New group pushes for change in city
charter; hosts library meetings
A group of Saratoga Springs residents, including current and former mayors, has joined to form a new organization called, It’s Time Saratoga! The organization’s mission is to help educate city voters about why their support for the new city charter, developed by the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission, is needed to ensure a vibrant future for Saratoga Springs.
“Our name says it all,” said Rick Fenton, spokesperson for the group. “We enthusiastically agree that it’s time for a new city charter. Saratoga Springs is growing and changing. To keep up, our city government must be equipped to meet the demands of a modern city – land use planning, management of infrastructure, energy, transportation and parking, emergency services, environmental protection and affordable housing. Our outdated commission form of government just isn’t serving residents, businesses, or city staff the way it should,” he said.
It’s Time Saratoga! will host an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 in the Sussman Room in the Saratoga Springs Public Library on Henry Street.
The new organization invites everyone who can help by walking door-to-door, hosting an informational meeting in their home, making a donation or putting up a lawn sign.
Under Saratoga’s existing charter, the mayor and four commissioners serve both as members of the city council and supervisors of city departments.
“Nobody is in charge,” Fenton said. “City staff are divided into five separate departments supervised by politicians of different parties. When council members don’t get along, the people in their departments don’t work together. City council discussion are more about turf battles than collaboration. With benefit of group discussion, department decisions are made by the elected department head alone, out of the public eye. Government actions lack transparency and accountability, services suffer, projects are delayed and cost more.”
With the new charter, the elected city council will retain complete control over all major policy and legislative decisions, including the budget and taxes, but responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of city operations will be transferred to a professional city manager.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen thinks the change is needed.
“Our commission form of government prevents many of the talented people in our community from even considering running for a city council position. Under the new charter, people from currently under-represented neighborhoods, more people with jobs and families, and more women will run and be elected. We will have more competitive races, and a greater diversity of voices in city government,“ she said. “Going back to 1915, only seven women have ever had a seat on our city council. We’ve never had a woman for commissioner of accounts or public safety, and only one woman as commissioner of public works in the 1940s.”
A.C. Riley, Saratoga Springs supervisor from 1980 to 1987, and mayor from 1990 to 1995, agreed.
“Managing the city isn’t a job for amateurs,” Riley said. “Everything in our world is getting more complex, including local government. In the old days, most people could fix their own cars, or the kitchen sink. How many people can do that today? We call a professional, someone with training and expertise, so we get good results. Under the new charter, that professional will be our city manager, who will be the leader of all city departments. Our elected city council will make all the important decisions, and direct the manager to carry them out. The charter will require the manager to be educated and experienced in how to read and carry out laws and regulations, how to develop and manage a budget, and how to negotiate with unions. The council will rely on the manager to direct several projects at once and get things done on time.”
Former Mayor Raymond Watkin previously opposed charter change, but now sees things differently.
“I look forward to supporting the campaign to adopt a new city charter,” Watkin said. “Our city government is unable to keep up with the demand for services from our growing community. In-fighting and a ‘me-first’ attitude among the commissioners has prevented progress on meeting infrastructure, public safety and community needs.”
More information is available at the group’s website, www.itstimesaratoga.com, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saratoga Springs voters will have a chance to vote on the proposed new city charter in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The question will be on the back of the ballot.