Agendas for February 28 and March 2

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission will meet on Tuesday, February 28, Council Chambers and Thursday, March 2, Music Hall or Council Chambers.

7pm                  Public Comment

7:15-7:20          Introductory comments by Commission Chair, and approval the minutes.

7:30-9:00          Discussion, fine-tuning of the language of proposed charter

9:00                   Adjourn

Agenda for February 23

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission will meet at

Council Chambers, City Hall

7pm         Public Comment

7:15pm   Opening remarks, Bob Turner, Chair; approval of minutes

7:20pm   Discussion: the role of the ‘dynamic mayor’ in the proposed council-manager form of government, as well as recommendations for a beginning salary structure for manager, mayor and council.

9:00pm    Adjourn

Reader’s View: The challenges facing local government

Thomas Jefferson famously supported rewriting the Constitution every 19 years. He said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” What he meant was that a constitution or charter should be designed to address the challenges of the future rather than the past. Before designing a charter for Saratoga Springs for the 21st century, the Charter Review Commission asked ourselves, what challenges face Saratoga Springs in the 21st Century?

For the past 8 months, we have read multiple municipal finance reports including the NY Comptroller’s “New Fiscal Realities Challenge Local Governments” and Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernake’s speech on the Economic Challenges for State and Local Governments. They paint a clear and stark picture of the challenges facing Saratoga Springs.

Federal and state aid to cities is shrinking. Cities can no longer expect Washington or Albany to bail them out. Cities are growing increasingly dependent on sales tax and tourist revenue which can fluctuate significantly with the national economy. We know increased competition from the Rivers Casino in Schenectady and the new Albany Convention Center will likely to cut into the city’s tax revenues. Meeting long term pension liabilities and retiree health-care expenses will become increasingly difficult and Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap limits the city’s ability to raise revenue. Saratogians understand this.

Future infrastructure costs will continue to rise. A 2014 New York State Comptroller report, Growing Cracks in the Foundation, shows that strained finances coupled with rapidly rising costs in construction materials have caused NY cities to fall behind in their efforts to maintain and improve their aging water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. Our primary drinking water source dates from 1870. Federal mandates for stormwater runoff, safe drinking water, and the prevailing wage act requirements further strain local government finances.

What is the implication of less money and more demands for the City Charter? New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli states that cities need to be “able to shift their emphasis from reacting to short-term or emergency infrastructure needs to being proactive and planning for the future.” While a five member Commission with their own administrative silos and two year terms may have certain advantages, proactive long-term planning is not one of them. Each commissioner is concerned with their own department, be it finance, public safety, or public works.

If the challenges facing city government today are high, Saratogians’ expectations for city government have never been higher. In Saratoga, we want bike paths, parking garages, a waterfront park, solar field, a homeless shelter, a top tier city center, a community farm, a safe and clean downtown, and sports fields. We expect to be able to pay our bills, submit building designs and find information about government services from our smart phones. Since Amazon can deliver anything in 48 hours, we expect our emails answered within 24 hours and cannot fathom why a routine building or sign permit should take more time.

Governing a city in 1915 was simpler– Collect taxes, build roads, provide licenses, and protect the public. Increasing fiscal challenges, rising infrastructure costs, and fierce competition make providing those services and the meeting the higher demands of citizens significantly more difficult. Saratogians want and expect a responsive, proactive, and agile city government. We need a new charter that meets those challenges. To learn more about the Charter Review Committee’s work, see As always, we hope to hear from you via email at

Bob Turner is chairman of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission. Megan Schachter is a student at Skidmore College.

Times Union: Saratoga Springs proposed charter nearly complete

Spa City’s proposed code likely to be ready for public consumption by week’s end

Published 10:39 pm, Sunday, February 19, 2017
Saratoga Springs

By the end of the week, the proposed city charter will likely be ready to be rolled out to the public.

Bob Turner, charter commission chairman, said that drafts of the new charter have been going back and forth between the 15-member commission for the past eight weeks. So far, the commission agreed upon many points including the preamble, duties of the city manager, appointment and responsibilities of the city attorney and the makeup of the city council. On Thursday, the charter commission members will finalize the role of a “dynamic mayor” and the salary structure of manager, the mayor and the city council members.

“We are getting very close. I know citizens want to see the final product as soon as possible,” said Turner. “While we have the main provisions of the charter, there are a number of important details we have to get right.”

The charter is being drafted by Robert Batson, the government lawyer in residence at Albany Law School who in the past 10 years has drafted new charters for Albany, Troy, Amsterdam, Cohoes, Oneonta and Glen Cove.

The new charter, if approved by voters on May 30, would change the 100-year-old commission form of government to that of a city manager with a council composed of a mayor and six at-large council members.

Not all of the commissioners who now run the city are on board with plans for a new charter.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen have said they support the charter commission’s call for a special election on the city’s fate. But the other three commissioners are opposed. Commissioners John Franck and Michele Madigan disapprove of the cost: $37,000 for the special election and $46,000 for administrative costs. Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said the idea of changing the government is “ludicrous” as the city is running well already.

The charter commission clearly disagreed, saying the current form stymies growth and progress.

The debate will be on Tuesday’s city council agenda where funding of the effort will be discussed and voted upon.

Whether the funding is there or not, the charter commission will begin to introduce the newly drawn charter proposal to the city residents in a series of public meetings and mailings.

