Gazette Endorsement: Vote yes on Saratoga Springs charter change

New system would be more representative, responsible, efficient

Over the past couple of weeks, three major league baseball managers who led their teams to this year’s playoffs got fired.

Obvious success isn’t always a sign that all is well within the system.

So it is with the government system for Saratoga Springs, an archaic, unusual and largely abandoned form of government that was implemented to handle emergencies, not the day-to-day service of residents of a city.

It should be replaced with a more representative system that makes elected officials answerable to all city residents, while placing the day-to-day operation of the city under the authority of a professional manager who serves at the pleasure of that elected council.

In practicality, such a system is more representative, responsible and efficient.

Opponents of changing the form of government say it doesn’t need changing because the city is thriving in every aspect, including culture, business, development and financial health. Why mess with something that isn’t broken?

But the city’s current success isn’t built upon the form of government, but on an active and involved citizenry and a vibrant business community that care about the city and who offer their skills, expertise and money to make the city better.

The current crop of elected officials happens to be talented, level-headed and cooperative. But what about the past, when the city wasn’t the paragon of municipal government? What will happen in the future when the city can’t rely on the talented, dedicated, selfless individuals serving in those same positions?

Not withstanding the city’s successes, the current form of government puts too much power in the hands of individual commissioners serving narrow functions of government, asking them to manage their individual departments and also represent the city as a whole. The two functions are naturally at odds.

Every single social structure we have has someone at the top responsible for what goes on underneath, someone to both be accountable and to hold others accountable.

Corporations, government bodies, sports teams, social organizations, families, even beehives and wolf packs, all have top-down management systems.

The reason for that is that it is organizationally sound. It allows for better management of employees, more direct and accountable service to citizens, and better control for the representative elected board.
Imagine if your business had no one in charge, if the success of the company depended on each individual department functioning well on its own with no collective mission, no oversight and no guidance from above.

With the council-manager form of government, there is someone in charge, a single office door that someone can knock on with a complaint, a person who knows not just what goes on in their own department, but in all the departments. That individual can adapt resources and make changes to best serve the individual and collective needs of the citizens.

The city manager is not beholden to an individual government function, as current commissioners are, and the city manager’s success, and re-election chances, is not dependent on the successful operation of a single department.

These individual compartments are naturally isolated and often at odds with one another. But many government services are not that narrow in scope. They often require the work of multiple departments within the structure. A professional city manager responsible for all city services would help direct the efficient flow of services to ensure that residents are best served.

Well, you can say, if we have a problem in Saratoga Springs and we don’t know which department we need, we can always go to the mayor. But in the commission form of government, the mayor is a title that has no more executive powers or oversight of the city than any of the other commissioners. The only reason they didn’t name the job “Commissioner of Miscellaneous” is because it wouldn’t fit on the name plate.

This is an emergency-style government formed after a Texas hurricane that occurred in 1901 that’s based on immediate completion of tasks, not representative government designed to govern over the long term. When the emergency is over, you have to govern.

The current system has other flaws besides the narrow definition of functions.

It discourages people who want to serve as elected officials. That’s because to qualify for one of the commissioner positions, one must be heavily schooled in that field.

If you’re not experienced in fire and police matters, the commissioner of public safety job on the council is not for you. If you’re not intimately familiar with the daily operations of a public works department, you’ll have a hard time serving as commissioner of public works.

These skill sets are important for the heads of departments. But these individual silos of authority and responsibility significantly narrow the field of who can effectively serve on the city council, and therefore discourage people from running who can bring a broader base of experiences and talent to the council.

For those who believe the new form of government will be a panacea to all that’s wrong with the current form of government, it won’t be.

There’s not going to be a massive amount of savings from a switch, no matter how the supporters try to portray it.

Whatever structure of government is in place, tasks must get done. The city still will need a large number of civil servants to conduct the people’s business, to manage employees and carry out functions. There will still be the need for accountants and clerks and highway workers and police officers and firefighters and maintenance people and people to run city programs.

That won’t change whether the city has individual commissioners answerable to no one or a single city manager overseeing everyone.

And a new city manager won’t come cheap. The savings will be derived over the long-term through a reduction in redundancies and inefficiencies that come from having professional management in place.

