TWC: Saratogians To Vote On New Form Of Government Again

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By Matt Hunter
Updated Friday, January 13, 2017 at 06:51 PM EST

Less than five years after a citizen-led effort to change the Saratoga Springs City Charter failed by a 15 percent margin at the polls, Saratogians will again make a decision that could completely alter their local form of government. Matt Hunter explains.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It is arguably the most important document in how a city gets governed.

“The city’s charter is, in essence, the city constitution,” said Bob Turner, a longtime political science professor at Skidmore College. “It determines how many city council members we have, how they are selected and what their responsibilities are.”

Starting with a goal of recommending improvements or a new form of government altogether, a 15-member commission has been studying Saratoga Springs’ current charter since June.

“We have had over 30 meetings and we have interviewed 70 different current and former elected officials, department heads, mayors and city managers here and in other cities,” said Turner, who chairs the commission.

It’s the Spa City’s first charter review in a decade. Appointed by the mayor and council, the commission is set up to operate independently.

“It’s very, very, very important in my opinion for the mayor and the city council to stay out of the business of the city charter,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said Friday.

While most cities rely on either a “Mayor-City Council” or “Mayor-City Manager” model, Saratoga Springs uses the rare “commission” form of government.

“There are only three commission form of governments here in New York,” said Turner, who added the “Mayor-City” council model is most common in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as local municipalities like Albany and Schenectady.

The Saratoga Springs City Council is made up of the mayor and commissioners of finance, accounts, public safety and public works.

“The city council serves as both a legislature and the executive [branch],” Turner said, “except it is almost like having five presidents, each over their own little domain.”

A month ago, commission members unanimously voted in favor of drafting a new charter. On Friday, it was announced the decision will go to a city-wide vote on May 30.

“We have yet to make any decision about whether we would go with the ‘Mayor- City Manager’ or a ‘Mayor – Council’ form of government,” Turner said.

The commission’s next step is to come up with an actual proposal for an alternative form of government, which Turner expects to happen by February.

“Whatever they propose, hopefully, will be an improvement from what we have,” Yepsen said.

“Voters are going to have three months to really study this issue and delve into it,” Turner said.

Saratogian: Special election set for proposed Saratoga Springs charter

saratogianApproval during special referendum May 30 would alter structure of city gov’t

Shown above is the first page of the current Saratoga Springs City Charter.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Spa City voters will get a chance May 30 to decide on whether to change the current structure of city government.

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to have a special referendum May 30 allowing voters to approve the changes.

The biggest change would be the entire structure of government from the current commission form to either a strong mayor-council set-up or a city manager-council system.

The commission voted 12-2 to put the matter up to a vote May 30, the last Tuesday that a special election can take place while allowing new candidates to run for city council this year. The November general election ballot will depend on the outcome of that vote.

Earlier this week, the commission debated about putting the matter up for a vote in May. A majority of members were concerned the charter would get lost in the partisan politics of a general election.

In November, the charter would have to compete for voters’ attention with eight other contested races: mayoral, finance commissioner, public works commissioner, public safety commissioner, account commissioner, two county supervisors and a judicial race, in addition to the city charter.

The commission was also concerned voters might miss the charter referendum since it would be on the back of the ballot.

“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, commission chair.

Under the current charter, Saratoga Springs must form a citizen panel to review the existing charter and recommend changes. The new proposed charter must, in turn, be approved by voters in a referendum.

“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” said Gordon Boyd, Commission member.

The city has operated under the commission form for 100 years.

Longtime resident and commission member Laura Chodos expressed support for the special election.

“Voters will have undivided attention to the most important issue in the city’s future,” she said. “This is an opportunity to make Saratoga Springs even better in the way government functions. Nothing is more important.”

A special election would cost $37,000 and be run by the Commissioner of Accounts office with assistance from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

The commission’s next meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at City Hall.

Gazette: Saratoga residents to vote on charter changes

gazette-logo Revisions would create new form of government

by Ned Campbell, January 14, 2017

The Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to put the city’s charter in the hands of the public during a special election — which would be the city’s first — on May 30.

The charter changes would institute a new form of government, doing away with the current commission form.

“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, the Skidmore College political science professor who chairs the 15-member group.

