Decision on city charter should come before Thanksgiving
Updated 5:16 pm, Wednesday, November 8, 2017

SARATOGA SPRINGS – City residents will have to wait another two weeks before they know the fate of the city’s 100-year-old commission form of government.

With a difference of only 48 votes from the polls on Tuesday – 4,202 for change and 4,154 to preserve the current government structure – the vote will be decided by the 711 absentee ballots issued, which will be counted by the Saratoga County Board of Elections beginning Tuesday, Nov. 14.

John Marcellus, Republican deputy commissioner with the county board of elections, said every absentee ballot will be opened and counted. A total of 519 have been returned, but more could come in. As long as they were postmarked by Nov. 6, they will be included in the count. Military ballots have until Monday, Nov. 20, to be received.

“We will check and recheck the numbers and we will be done whenever we are done,” Marcellus said. “Hopefully, that will be before Thanksgiving.”

But the wait, after such a heated debate over the form of government, is agonizing for those who fought to modernize the city’s government with a city manager and an expanded city council, and those who battled just as fiercely to preserve the role of specialized commissioners.

“It was a roller coaster last night,” said Bob Turner, the chairman of the charter review commission that recommended the proposed charter. “We were up, we were down. Now we want to make sure every vote was counted.”

It was just as tough on the SUCCESS, the anti-charter group, that watched the returns on Tuesday night with members of the Saratoga County Republican Committee. Richard Sellers, the group’s spokesman, responded to each shift in the count with a tentative smile or a slap to his head. He recalled the last two charter change votes in 2006 and 2012, when change was rejected, as equally tortuous.

“Every single election, it’s like this,” Sellers said.

But on Wednesday, Sellers was laying low, only saying the vote is “in limbo” and he can’t speculate on which way it will turn.

Turner, on the other hands, wants to know why 368 of the 8,724 total ballots cast in the city did not indicate a vote for the charter. He and Gordon Boyd, another member of the charter review commission, were told by voters that not all of the poll workers told them to turn over the ballot, as the workers should have.

“We are concerned by the under vote,” he said.

The city’s Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, for whom the city clerk works, said he does not know of any irregularities at the polls and that it is often the case that voters don’t turn over the ballot, even when they are told to. But Franck said he didn’t tour each polling site this year like he usually does.

“I didn’t go because with all the B.S. I didn’t want it to be misrepresented,” he said.

He has been the most vocal opponent to charter change, first by defeating a proposed special referendum on charter change last May and then going on to dispute the charter review commission’s cost estimates. He also filed complaints against the commission with the state Board of Elections, the state Attorney General’s office and with the U.S. Postal Service and feels the group violated state law by telling people to vote “yes” on the group’s Facebook page.

The charter review commission countered that Franck’s involvement in the fight was also a violation of state law because elected officials are to remain publicly neutral when a city voters considers adopting a new charter.

Now Franck said he believes the absentee ballots will not change the outcome because they historically reflect the voter’s voice.

“At this point, I’m assuming charter change will pass,” Franck said.

Turner said whatever the outcome, the election proves that every vote counts.

“These 18 months, we have engaged in passionate and vigorous debates and conversations in the future of Saratoga Springs we all love,” he said. “We are all better for that.”

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