This vote isn’t about saving money. It’s about responsiveness.

Saratoga Springs has been riding a wave of success. But don’t let that fool you into believing it’s due to the form of government.

City residents will be better served by a different form of government that’s professionally run, more democratic and responsive, and encourages more people to serve in elected office.

City residents should vote yes on the charter change proposal on Nov. 7.

Times Union Editorial Board: “Spa City charter: Vote yes”

Spa City charter: Vote yes

Published 9:34 pm, Wednesday, October 25, 2017



Saratoga Springs voters will consider a new form of government Nov. 7.


It’s an opportunity for both more professional management and more representative government.

Defenders of Saratoga Springs’ commission form of government like to quote the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” leaping past the real question: Is this system of government really working?

Some easily conclude that the commission form of government must be working or Saratoga Springs wouldn’t be the vibrant city it is today. One might wonder, though, how to explain all those less prosperous years before the city’s revival — decades when that same form of government was in place.

A more realistic reading of history suggests that it was in spite of that form of government that Saratoga Springs came back, thanks to a mix of entrepreneurial spirit and citizen engagement. Thanks to a foundation laid in the 1960s and ’70s not by a hidebound and parochial city government, frequently hobbled by infighting, but by local businesspeople and citizens who formed an action plan to reverse the city’s decline. Thanks to investors piqued by the early success of businesses that reflected the changing times, iconic bars like Tin & Lint and the counterculture mecca of Caffe Lena. It happened thanks to people who saw the untapped potential of the summertime crowds drawn to horse racing, springs, and the performing arts, and a growing, affluent student body at Skidmore College.

The commission form of government — long ago abandoned by most cities — isn’t all bad, and certainly plenty of capable, civic-minded people have served over the years. With its sometimes blurry division of authority, however, it presents too many opportunities for day-to-day city business to get caught up in petty politics.

Having part-time elected officials run their own fiefs without necessarily having any relevant expertise is not only unprofessional but wasteful — they in turn hire full-time deputies, who help oversee actual managers. Having department heads also serve as the city’s legislators muddies the proper checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches of government. It creates silos, each led by a commissioner often suspected of vote-trading.

The city’s Charter Review Commission, after 16 months of work, has produced a smart blueprint for change: a government whose day-to-day operations would be run by a professional city manager, reporting to an elected six-member council and mayor.

How much money this might save has been the subject of some dispute. Even if the savings is more modest than the commission estimates, though, there’s far more at stake here.

Right now, the only people who can afford to serve on this commission-style council are those financially secure enough to settle for a $14,500 salary. That may explain why the positions attract few candidates. The proposed new form of government would open the door for a true, part-time citizen legislature, one more reflective of the city’s growing, diverse population, to set policy and direction.

This is really about accountable, representative government. It’s about how democracy is supposed to work. A “yes” vote is best for Saratoga Springs.


Times Union letter: Spa City officials stand in way of charter panel’s efforts

Spa City officials stand in way of charter panel’s efforts

By Jeff Altamari, Commentary Published 4:59 pm, Monday, October 23, 2017

Saratoga Springs’ City Council has joined a resistance movement but not the one you may be thinking of.

The Charter Review Commission labored 15 months to recommend a better form of government for the city. They chose a “council-manager” model. It allows an elected political body to set strategy, and a professional nonpolitical manager to run daily city business. Right now, 5,878 municipalities embrace it. It abolishes the conflict and inefficiencies inherent in the current “commission” form of government, in which nonprofessional politicians rule five independent silos.

Once the Charter Review Commission agreed on the council-manager model, discussions ensued with the International City Managers Association, mayors, city managers and citizens living in council-manager cities. More than 20 city manager locations were examined. Thirteen of these were studied in-depth: five in New York, three in New Jersey, two in Pennsylvania, two in Massachusetts, and one in Vermont. Median populations were between 24,000 and 29,000, similar to Saratoga Springs.

In every instance, an experienced city manager supervised nine to 13 direct reports. These mirrored Saratoga Springs’ fire chief, police chief, finance director, human resource administrator, recreation director, IT manager, etc. In some cases, an assistant city manager was present. There were no silos or political commissioners, or deputies. It was clear Saratoga Springs could structure a similar “flat” organization, maintain strong public services and eliminate the compensation of the political commissioners and deputies. The city could enjoy better governance at lower cost.

