Saratogian: Commission supports new form of government


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Last week, the Charter Review Commission voted unanimously in favor of a council-manager form of government. In a traditional council-manager form, the council selects the mayor and each council member shares the same powers. It’s more of a ceremonial role. The commission believes strongly that Saratoga Springs needed a mayor who could provide dynamic leadership and rejected the weak mayor model during a Jan. 26 meeting.

“The vast majority of cities have a hybrid form that combine the political leadership and coalition building of the strong mayor model with the professional expertise and administrative efficiencies of a city manager or administrator,” said commission chair Bob Turner.

The commission supports direct elections for the mayor and also four-year terms.

“I think we want a mayor who is accountable to the voters,” said commission member Laura Chodos.

Mike Los said he felt that the mayor would be more effective in collaboratively working with stakeholders to address city challenges if he or she were not bogged down with the details of managing the city’s staff.

“I think Saratoga Springs voters want a visible leader who can reach out to the community and build consensus on a vision for the future,” said Barb Thomas.

Under the proposed charter, the mayor would have the power to create ad hoc committees, as they can now, as well as appointment to land use and ethics boards, but the commission felt that the appointment to city boards should be subject to a confirmation vote by the city council since many have a seven-year term.

The commission did not decide whether the mayor should be full time or not.

“Every former mayor who has spoken to us said it was a 50+ hour a week job with part time pay,” said Turner

Gordon Boyd thinks Saratoga Springs needs someone who can articulate the city’s interests to outside stakeholders like NYRA, the State government and the business community.

The commission reviewed the research of New York’s preeminent constitutional scholar and SUNY Professor Gerald Benjamin on the appointment and removal of city managers. The commission supported having the city council be able to appoint and remove the city manager,

“I like having a one-year contract for the city manager to keep him or her on toes working to meet the needs of the city and city council,” said Pat Kane.

The commission also supported having clear qualifications in the charter for the manager/administrator, covering the education and experience of the city manager in the charter.

“Both law professors I have spoken with said this prevents a city council from hiring an unqualified political crony to do their bidding,” said Turner.

The commission will hold its next two meetings on February 2 and 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. at City Hall

The commission will discuss the role of county supervisors, ethics provisions, the city attorney’s office, the identification of departments and land use boards, vacancies, the Recreation commission and the city clerk.

A draft of the revised charter should be finished by the middle of February with a special election for the charter referendum being held on May 30.

Gazette: Spa City charter review group defines mayor’s role

Position would remain central to government

TU: No shows lead to canceled Saratoga Springs meeting on funding new city government vote

No shows lead to canceled Saratoga Springs meeting on funding new city government vote. Without quoroum, meeting is canceled.

By Wendy Liberatore Updated 11:40 pm, Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Saratoga Springs

The three commissioners who came out against a referendum for a new city form of government were no-shows at a special council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting, called by Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, was meant to approve $37,000 in funds for the creation of a new charter and a public vote in the spring.

Yet Madigan and commissioners John Franck and Anthony “Skip” Scirocco did not appear. Without a quorum, the meeting was canceled.

“It’s a shame that we will not be having an official meeting,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “It’s unfortunate our colleagues are not here to uphold their duty.”

Several members of the charter commission, an independent body, suspect that the commissioners are stalling on their legal obligation to fund the commission because all five, the mayor and the four commissioners, will eventually lose their jobs if voters approve a new charter.

The vote will call for Saratoga Springs to be run by a city manager and a council, not its current form with a mayor and four commissioners.

Madigan said that is not the case. She said she asked the mayor to cancel the meeting because she knew Franck, who had a business engagement, could not be there and felt that all five members of the council should be there.

“Commissioner Scirocco agreed and also stated that he wanted all five members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on this important matter,” said Madigan.

“I am the Commissioner who requested this meeting and I am the Commissioner who requested it be canceled if all members could not be in attendance. There was no reason for the situation that occurred today at 4 p.m.”

