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