Future estimates are very difficult. The Charter Review Commission carefully worded its financial report. It stated estimating future costs and savings are challenging, that it was making good faith efforts and these were merely estimates, not guarantees of future results. It said there was $400,000 of potential estimated future annual savings. It did not say these began day one.

It estimated onetime transition costs between $100,000 and $300,000. This all seemed reasonable.

Municipal Home Rule Law states that the commission should be free from political interference by the City Council, and that council approval is not required. Nonetheless, this month and last, three City Council members vigorously attacked the commission’s work. They demanded that the analysis account for all of the current commissioner and deputy hours — positions not existing in any council-manager model.

In fact, cities examined showed proportionally fewer total employees than Saratoga Springs. Why? Expert management under a single nonpolitical executive without “silos” is significantly more efficient than Saratoga Springs’ government — a fact confirmed by several city managers.

Three commissioners, who are running unopposed in November, don’t like this. They called the commission’s efforts “advocacy” and have refused to pay the money previously earmarked for the public education mailer required by law. The courts will no doubt honor the city’s obligation to reimburse the commission, but it’s unfortunate these council members chose such an unproductive path.

Why are they afraid of voters receiving the Charter Review Commission’s work prior to the election? Why, indeed?

Gazette Letter from former Commissioner McTygue

Spa City must have more accountability

Vote yes for new government

My decision to support the proposed changes to the Saratoga Springs City Charter should come as no surprise to those even paying minimal attention to the goings-on within City Hall over the past several years.

What used to be a system of political checks and balances within city government no longer exists.

City Hall has morphed into a system of self-preservation among a three-person majority alliance on the City Council. The result has been a series of bad public policy decisions that have cost our city dearly.

Four years ago, it was the city water connection fee scandal, whereby this “working majority” simply protected the Department of Public Works commissioner in his hour of need when caught giving the store away.

Again, it was the public policy be “dammed” when it came to the city’s long-standing regulations requiring all developers to pay into a city fund designed to help with long term water infrastructure improvements.

One year later, it was the scheme to swap a downtown city-owned parking lot for construction of a new EMS station on the city’s eastern ridge. Even in the face of strong public criticism, it was the City Council’s sheer ambivalence toward good public policy that almost lost the city a key Broadway parking lot and with it nearly $700,000 in value. What proved to be salvation for the city and its taxpayers, last year the New York State Attorney General blocked the transaction as being illegal.

It’s time to turn the page and adopt a new City Charter for Saratoga Springs. Vote “yes” on the new mayor/ manager/ city council form of government.

Thomas G. McTygue

Saratoga Springs

The writer is a former Saratoga Springs commissioner of public works.

TU: Debate rages as Saratoga Springs considers need for charter change

Ditching its commission is a divisive issue that could have major influence on future

Updated 10:37 am, Sunday, October 15, 2017

Saratoga Springs

Calling Saratoga Springs unique is like saying a thoroughbred is fast or a spa is soothing. It’s obvious.

But one aspect of that singularity — the way it governs itself — is something that could, after Nov. 7, be just another relic of history in a city that reveres its past.

Some say doing away with its commission form of government, part of a charter-change proposition on the ballot, could unshackle the city and make its arc of development and progress even greater. Others say that the setup giving individual commissioners broad powers, though an increasing rarity in America, has guided the city well and should continue.

As if that’s not a big enough decision, city residents will choose from two new mayoral contenders — who are themselves of different minds about a switch.

Democrat Meg Kelly wants a change.

“The city has no leadership – only a divided group of commissioners who have no reason to work together for the good of the city,” said Kelly, current deputy mayor. “I’m in there. I know.”

Her opponent, Republican Mark Baker, doesn’t believe there should be any changes and if elected he promised, “I can build consensus.”

For the 15 members of a Charter Review Commission, change is a no-brainer. After more than a year of study, which included interviews with former elected officials, city managers and mayors statewide as well as a survey of city workers, members concluded unanimously that there is good reason to replace a commission form of government with one run by a city manager whose job it is to realize the vision of the mayor and an expanded six-member council.

