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.
The writer is chair of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission.