Saratogian: Spa City charter referendum language finalized

 

Spa City charter referendum language finalized; outreach plans made

POSTED: 

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.>> The Saratoga Springs Charter Commission has formally adopted the language that will appear on November’s ballot and is making plans for community outreach for the vote.

The question on the Nov. 7 ballot will read: “Shall the new city charter proposed by the city charter commission be adopted?” The precise wording of the ballot question is governed by state municipal home rule.

The Charter Review Commission, as required by state law, had to submit the language to Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, who in turn submits it to the Saratoga County Board of Elections which is responsible for preparing the ballots.

A change in the city charter must be approved by voters in a referendum. There will also be three statewide referendums on the same ballot that will run alongside the city charter question.

Besides voting to put the referendum on the proposed charter before voters Nov. 7, the Charter Review Commission recently discussed its public education campaign for the fall.

State guidelines for changing charters suggest various methods of public education. Those include sending voters a narrative that spells out the main features and merits of the new charter and explain why each provision was proposed.

The commission decided to send out an informational mailing that will include a summary of the charter, a financial analysis and the full version of the charter to all voting households in the city.

“We want every citizen to have the opportunity to read the charter and educate themselves. The City Council in February unanimously allocated $20,000 for voter outreach,” said Commission Treasurer Gordon Boyd. “Reaching more than 10,000 households in the city, on a per household basis, $2 per household is not a great expense for something as fundamental to our future as the City Charter.”

The Charter Review Commission also discussed their plans for voter education.

“We want to talk with as many citizens as possible,” said Laura Chodos.

The commission has scheduled public forums on the charter at the Unitarian Church at noon on Sunday, Sept. 17, a League of Women Voters Meeting at the Saratoga Springs Public Library on Wednesday, September 21 at 7 p.m. and two “Meet a City Manager” nights on Mondays, Oct. 2 and 18. Details can be found on the Commission’s website at saratogacharter.com.

Those interested in learning more about the charter can invite a Charter Review Commission member to give a presentation, email questions to saratogaspringscharter@gmail.com, or follow the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission on Facebook.

http://www.saratogian.com/government-and-politics/20170828/spa-city-charter-referendum-language-finalized-outreach-plans-made

Saratoga Today: City Commissioner Urges Charter Change

Saratoga Today Illustor

THURSDAY, 24 AUGUST 2017 17:02

Citizens of the City of Saratoga Springs will have the opportunity on November 7 to vote for a change in their form of local government. I am advocating for this change.

Saratoga Springs has had a commission form of government since the city was first incorporated in 1915. At that time, this approach to local government had become quite popular.

In our city, a group of five businessmen came together to form the City Council.  They took responsibility for oversight of the operation of a city with a population of approximately 12,000, while they continued to operate their businesses and practice their professions. Each council member functioned both as executives and as legislators, serving as mayor and as commissioners of public works, public safety, accounts and finance.

As we fast-forward to today, the commission form of government has fallen out of favor across the country. Very few cities and only two in New York State (Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville) continue to operate under this form of government.

Saratoga Springs has gone from a small, surprisingly corrupt summer resort town in 1915 to a city of nearly 28,000 people with a year-round, vibrant economy. The governing of all American cities and towns has become much more complex than was the case in 1915. Many cities with a population similar to that of Saratoga Springs are successfully operating with a professional manager in charge of the daily governmental functions and a separate city council of elected members.

Three times in the past 11 years, different independent committees have been established to examine the commission form of government as it continues to operate.  All three groups came to the conclusion that in order to have a city government that operated with adequate efficiency, minimal political interference and maximum transparency and citizen participation, the commission form of government should be replaced. Two of the three groups recommended the city manager/city council option.

There are no absolutely right or wrong ways to run a city. There are advantages and disadvantages to each form.

Having said that, I am unaware of any city that has ever decided to go back to the commission form of government after they had abandoned it. Why would any citizen want to go back to a local government where very few citizens could even consider running for a seat on the council due to the ridiculously complex nature of each office?  Why would voters want to return to a system where the executive and legislative responsibilities of their representatives conflict and undermine their ability to make rational choices on Election Day? Why would anyone support a local government filled with redundancy and unnecessary political conflict?

I am now serving in my third and last term as Commissioner of Public Safety. We have accomplished a lot and I continue to be impressed with all the city employees whom I have encountered and who work so hard each day to serve the citizens. I would tell you that, despite the claims of the group SUCCESS, the success of Saratoga Springs has been achieved in spite of, not because of, the commission form of government.