“It is not a historical accident that the number of cities with the commission form of government have dropped from 587 to 28 nationally,” said Bob Turner, chairman of the Charter Review Commission. “The current form of our city government lacks checks and balances. It’s mostly politics. Commissioners’ first obligation is to their own department, rather than the city at large. Because there is no chief executive to check individual departments … all too often the system degrades to where our commissioners are more focused on challenging each other and settling political scores than working to advance and benefit our city.”

Government experts agree. Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz, said it’s a choice between “a badly designed system run by good people or a well-designed system run by ordinary people.”

Commission governments were popular in the early part of the 20th century, but after a couple of decades, it became evident that a city manager was preferred, Benjamin said. “There were a couple of reasons. There is no executive center to the city. It also promoted logrolling. Commissioners would trade off votes. ‘You vote for my project and I’ll vote for yours.’ It was displaced in the 1920s because people wanted a government that could deliver services. With a commission government, there is not a strong overall discipline to deliver services.”

After a year of consideration and deliberation, the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County endorsed charter change, citing the commission system’s lack of both a chief officer and separation of powers between legislators and administrators.

A new group called It’s Time Saratoga was also established to promote change. Headed by retired state forester Rick Fenton, the group wants voters to check “yes” on the question: Shall the new city charter proposed by the city charter commission be adopted?

“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 discussions are more about turf battles than collaboration,” Fenton said.

But commission-form supporters insist that the city of almost 28,000 functions fine and can’t be compared to the other 559 cities that dropped their commissions. Any change, they believe, could upset the city’s star power as upstate New York’s most-prosperous community.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” said Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.

And a group called Saratogians United to Continue the Charter Essential for Saratoga’s Success, backs Scirocco.

“By all measures, the city is doing well,” said Richard Sellers, the group’s spokesman. “We like the accessibility and accountability of the commissioners. They are responsible and responsive to residents.”

The decision comes at a time when Saratoga Springs basks in its own light. Visitors to the racetrack topped 1 million this past season. It remains one of the wealthiest cities in the region by median household income, at $70,200. Broadway and surrounding streets continue to see growth.

In 2006, 62 percent of voters rejected charter change and in 2012, 58 percent did.

City manager’s role

Here’s what a yes vote for the charter would mean:

First, nothing would change until 2020. In the interim, a city manager would be hired at an estimated salary of $125,000. That person would serve at the pleasure of an expanded six-member City Council and mayor. The mayor and council would enact laws, set policy and define initiatives. The city manager would handle the day-to-day duties of running the city, ensuring the goals set by the council come to fruition.

Some have questioned how a city manager could replace the specialized knowledge of the current commissioners in accounts, finance, public safety and public works. Sellers said a city manager means “the most powerful person will not be elected.”

Earlier this month, Geneva City Manager Matt Horn spoke during a public forum at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to explain the role of a city manager. He said typically a city manager isn’t the most powerful person, nor would they know everything. But the city manager would consult department heads who are experts in their fields, Horn said.

More Information

What has the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission done since June 2016?

Held 35 full commission meetings, 40 subcommittee meetings, five town halls and public information sessions.

Interviewed 23 former and present City Council members.

Surveyed 182 potential City Council candidates about their willingness to run for office under the current charter vs. alternative charters.

Reviewed 30-plus studies, reports, and academic articles on best practices in municipal governance and effects of form of government.

Reviewed 15-plus city charters from upstate New York and more than 40 from other states.

“It’s an at-will position,” Horn said. “At the end of the day, if the City Council isn’t happy with me or residents aren’t happy with me, I got a 90-day severance package. The City Council is not my puppet. I work for the City Council.”

Seeing things get done in the city is an attractive idea to many because the list of uncompleted projects is long. They include a parking garage, a second city courtroom, an EMS station on the West Side, athletic fields and the Greenbelt Trail, including its link on Geyser Road. Many of the projects were voted on unanimously by the City Council.

Jeff Olson, a member of the Greenbelt Trail committee and a volunteer on many city projects, said he’s frustrated by the inability to coordinate commissioners, many of whom openly dislike each other, to complete projects.

