Thursday, 22 February 2018 12:58

Charter Vote May Return in November

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Three times in the past 12 years, voters have cast ballots that challenge the city’s long-held form of government, with each successive referendum resulting in an ever-narrowing margin of difference to maintain the status quo. A group of residents advocating for charter change are considering a move to put the issue back in front of voters in November in the hope the fourth time will be the charm.

Last November, the proposition was defeated by a 4,458 - 4,448 margin, a difference of 10 votes out of the nearly 9,000 ballots cast.

“Everybody we have talked to since November said this was a dead heat, that the community should get another shot at it - and as soon as possible,” Gordon Boyd said this week. Boyd is a former member of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission, which disbanded on Election Day, as well as a contributor It's Time Saratoga! – a group that has advocated for charter change.

“Our core leadership group is investigating the legal, procedural and campaign dynamics of getting a petition drive going as allowed under the law, and how we can put the same exact proposal (as 2017) on the petition and placed on the ballot this coming November.”

The current Commission form of governing, the only type of governing the city of Saratoga Springs has known in its near 103-year history, relies on five elected part-time council members, each of whom are responsible for administering their own department, as well as serving as legislators. The proposed Council-Manager form of governing would see that the council hires a non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out city policies, starting in January 2020.

“If we put it up again this year, all of the transition timetables would pretty much stay the same,” Boyd explained. “This would be the same proposal, word-for-word. Who are we to fuss with it?”

Richard Sellers, a spokesman for the SUCCESS group opposed to charter change, argues that the city’s current commission form of governing ensures a better future.

“We have five citizens who were elected by voters and who are working together for the good of the city. The city government accomplished a great deal in 2017 and has excellent plans for 2018,” Sellers said. “Five heads looking out for the city are better than one appointed administrator (and) while we do not know exactly what may be put on the ballot, we would obviously oppose any change in the form of government.”

While city elections were resolved in 2017, this year’s Election Day ballot will include races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and statewide races for Governor, Senate and Assembly seats.   Boyd said he believes the increased turnout of a Gubernatorial election year would work in his group’s favor.

According to financial disclosure reports, the SUCCESS group shows a January 2018 balance of just over $3,000. It’s Time Saratoga – a ballot committee created in favor of charter change showed a balance of about $2,300 in early December – the most recent filing available via the state Board of Elections website.

One lingering event which may factor in to the city’s 2017 referendum, Boyd says, is a pending Appellate Division ruling of a “very similar” Essex County case involving a very close election. A previous move by Boyd to re-canvass city ballots in the 2017 referendum on charter change was struck down by State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan earlier this month. The ruling on the Essex County vote may affect whether an appeal is filed related to the razor-thin margin of the city’s 2017 referendum.

“We’re just a group of citizens at this point and it would require us getting a minimum number of signatures - and we would also have to fundraise to support the campaign, but we don’t see any difficulty reaching those goals to put it on the ballot,” Boyd said. “We have had a lot of dedicated individuals who put a lot of time into this and I think they’re going to be fired up to resolve it once and for all. The best thing is for us to keep it the same, to give the people another shot at it. It was essentially a dead heat. So, let’s run the race again. “

Boyd said more specific plans regarding the matter will be forthcoming in early April.

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