The more our citizens begin to understand the commission form of government, the less they will like it and the more ready they will be to accept the recommendations of the 15 members of our Charter Review Commission. 

Please vote “yes” for charter change on November 7.

Chris Mathiesen

Commissioner of Public Safety

Gazette Letter from Former Saratoga Springs Mayor

Put citizens in charge of Spa government

By A.C. RILEY

The writer is a former Saratoga Springs mayor and county supervisor.

We who live in Saratoga Springs are blessed to have many valuable private and non-profit institutions that contribute to our quality of life and the economic benefit of our city.

These include industries that provide employment, popular entertainment venues, good restaurants, our churches, youth activities, Skidmore College, human service providers, and many more. We need to bond together to be sure we can maintain that good environment.

I encourage all citizens to review the new proposal that will change our form of government from the commission system.

This is where the City Council is made up of five elected department heads, one of whom is the mayor, to a seven member policy-making City Council.

This council will be made up of citizens who will represent our point of view when decisions are made about what direction the city government should pursue. They won’t have the responsibility for managing a department.

Pretty much every local government endeavor has changed to be such more complex and move faster than it did when we were a young city 100 years ago.

Our government needs an administrative manager who can carry out the policies set by our citizen council, with training in personnel management, allocation of resources and budgeted funds, interaction with other levels of government, and compliance with the current laws of the land.

Citizen leadership in policy, with professional management that answers to the council and carries out those policies, will provide the best and most economical services that we require.

Many more of our citizens will be able to consider the public service of running for the City Council when they do not also have to manage a department — their job will be only to make the decisions about policy, as our citizens wish.

We will have a much broader, varied pool ready to serve.

The proposed staggered four-year terms will provide for new blood from time to time, but always members with knowledge of what went before.

In a phrase, it’s time, Saratoga. In November, vote yes for charter change — You’ll be glad you did.

LINK: https://dailygazette.com/article/2017/08/05/put-citizens-in-charge-of-spa-government

Times Union Letter from Former Mayor A.C. Riley

Charter government would serve the Spa City well

Published 4:49 pm, Monday, August 14, 2017

Voters in Saratoga Springs will have the opportunity, the privilege, and the responsibility this November to vote to change our 100-year-old form of government.

Today, members of our City Council have to serve both as legislators, making all the major decisions affecting the city, and as supervisors of entire city departments. Not many people are willing to take on both jobs for part-time pay. This year, for example, three out of five candidates are running unopposed.

The new charter will give us a seven-member elected council, one of whom is the mayor. One of the major improvements in the new charter is the inclusion of an appointed professional city manager to oversee the daily operations of government at the direction of the council. Instead of five separate departments divided among five elected officials, the manager will see to it that everyone at City Hall works together. The mayor will retain the responsibility to appoint members of various boards and commissions with the approval of the council, and will continue to be the titular head of the city government. The manager will work closely with the mayor and council and provide regular progress reports.

With the responsibilities of department supervision transferred to the manager, council members will be able to focus fully on making policy about the direction our city should go in the many areas where there are decisions to make. We have many good, caring, able citizens who might run for these seats who do not want to manage a department. Our policymaking council would be made up of our friends and neighbors.

Under the new charter, the only staff changes will be at the executive level. Present staff will continue to do their work, with some changes in reporting lines and organizational structure. This change in form will not result in a reduction of the city workforce, as some skeptics have suggested.

http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Charter-government-would-serve-the-Spa-City-well-11818422.php

Gazette Letter to the Editor by Commission Treasurer Gordon Boyd

New Spa government will improve the city

Vote ‘yes’ on the charter

Letter To The Editor | August 8, 2017
Some of Saratoga Springs’ longest tenured residents have been speaking up against the proposed change in the city charter. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they say. “You newcomers just don’t know how the system works.”

Well, if that were true, we would have had a parking garage near the City Center more than 10 years ago, when the idea was first broached.

We would have had a public safety and emergency services building to serve thousands of residents and visitors east of the Northway. Instead, in both cases, all we have now is a bunch of court cases. Also, our water system might not be showing signs of stress, having been outpaced by growth and development.

The old-timers tell you they know how to get things done, but what they really mean is that they know how to stop almost any innovation they don’t like by pushing one or more politicians’ buttons.