Yepsen said she emailed all the commissioners and strongly encouraged them to be present, even after Madigan suggested canceling. To avoid any confusion, Madigan said the commission budget will be on the agenda at the next regular city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“This illustrates the challenges of this form of government,” said Gordon Boyd, a member of the 15-member commission. “One commissioner wants one thing and another wants something else and then it’s stymied. Nothing happens.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen did attend the meeting and reassured the charter commission that he supports their work. “I feel very strongly that this should move forward,” said Mathiesen. “I think the group is going in the right direction and I hope all the citizens will be informed. It’s paramount to our city.”

The charter commission has planned a referendum to take place on May 30. Bob Batson of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School is expected to write the charter by the end of February. “The most important thing is the document,” said Bob Turner, the chair of the charter commission. “It needs to be done by the end of February so that we can have three months to educate the public.” • 518-454-5445 • @wendyliberatore

Times Union: Saratoga Spa panel seeks council-manager setup

Saratoga Spa charter commission fleshes out May 30 referendum

Updated 5:48 pm, Saturday, January 21, 2017

The city’s Charter Review Commission has decided that a “council manager” form of government will go before voters this spring.

The panel last week voted 14-0 to offer voters a chance to replace the current system of five independent commissioners, each elected and responsible for specific aspects of city government, with the council-manager setup. That would feature an elected city council that works with an appointed city manager who oversees all city departments.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, the commission will discuss the issue, including the role of a mayor under a council-manager government, as well as finance provisions, and the role of the city attorney and recreation commission.

Voters will consider the potential change in a referendum scheduled on May 30. If voters accept the change, the new government would start in 2019. If voters reject the change, the current commission government — a century old — will remain in place.

“When we interviewed city managers from Corning and Batavia, I was impressed with their long-term vision for infrastructure improvements, technology and economic growth,” commission member Beth Wurtmann said in a statement. “A strategic 10-year plan under a skilled city manager is what Saratoga Springs needs to stay abreast with 21st century demands.”

Under the proposed change, an elected council would oversee general administration, policy and budgets, as well as name a city manager responsible for day-to-day administrative operations.

“The city manager is forced to squeeze out the waste and inefficiency or lose his job. In Canandaigua, the city council and mayor told the city manager to keep costs down,” said Bob Turner, commission chairman.

Several members also agreed that a council manager government could reduce city expenses and taxes. “I think the city would save money by hiring one professional city manager instead of five deputy commissioners,” said commission member Rob Kuczynski.

“A council-manager structure would reduce political pressures and in-fighting by having the City Council represent the will of the people and the city manager administer the daily operations of the city,” commission member B.K. Keramati said.

Under the current government, voters elect a mayor and four individual commissioners who each oversee areas including finance, accounts, public safety and public works. They have both legislative and executive authority.

“I was on the City Center Parking Garage Task Force in 2001 and saw the plan fall apart due to jurisdictional and political turf conflicts between commissioners,” said committee member Gordon Boyd. “It is 16 years later and we still have no garage. Now, we are competing with at least 30 other cities nationwide to retain Ayco. I am worried that the five silos of the commission form of government inhibit the ability to act quickly.”


WAMC: Saratogians Set To Vote On New Charter May 30th

Listen Here:

A Saratoga Springs committee has chosen May 30th for a special election where city residents may vote on a new form of government. The city’s current form of government has existed for more than a century.

Saratoga Springs’ unique commission-style government has endured numerous tests before. Most recently, a 2012 ballot question to change the city charter failed.

Now, in 2017, voters will have a chance to vote once again on a new system. The special election, set for May 30th, was put in place by the city’s Charter Review Commission.

Commission chair Bob Turner, who also works as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Skidmore College, says the committee spent eight months meeting and talking with the community about the city’s future.

“I think one of the things we heard most clearly from all the business and other community interests, was their feeling that Saratoga government could do better. Not that it was broken, but that it could do better,” said Turner.

A new charter has not yet been drafted, but Turner predicted a document that would include a form of government featuring a mayor, city manager, and a seven-member city council with four-year terms — with term limits.