The vote, which followed more than six months of review, public input and dozens of interviews with city officials past and present, was 12-2, with Elio DelSette and Matt Jones voting no. Robert Kuczynski was absent.

‘We wanted this to be something voters were thinking about. It is the constitution of the city, and it deserves its day in the sun.’ said Minita Sanghvi, Charter Review Commission member

During the special election, the public will vote on a new charter, which will include a new form of city government to replace the current commission form in which four elected commissioners oversee the government functions of public safety, public works, finance and accounts.

TWO ALTERNATIVES

Alternatives being considered are strong mayor-council and city manager-council. The group has yet to decide on one, but plans to continue that discussion at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The commission form has been used for 100 years despite attempts to change it.

A new form of government, if approved by the voters, could take effect as soon as 2018. May 30 is the last Tuesday a special election can be held while allowing new candidates to run for City Council in 2017, said commission member Gordon Boyd.

“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” he said.

Commission Vice Chairman Pat Kane noted that the city has never had a special election, with past efforts to amend the form of government done on Election Day. It would cost $37,000 and be run by the city’s Commissioner of Accounts office with support from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

“We hope to really encourage people to get educated on what this is and make their voices heard, one way or another,” Kane said. “It’s a discussion we’ve had several times, but it’s always been clouded in the midst of general elections.”

Kane said the commission form is outdated — he’s leaning toward city-manager council as an alternative.

“What I’m hearing is a lot of people feel with a strong mayor, you’re putting too much power in one person’s hands, and I’d probably agree with that,” he said.

The November election is looking to be a heated one in Saratoga Springs, with the mayor’s seat and all four commissioners up for re-election, a judge race expected and two county supervisors on the ballot as well. Review commission member Minita Sanghvi said that without a special election, the referendum would also end up on the back of that ballot, “and many people don’t even look at the back of the ballot.”

“We wanted this to be something voters were thinking about,” she said. “It is the constitution of the city, and it deserves its day in the sun.”

Commission sets Special Election on Charter Vote

Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission approves 

Special Election for Charter Referendum

Spa City voters to consider alternative form of government May 30

Saratoga Springs- The fifteen-member citizen Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission voted 12-2 in favor of holding the charter referendum at a special election on May 30th.

Commission photo“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, Commission chair.

 

(Photo: 14 of the 15 Commission members)

Under the current charter, Saratoga Springs must form a citizen panel to review the existing charter and recommend changes.  The new proposed charter must in turn, be approved by voters in a referendum.  New York State Law and a 1987 NY Attorney General opinion stated that, “the charter commission may determine the election (special or general) at which the proposals are submitted to the voters for approval.”

At its January 10 meeting, the Commission engaged in lengthy debate on the merits of special versus general election. A majority of members felt that adopting a new city charter is one of the most important decisions a city can make and was concerned that it would get lost in the partisan politics of a general election.  In November, the charter would have to compete for voters’ attention with eight other contested races:  mayoral, finance commissioner, public works commissioner, public safety commissioner, account commissioner, two county supervisor and a judicial race, in addition to the city charter.  The Commission was also concerned that voters might miss voting on the charter referendum since it would be on the back of the ballot.

May 30th is the last Tuesday that a special election can be held while also allowing new candidates to choose to run for the City Council in 2017, based on whether the charter referendum succeeds or fails.  “A Special Election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” said Gordon Boyd, Commission member.

Longtime resident and commission member Laura Chodos expressed support for the special election. “Voters will have undivided attention to the most important issue in the city’s future,” she said. “This is an opportunity to make Saratoga Springs even better in the way government functions. Nothing is more important.”

A special election would cost $37,000 and be run by the Commissioner of Accounts office with assistance from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.  The City’s annual budget is $55 million.

The Commission’s next meeting is January 19, 7pm, City Hall.

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

E-Mail                  saratogaspringscharter@gmail.com

Website:             https://saratogacharter.com/

 

 

 

Agenda: January 10, 2017

City Council Room City Hall

7:00pm Public Comment

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

7:20 Discussion and Vote on Charter Review Commission 2017 Budget and Special Election

8pm Discussion of New Charter Issues

9:00 pm Adjourn