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.