For the past 102 years, the city has been led by five commissioners that also serve as department heads.

John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts, warned with the vote set to take place on the day after Memorial Day, people may not show up to the polls.

“My concern is you’re putting the constitution of the city up for a vote and by all measurements we’re going to have a very low turnout, and I think that’s a shame,” said Franck.

Franck compared the special election to the annual city school board vote, which he said has about 3 percent turnout.

Turner predicted the vote would bring record turnout.  He said holding the special election before the primary election season gets underway in June would provide a chance to take partisan politics out of the decision.

“It would give voters about three months to really study the charter and know what’s in it and give everyone a chance to appreciate the complexities of what we’re suggesting,” said Turner

But there are also objections over costs.

The Charter Review Commission, under state law, has asked Mayor Joanne Yepsen for $46,000 to cover expenses by the committee and $37,000 for the special election.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, however, said she was uncertain the five-member city council would grant the money.

“It takes three votes to allocate funds. So it seems to me, although the vote hasn’t taken place yet, that there is not support on this city council. As in, they do not have three votes for expending funds for a special election,” said Madigan.

Franck argued the costs for the special election could inflate to as much as $50,000 and said he would not vote for the budget request.

Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco called the May 30th special election “voter suppression” and said in an email the vote would be a “slap in the face to Saratoga Springs voters who have historically turned out and voted against a change in the form of government.”

Mayor Yepsen said the council needs to give the commission the funding.

“So they can do their job, make their recommendations to the entire community, not to the city council, and let the voters decide. And that’s my position,” said Yepsen.


An email sent Friday evening after press time indicated that the Charter Commission voted 14-0 in favor of a council-manager form of government. If approved by voters, the new charter would take effect in 2019.

Times Union: Charter Review Commission proposes new direction for Saratoga City Council


TWC: Saratogians To Vote On New Form Of Government Again


By Matt Hunter
Updated Friday, January 13, 2017 at 06:51 PM EST

Less than five years after a citizen-led effort to change the Saratoga Springs City Charter failed by a 15 percent margin at the polls, Saratogians will again make a decision that could completely alter their local form of government. Matt Hunter explains.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It is arguably the most important document in how a city gets governed.

“The city’s charter is, in essence, the city constitution,” said Bob Turner, a longtime political science professor at Skidmore College. “It determines how many city council members we have, how they are selected and what their responsibilities are.”

Starting with a goal of recommending improvements or a new form of government altogether, a 15-member commission has been studying Saratoga Springs’ current charter since June.

“We have had over 30 meetings and we have interviewed 70 different current and former elected officials, department heads, mayors and city managers here and in other cities,” said Turner, who chairs the commission.

It’s the Spa City’s first charter review in a decade. Appointed by the mayor and council, the commission is set up to operate independently.

“It’s very, very, very important in my opinion for the mayor and the city council to stay out of the business of the city charter,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said Friday.

While most cities rely on either a “Mayor-City Council” or “Mayor-City Manager” model, Saratoga Springs uses the rare “commission” form of government.

“There are only three commission form of governments here in New York,” said Turner, who added the “Mayor-City” council model is most common in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as local municipalities like Albany and Schenectady.

The Saratoga Springs City Council is made up of the mayor and commissioners of finance, accounts, public safety and public works.

“The city council serves as both a legislature and the executive [branch],” Turner said, “except it is almost like having five presidents, each over their own little domain.”

A month ago, commission members unanimously voted in favor of drafting a new charter. On Friday, it was announced the decision will go to a city-wide vote on May 30.

“We have yet to make any decision about whether we would go with the ‘Mayor- City Manager’ or a ‘Mayor – Council’ form of government,” Turner said.

The commission’s next step is to come up with an actual proposal for an alternative form of government, which Turner expects to happen by February.

“Whatever they propose, hopefully, will be an improvement from what we have,” Yepsen said.

“Voters are going to have three months to really study this issue and delve into it,” Turner said.