“The only people who think things run well are the people who don’t have to deal with the city,” Olson said. Past mayors, except for Ken Klotz, agree on the need for charter change. Klotz called the commission form of government “creaky and cumbersome,” but he said the city should stick with what it knows because a city manager is “far from perfect.” There is a risk is in the change.

Business view

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Todd Shimkus believes the city’s success is not a byproduct of the government but one driven by private citizens. When the city fell on hard times in the 1960s and ’70s, he said the city dug itself out by a series of actions and investments that included establishing a Special Assessment District to improve the downtown business area and collaborating on projects with Skidmore College and the New York Racing Association. He said the Saratoga Springs City Center, the Holiday Inn and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center also spurred economic growth as did the creation of Saratoga Economic Development Corp. and the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.

“Local families led the way — Charles Wait, Marylou Whitney, the Roohans, the Tooheys, the Dakes, the Lewises and my predecessor Joe Dalton — invested time, ideas, energy and money,” Shimkus said. “Every one of those actions and many more were championed by those private citizens.”

Many of those private citizens, however, would never consider running for office. Charter Review Commission members interviewed 182 potential City Council candidates who say that, despite a desire to do so, they would not run for public office under the existing system. The full-time hours and the knowledge necessary to run a department with a salary of $14,500 under commission government is a responsibility too great to bear, they said. “The most transformative thing for the city would be opening up the political process to more participation,” Boyd said.

He points to the number of uncontested races in the city. All five elected officials’ seats are up, but only two have contested races – the mayor and the commissioner for public safety. Many of the seats go uncontested for years.

Under the proposed charter, seats would change from two-year terms to four and would be staggered. The charter commission also recommends that the mayor’s salary rise from $14,500 to $40,000 because the role demands many hours each week. The six council members would still earn $14,500, but their benefits would be eliminated.

In the end, the charter commission believes the city would save $403,000 each year. Much of that savings, members say, comes from the elimination of deputy commissioners who cost the city $568,00 per year. The commission’s fiscal analysis was conducted by CPA Jeff Altamari. Altamari also estimated transition costs would be from $100,000 to $300,000.

For opponents, this is the biggest point of contention. The most vocal is the Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, who promised to remain neutral on the charter last spring, but couldn’t contain his displeasure with the fiscal analysis, which he believes overestimates savings if the city votes for change.

Franck’s analysis says the savings, at best, would be about $114,173 each year. Franck, who is also a CPA, estimates that transition costs would top $150,000. He also believes that the city could not let go of the deputy commissioners who he believes are irreplaceable when considering the number of hours they put in running the city.

Franck also refused to pay for the mailing the charter commission, by law, must send to all voters. And by law, the city is supposed to pay for it. Boyd and Altamari paid $9,000 out of their own funds with hopes of being reimbursed.

“What are they afraid of?” Altamari asked.

This addresses the final reason why the Charter Review Commission feels that a yes vote is vital. City finances have little outside oversight. Aside from a state comptroller’s audit every three or four years and an annual review by an independent auditor, there are no independent internal audits. Altamari said that leaves the city open to inefficiency, abuse and fraud.

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan said her office conducts the internal audits on its books on an as-needed basis.

“It works well for a city our size,” she said, adding that the city has a Standard and Poor’s AA+ bond rating and was upgraded by Moody’s in December 2016.

“Saratoga Springs has an excellent bond rating,” said Jane Weihe of SUCCESS. “It is illogical to claim this city is mismanaged. The only way proponents have been able to try to convince the public of an urgent need to go through the long disruptive and expensive change of governments is by misusing and cherry-picking data.”

While it has become highly politicized, the charter review was envisioned as a straightforward process, a byproduct of the city’s current charter, which calls for a review of the city’s defining document every 10 years by an independent body appointed by the mayor.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen formed the present commission in 2016, appointing 11 of the 15 members. She asked each of the four commissioners to appoint one member. The mayor and the commissioners were then to step back and allow the commission to work without political interference.

While it has not worked out that way, Yepsen said voters will make the ultimate decision.

She hopes they side with change.