City employees told the Charter Review Commission they spend too much time dealing with political conflict between departments, frustrating completion of their assigned duties.

Under the proposed charter, the City Council will have the responsibility to set priorities.

The manager they hire will be charged with carrying them out under a unified administrative structure just like the ones that every other local government in New York state has, except Mechanicville, which is like ours.

The governmental structure we seek in the proposed charter is one that promotes efficiency, accountability and savings to the taxpayer.

I have lived here more than 45 years. I will be voting yes for a new City Charter on Nov. 7 and urging my friends to do so as well.

Gordon Boyd
Saratoga Springs
The writer is a member of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission.

Gazette: Charter Change Proposal Debated

Charter change proposal debated

Pros and cons of new form of gov’t discussed

 August 4, 2017
BY NED CAMPBELL Gazette Reporter

Jane Weihe defended the city’s century-old form of government Thursday by telling a story of a friend whose leaves weren’t being picked up by city workers.

Her friend called the Department of Public Works, someone answered, and she was told crews were busy paving in front of a local school and workers would pick up the leaves the next week.

“Good luck getting that fast and clear an answer from a city manager who was hired and works for a council that’s elected every four years,” Weihe said during a debate on the Charter Review Commission’s proposed charter, which would replace the current commission form with a council-city manager system.

Bob Turner, a Skidmore College political science professor who chairs the review commission, had his own story to tell.

“This city works great if you’re in the club,” he said. “If you’re connected, you get taken care of.”

He spoke of a neighbor who’s been pestering the Department of Public Works for 18 months, trying to get crews to remove a stump that’s on city property in front of his house.

“‘If I make a big fuss, then it’s never going to happen,’” he recalled the neighbor saying. “And you could go to any of the other commissioners, and they’re powerless.”

The debate was hosted by the Saratoga County Young Democrats in the Saratoga Springs Public Library. About 60 people attend. It was meant to be informative and educational, said Dan Barusch, the group’s president.

Whether the city’s form of government changes will be up to voters in November.

Barusch, 27, said the group has no position on the charter — not yet, anyway.

“That’s one of the other reasons we’re having it, to inform ourselves,” he said.

The debate featured three supporters and three detractors. Speaking in favor of a change were Turner; Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who appointed the 15-member commission to study the charter last June; and commission member Bah-ram “BK” Keramati. Those defending the current form were Weihe and Richard Sellers, who are both members of the Saratoga Springs SUCCESS group; and Michele Boxley, who served as deputy accounts commissioner for nearly five years.

The proposed form of government would eliminate the five deputy positions and replace them with a city manager to run the city’s operations. He or she would be hired based on educational background and experience, Turner said.

“It’s really quite normal for a deputy to run a campaign,” Turner said of the current system. “There’s no experience required — there’s no educational requirement.”

Instead of having four commissioners and a mayor make up the council, there would be a mayor and six council members. The council members would no longer receive health care, as the commissioners do now.

“Instead of having five CEOs, you now have one,” Turner said.

Turner argued that the commission form is outdated and uncommon, and said Mechanicville is the only other city in the state with a commissioner form of government. Boxley asked for proof that the council-manager system has been successful elsewhere. She pointed to Saratoga Springs as having the second lowest tax rate in the state.

“It’s never worked as well as our form of government has worked,” she said.

Sellers pointed to a bigger city finding success under the commission form.

“It’s not us and Mechanicville that’s so interesting,” he said. “It’s us and Portland, Oregon.”

Dennis Bouchard, a city resident, asked, “Who’s going to do the work of these four commissioners and the work of these five full-time deputies?”

Keramati responded by comparing city government, in its current form, to a kitchen with too many cooks.

“They’re all good cooks … but they get in each other’s way,” he said.

Boxley argued that deputies have an important job — to execute their commissioner’s “strategic plan” for the benefit of the voters.

“While it may slow down the city union employee who’s paid to be there for those hours no matter what gets accomplished, it’s up to the deputy to make sure that strategic plan is executed,” she said.

Gazette Letter by A.C. Riley: Put Citizens in Charge of Spa Government

Put citizens in charge of Spa government

We who live in Saratoga Springs are blessed to have many valuable private and non-profit institutions that contribute to our quality of life and the economic benefit of our city.

