019.

Agenda, January 19

7:00 Public comment

7:15  Introductory Remarks by Bob Turner/Approval of Minutes/Reports from Committee Chairs

7:20  Discussion of merits of Council-City Manager versus Council- Mayor forms of Government versus Hybrid- discussion to include

  1. Improve government efficiency and responsiveness to citizens and businesses
  1. Reduce political influence in day-to-day operations
  1. Eliminate the influence of political money in day-to-day operations
  1. Increase government accountability
  1. Make government more transparent
  1. Other

Times Union: Charter Review Commission proposes new direction for Saratoga City Council