“We can’t continue at this pace,” Yepsen said. “There are so few who want to run because of the overwhelming time of running a department and low pay. I don’t see that changing so we need to change. Separating legislative from administration makes sense to me in 2017.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen is the only commissioner to side with the mayor.

“Right now there are too many inherent conflicts of interest,” Mathiesen said. “We have a government with five people with way too much power. It’s ridiculous to run a city like that.” • 518-454-5445 •@wendyliberatore



Gazette Letter by Raymond Watkin, former Mayor

Need charter

change to break up


Vote ‘yes’ on Charter

Some members of the Saratoga Springs City Council are showing their true colors behind a smokescreen of phony concern for the taxpayer.

The city’s Charter Review Commission has developed a thoughtful approach to reforming city government. Development, failing infrastructure, overdue public safety facilities, and spot-zoning in residential areas are affecting the city. The petty disputes that are daily business on the City Council have prevented a coordinated response to a host of needs. Recently, two council member/commissioners spent more than 45 minutes disputing each other about dog licenses. Professional management is needed.

The Charter Commission’s fiscal estimate is a reasonable and reliable benchmark for voters to evaluate the cost of change. Moreover, the commission is required by state law to provide this information to the voters, no matter what the incumbent council members might say. If we voters approve the new charter on Nov. 7, the next administration will have clear sailing to save the taxpayer more than $400,000 a year.

How did it come about that Commissioners John Franck (D), Skip Scirocco (R) and Michele Madigan (D) — all of whom are unopposed for re-election — are taking the same negative position on the charter? They are in a state of distress that their fiefdoms, and the rigged elections they have arranged for each other, will all come to an end with a new form of government.

Mr. Franck promised last winter that if the charter referendum was moved from May to November, he would remain “neutral.” Now that he has broken his word on that, how can his views be trusted on the fiscal estimate?

The proposed city council/manager charter will break up the politics at City Hall, assure competitive elections, and open the door for greater participation by motivated citizens of all parties. The Madigan-Scirocco-Franck monopoly on political power will end.

I urge my fellow Saratoga Springs residents to vote yes for a new charter and a more Democratic way of doing the public’s business in City Hall.

Raymond Watkin

Saratoga Springs

The writer is the former mayor.

Saratogian: Letter from Thomas McTygue, former Commissioner

Changing Charter Will Add Checks and Balances

October 6, 2017

What we’ve seen with Saratoga Springs city government over the past several years should be reason enough for city residents to support the new City Charter and with it a new form of City Council governance.

Many reasons have been thoroughly detailed by the City’s Charter Commission for changing to a more representative and efficient form of government for Saratoga Springs. In recent years, under the current form of government, its been one bad decision after another. The inside dealing and the lack of real political checks and balances within city government should be reason enough for city residents to turn away from our current form. Let’s look at the record.

The City Council’s decision to dump the city’s long-standing policy on charging new building construction a water connection fee to help cover the costs of important and future improvements to the city’s water system is a dramatic example of the current system lacking adequate checks and balances. Dumping that program and then passing that burden onto the backs of city taxpayers in the form of new sky-rocketing water fees was another example of putting Council member’s personal political needs ahead of doing what’s right for the city and it’s taxpayers.

As a result, we are still awaiting the report from the New York State Comptroller’s investigation concerning the DPW Commissioner’s flagrant abuse in granting of nearly $1 million in connection fees without City Council’s knowledge or authorization.

That policy decision along with the City Council’s inept decision to swap a valuable downtown municipal parking lot for construction of a emergency services station on the outer east side, a decision that was ultimately blocked by the New York State Attorney General for being illegal, was another classic failure under the current system, costing huge sums of money in legal fees and lost time.

These two failures in public policy alone should serve as a modern-day indictment of the current form of government.

As the city’s former Commissioner of Public Works, I had the honor of serving 32 years in elective office as a member of the City Council. I have a fairly good idea how the current form of government operates, having served with 8 different Mayors and 14 different Commissioners. In the past, I supported the current Commission form of government and for good reason. Very simply, we generally worked together and got things done.

What used to work as a system of checks and balances today has been replaced by the sheer personal politics of a “working majority” or a “gang-of-three” that has gamed the system and ruled the City Council with impunity. They have rigged the system to the point whereby a majority of the City Council is running unopposed in November. To further secure their incumbency, they have even gone so far as to put the Chairman of the “Independence Party” on the public payroll, thus guaranteeing an advantage with an additional line on the election ballot.

