By LUCAS WILLARD • September 29, 2017
The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission is now sending information to homes in the Spa City about the proposed city charter on the ballot Election Day. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was at the Commission’s meeting Thursday night when the documents were approved.
Materials about the proposed city charter in Saratoga Springs are in the mail.
The Charter Review Commission’s plan, if approved on election day, would change Saratoga Springs’ governing structure from its current commission-style to a more common council-manager style.
In 2020, Saratoga Springs would go from a system where five department heads also serve as city legislators, to a seven-member city council that includes a mayor, and a separate full-time city manager appointed by the council.
Charter Review Commission Chair Bob Turner stood by the effort of all those involved over the past several months.
“We’ve spoken to well over a hundred, 150 people formally and informally over parties, on the streets, in coffeehouses about what they think about city government, what their hopes are for the future, and what we can do to make Saratoga Springs even better,” said Turner. “And their drive, really, to make it better is what was always motivating us throughout the entire, almost two-year process.”
Thursday night, the Charter Review Commission approved a more detailed financial review of the charter reform plan after backlash from some members of the city council and the public.
Originally, a one-page financial snapshot showed a savings from the proposed charter of $391,000. The longer financial review estimates a $403,000 savings, but also includes additional disclaimers about potential costs not included in the one-page version.
“And people will be getting a seven-page detailed version that they can read. There’s, I think, a lot of disclaimers in there about it. But I think we feel confident that it is a reasonable estimate of what this will cost in the short-run and some estimates about the long-run as well.”
Opponents of the proposed charter have questioned the financial review’s assessment of the role of the city’s deputy commissioners. Nearly $600,000 in cost reductions are attributed to the removal of the five full-time deputy commissioners.
The financial assessment does include a disclaimer:
“The existing Deputy Commissioners or their designees shall continue to serve in their department management functions until the City Manager’s appointment is effective, at which time they shall serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.”
The assessment also mentions that transition costs could vary from $100,000 to $300,000, but says it is impossible to know how long a transition could take.
Richard Sellers, a supporter of the group called SUCCESS, which backs the current form of government, believes the costs will be much higher.
“The most important thing is not one page versus seven, it’s the flawed thinking in the document, whether it’s one page or seven,” said Seller. “One or two people cannot do the work of eight or nine, so there’s a $600,000 cost increase for moving to the city manager form of government.”
Former Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, who served under former Republican Mayor Scott Johnson for six years, questioned the Commission as to why former deputies were not surveyed.
“Interview the former deputies. Because these deputies spent, as I said, thousands of hours working here. And they know how the government and structure basically works,” said Sutton.
The Commission chose to interview several past elected leaders. The Commissionalso gathered input from 75 current city employees.
While a majority of respondents said the appointed deputies showed respect for city employees, attitudes toward assistance in problem solving and decision making ability were mixed.
Some deputies, including Sutton, have also served as staffers on their commissioners’ political campaigns.
The financial analysis is based on the elimination of all current commissioners and deputies. It does not account for future hires. The Charter Review Commission anticipates that legislative and policy work currently performed by deputies and commissioners would be absorbed by the new seven-member city council.