These include industries that provide employment, popular entertainment venues, good restaurants, our churches, youth activities, Skidmore College, human service providers, and many more. We need to bond together to be sure we can maintain that good environment.

I encourage all citizens to review the new proposal that will change our form of government from the commission system.

This is where the City Council is made up of five elected department heads, one of whom is the mayor, to a seven member policy-making City Council.

This council will be made up of citizens who will represent our point of view when decisions are made about what direction the city government should pursue. They won’t have the responsibility for managing a department.

Pretty much every local government endeavor has changed to be such more complex and move faster than it did when we were a young city 100 years ago.

Our government needs an administrative manager who can carry out the policies set by our citizen council, with training in personnel management, allocation of resources and budgeted funds, interaction with other levels of government, and compliance with the current laws of the land.

Citizen leadership in policy, with professional management that answers to the council and carries out those policies, will provide the best and most economical services that we require.

Many more of our citizens will be able to consider the public service of running for the City Council when they do not also have to manage a department — their job will be only to make the decisions about policy, as our citizens wish.

We will have a much broader, varied pool ready to serve.

The proposed staggered four-year terms will provide for new blood from time to time, but always members with knowledge of what went before.

In a phrase, it’s time, Saratoga. In November, vote yes for charter change — You’ll be glad you did.

A.C. RILEY

Saratoga Springs

The writer is a former Saratoga Springs mayor and county supervisor.

Times Union Letter by Barb Thomas: Charter model will unify Spa City’s government

Charter model will unify Spa City’s government

Opponents of the proposed new charter for the city of Saratoga Springs are fond of saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s like the owner of a children’s swing, who notices that a rope is wearing through, deciding to put off replacement till it wears through completely.

We have had the same commission form of government for slightly more than 100 years, through good times, depressions, empty storefronts, organized crime and corruption, and, right now, good times again. That makes it hard to say that our current good fortune is a result of the government’s structure.

But we do notice a fraying of the rope. As our society becomes more complex, the services we need from government don’t fit neatly into one particular commissioner’s fiefdom so that, where there should be cooperation, there is bickering. One example: the lack of a human resources department to provide career ladders for all qualified employees. The city’s own employees, to whom we in the Charter Review Commission listened, can speak to the fraying of the rope.

Switching to the proposed charter with its city council-city manager form of government will unify the administration under one manager responsible to all the members of the council and make this an even better city.

A survey of city employees and the full text of the proposed charter is at www.saratogacharter.com.

BARBARA THOMAS Member, Charter Review Commission Saratoga Springs

Gazette Letter to the Editor by Commission Chair Bob Turner

August 2, 2017
The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission did not make its decision to propose a new charter lightly. The 15-member citizen nonpartisan commission spent seven months assessing how the city government is working.
We interviewed 23 former and present City Council members about how well they thought the commission form of government is working. We interviewed department heads, former deputy commissioners, and surveyed City Hall employees to understand their perspectives on how the charter affects their ability to perform their jobs. We also conducted extensive individual interviews with local business leaders, non profits, consultants that work closely with the city. We also surveyed 182 potential City Council candidates about their willingness to run for office under the current charter vs. alternative charters.
After we finished our draft charter, we embarked on a listening phase to find out how we could make our charter better. We held two town meetings, met with area business leaders, city hall employees, former Charter Review Commission members, and city attorneys. We received highly detailed emails and had countless conversations from the public. We made more than 20 large and small changes on issues ranging from the city council salary and benefits, city attorney, county supervisors, civil service, audits, and transparency to name a few.
After 14 months, 36 full open-to-the-public commission meetings, 40 subcommittee meetings, three town halls and public information sessions, and innumerable conversations with citizens, the citizen Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission voted to put a new city charter on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The number of cities with the commission form of government has declined from 500 to 28. The commission system is a remnant of the corrupt machine politics of the early 1900s. Saratoga Springs is a leading 21st century global city that can do better than an antiquated system from 100 years ago.
Bob Turner
Saratoga Springs
The writer is chair of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission.

Agenda for August 22

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission will meet at City Hall on August 22, room TBA.

7:00-7:15pm Public Comment

7:15-7:20 pm Approval of Minutes, Chair Report

7:20-8:30 pm Discussion of Voter Education Mailing including:

  1. A brief summary of the Proposed Charter
  2. A Fiscal Impact Statement
  3. The complete Proposed Charter.

8:30-9 Discussion of Public Education Efforts