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