“It’s important to educate the public,” Turner said. • 518-454-5445 • @wendyliberatore


Press release: Commission ironing out final details

Press release issued February 18, 2017

Charter Review Commission ironing out final details

Now in its ninth month, the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission discussed remaining structural elements to its proposed new charter that will go before voters on May 30.

“We are getting very close.  I know citizens want to see the final product as soon as possible,” said Bob Turner, Commission Chair. “While we have the main provisions of the charter, there are a number of important details we have to get right.”

The proposed charter has a seven-member city council and a city manager form of government. The Commission’s current goal is to instill a system of checks and balances and professional government in the document, which would dictate a new direction for government functions over the next decade.

The Commission went line by line through a model charter provided by its legal counsel, Bob Batson, Government Lawyer in Residence at Albany Law School. Commission members also carefully examined council-manager language in the Oneonta and Canandaigua charters in order to tailor responsibilities that best fit the Spa City’s needs.

“We want to use the best research available,” said Laura Chodos, Commission member. “Our decisions are also informed by what we heard in dozens of interviews conducted since June.”

“Our goal is to minimize the politics of administration and partisan bickering,” said Beth Wurtmann, another member.

Major decisions made by the Commission this week include:

  • Approval of a preamble
  • Duties of the city manager
  • Appointment and responsibilities of the city attorney
  • Decision for seven-member council to be elected to ‘at-large’ seats

At its next meeting on February 23, 7pm, City Hall, the Commission will develop the role of the ‘dynamic mayor,’ in the proposed council-manager form of government, as well as recommendations for a beginning salary structure for manager, mayor and council. There will be a public comment period, and citizens are encouraged to learn more about the Commission

Media Contacts: Beth Wurtmann (518)321-4607 and Minita Sanghvi (336) 210-3258

Agenda for February 16

Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission

City Music Hall

7:00        Public Comment

7:15        Introductory remarks and approval of minutes

7:20        Discussion

  1. Discussion of council manager powers
  2. Discussion of Mayoral Powers
  3. Discussion of Strategic Plans, Comprehensive Plan language
  4. Districts versus at large
  5. other charter language

9:00       Adjourn

Reader’s View: Why a May 30 charter referendum?

By Bob Turner

February 11, 2017


On May 30, Saratoga Springs will hold a referendum on whether to approve a new charter for our fair city. Some people have asked why hold the charter referendum on May 3 instead of the city election in November.

Some have suggested that there is something unusual about holding a referendum on the charter separate from the city election. However, it is not unusual at all.

When the United States approved our Constitution, we did so in ratifying conventions that were separate from the normal elections.

A charter is not a Republican or Democratic issue, a liberal or conservative issue. It is a constitutional issue.

Holding the charter referendum during a city election means that the charter vote would get wrapped up into the personal and partisan conflicts of the city election.

We hold presidential, state, local and school board elections at different times. Why? We don’t want to overload voters by placing too many issues on the ballot at the same time.

At the November city election, the charter would have to compete for voters’ attention with five city council races, two county supervisor races, a judicial race and a statewide question on a Constitutional Convention.

Campaign spending is estimated to be approximately $750,000 in 2017. Local free media coverage would be difficult to come by since the media would have to report on the mayoral, finance commissioner, public works commissioner, public safety commissioner, account commissioner, and two county supervisor elections in addition to a statewide ballot question and a potential county referendum in addition to the city charter.

Moreover, in the 2017 city election, the charter referendum question would be on the back of the ballot. When the citizen initiative charter came before voters in 2012, more than 2,000 voters failed to turn the ballot over and vote on the Charter.

Why? They hadn’t heard anything about it.

Deciding whether to adopt a new charter is one of the most important decisions citizens can make. Holding the charter referendum on May 30 will give Saratogians more than three months to focus on the specific provisions of the charter, without the partisanship or personal politics that often characterize Saratoga Springs city elections.

It will be the dominant local political issue and will receive extensive media coverage and debate among the citizens. When we reviewed the media coverage of the 2006 and 2012 charter votes, it was dominated by discussions of the personalities on each side rather than the merits of the proposal.

Ask yourself, for those charter proposals, how many members were on the City Council? How long were the terms? How was the city attorney selected? How were citizen board appointments handled?

Why May 30, the Tuesday after Memorial Day? Originally, the Charter Review Commission proposed a date in April. Members of the City Council were concerned that some snowbirds might not be back by then and that an April date wouldn’t give voters enough time to study the issues.

In response to the Council’s concerns, the Charter Review Commission selected May 30. Primary nomination papers for the City Council start being circulated on June 7.

May 30 is the latest an election can be held while also allowing new candidates to choose to run for the City Council based on whether the charter referendum succeeds or fails.

Some opponents of charter reform have suggested that voters will not vote in a May charter referendum, comparing it to school board, library, or primary votes.

However, we know changing a city charter is different. Saratoga Springs’ voters are very educated and passionate about their city. They understand that deciding on a city’s charter is extremely important. We are very confident that there will be record turnout even higher than a city election. For more information on the charter, log on to

Robert Turner is chairman of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission.

Agenda for February 13

City Hall Council Chambers, Saratoga Springs:

7pm    Public Comment

7:15-9pm Discussion

  1. Discussion of language on council manager powers
  2. Review County Supervisor Language
  3. Review dates on capital budget timeline
  4. Discussion of internal audit language
  5. Districts versus at large
  6. Preamble
  7. Discussion of public meeting etc going forward

9pm Adjourn