Very simply, the business of city government today has degenerated into personal fiefdoms and political alliances that have not served this city well.

On November 7 bring real accountability back to City Hall and vote “yes” on a new City Charter.

Thomas G. McTygue

Saratoga Springs

The author was Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Works from 1972 to 1978 and 1982 to 2008.

Charter Review Commission to Mail Charter Education Information Material to Voters

October 3, 2017

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission mailed its charter education materials to 10,000 households today.  The information packet contains a summary of the new charter, the complete text of the proposed Charter, and a financial analysis of the impact of the proposed change on the city budget.

Bob Turner, the chair of the Commission, said, “We are an independent citizen commission whose only goal is to provide voters with the information necessary for them to make an informed decision. We are legally required by the state under New York Municipal Home Rule Law Section 36 to ‘provide for such publication or other publicity in respect to the provisions of the proposed charter or amendments as it may deem proper’.”

The Commission voted 8-0 at their most recent meeting to include a financial disclosure summary.  “With all the public attention to our proposal and its fiscal impact, we are pleased to get this information to the voters so they can see for themselves the estimated fiscal savings (about $400,000 annually) that will come from a change to a City Council/Manager form of government,” said Jeff Altamari, who was the primary author of the financial disclosure document.

Gordon Boyd, who is the Commission Treasurer, said, “Members of commission have paid for the mailing themselves and will request reimbursement from the city for our personal out-of-pocket costs. This mailing is a legitimate and legally required obligation of the Commission under State law.”

Ann Bullock, a commission member and attorney, said, “NY Municipal Home Rule Law Section 36 establishes the procedures for how the city charter review process is governed.  At its core is the principle that the commission should be independent from political interference from the City Council.”   On February 21, 2017, the City Council voted 5-0 to approve a $20,000 budget for public education and outreach.

On November 7th, city voters will be asked to vote Yes or No on the ballot question “Shall the new city charter proposed by the city charter commission be adopted?”

Gazette Letter to the Editor: Charter Change will get Better Candidates

Charter will only improve election choices

On Nov. 7, I will be voting “yes” on charter change for the city of Saratoga Springs, and I hope you will too. For me, it’s all about the quality of our democracy.

Under our old system, elected commissioners must be both lawmakers and administrators, all on a part-time salary. This narrows the field of potential candidates to a small club. Few people with full-time jobs or young families can afford to run. No wonder three of the five city offices are uncontested in this year’s election.

If we adopt the new charter, these responsibilities will be separated. Administration will be done by a professional city manager who is chosen by a city board of seven dedicated lawmakers. These dedicated lawmakers will then be free to focus on the important decisions about our city’s future.

Many cities before us have made this change and proven that the new charter will increase the number of talented citizens, from many different walks-of-life, willing and able to stand for office. Our elections will be competitive and Saratogians will have the healthy democracy we deserve.

The potential of our city is incredible, and by improving the quality of our democracy, we directly unleash the source of that potential: our people.


Saratoga Springs

Saratogian: Spa City commission holding ‘Meet the Manager’ night on Monday


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission is holding the first of three “Meet the Manager” nights on Monday, Oct. 2, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the H. Dutcher Community Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.

The event will feature a short presentation by Matt Horn, the city manager of Geneva, New York. He will then answer questions from the public.

“I think this is a great opportunity for voters to hear for themselves what a city manager does and ask the hard questions,” Laura Chodos said in a news release.

Commission Chair Bob Turner said, “The Charter Review Committee is committed to providing citizens with as much information as possible and educating the public about how the proposed council manager system would work.”

Voters can email questions for the city managers in advance to

The event will also be livestreamed on the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission facebook page and a video will be available on the city website at a later date.

Under the proposed charter, the mayor and city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council would hire a highly trained, non partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery, the release said.

Managers would serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council. Under the proposed charter, the city council would hire the city manager. The city manager would replace the deputy commissioners as the day-to-day operations manager of the city.

The measure to change the charter will be on the Nov. 7 ballot.