Saratogian: Special election set for proposed Saratoga Springs charter

saratogianApproval during special referendum May 30 would alter structure of city gov’t

Shown above is the first page of the current Saratoga Springs City Charter.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Spa City voters will get a chance May 30 to decide on whether to change the current structure of city government.

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to have a special referendum May 30 allowing voters to approve the changes.

The biggest change would be the entire structure of government from the current commission form to either a strong mayor-council set-up or a city manager-council system.

The commission voted 12-2 to put the matter up to a vote May 30, the last Tuesday that a special election can take place while allowing new candidates to run for city council this year. The November general election ballot will depend on the outcome of that vote.

Earlier this week, the commission debated about putting the matter up for a vote in May. A majority of members were concerned the charter would get lost in the partisan politics of a general election.

In November, the charter would have to compete for voters’ attention with eight other contested races: mayoral, finance commissioner, public works commissioner, public safety commissioner, account commissioner, two county supervisors and a judicial race, in addition to the city charter.

The commission was also concerned voters might miss the charter referendum since it would be on the back of the ballot.

“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, commission chair.

Under the current charter, Saratoga Springs must form a citizen panel to review the existing charter and recommend changes. The new proposed charter must, in turn, be approved by voters in a referendum.

“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” said Gordon Boyd, Commission member.

The city has operated under the commission form for 100 years.

Longtime resident and commission member Laura Chodos expressed support for the special election.

“Voters will have undivided attention to the most important issue in the city’s future,” she said. “This is an opportunity to make Saratoga Springs even better in the way government functions. Nothing is more important.”

A special election would cost $37,000 and be run by the Commissioner of Accounts office with assistance from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

The commission’s next meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at City Hall.

Gazette: Saratoga residents to vote on charter changes

gazette-logo Revisions would create new form of government

by Ned Campbell, January 14, 2017

The Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to put the city’s charter in the hands of the public during a special election — which would be the city’s first — on May 30.

The charter changes would institute a new form of government, doing away with the current commission form.

“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, the Skidmore College political science professor who chairs the 15-member group.

The vote, which followed more than six months of review, public input and dozens of interviews with city officials past and present, was 12-2, with Elio DelSette and Matt Jones voting no. Robert Kuczynski was absent.

‘We wanted this to be something voters were thinking about. It is the constitution of the city, and it deserves its day in the sun.’ said Minita Sanghvi, Charter Review Commission member

During the special election, the public will vote on a new charter, which will include a new form of city government to replace the current commission form in which four elected commissioners oversee the government functions of public safety, public works, finance and accounts.


Alternatives being considered are strong mayor-council and city manager-council. The group has yet to decide on one, but plans to continue that discussion at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The commission form has been used for 100 years despite attempts to change it.

A new form of government, if approved by the voters, could take effect as soon as 2018. May 30 is the last Tuesday a special election can be held while allowing new candidates to run for City Council in 2017, said commission member Gordon Boyd.

“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” he said.

Commission Vice Chairman Pat Kane noted that the city has never had a special election, with past efforts to amend the form of government done on Election Day. It would cost $37,000 and be run by the city’s Commissioner of Accounts office with support from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

“We hope to really encourage people to get educated on what this is and make their voices heard, one way or another,” Kane said. “It’s a discussion we’ve had several times, but it’s always been clouded in the midst of general elections.”

Kane said the commission form is outdated — he’s leaning toward city-manager council as an alternative.

“What I’m hearing is a lot of people feel with a strong mayor, you’re putting too much power in one person’s hands, and I’d probably agree with that,” he said.

The November election is looking to be a heated one in Saratoga Springs, with the mayor’s seat and all four commissioners up for re-election, a judge race expected and two county supervisors on the ballot as well. Review commission member Minita Sanghvi said that without a special election, the referendum would also end up on the back of that ballot, “and many people don’t even look at the back of the ballot.”

“We wanted this to be something voters were thinking about,” she said. “It is the constitution of the city, and it deserves its day in the sun.”