Displaying items by tag: charter commission,

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.

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — City residents could be voting as soon as next spring on a referendum to change the way the city has governed for the duration of its 101-year history.

This week, the 15-member Saratoga Springs City Charter Review Commission unanimously approved the drafting of a new charter, and in a 12-3 straw poll voted to draft a motion for a new form of government. The work will begin immediately to prepare a proposal for an alternative form of government to be considered by the commission, with the goal of being placed before the voters in spring 2017. A new form of government, if approved by voters, could go into effect as soon as 2018. “Changing a city’s charter is not something to be undertaken lightly,” said charter commission chairman Bob Turner. “I think the members of the commission felt very confident in their understanding of the city charter to make their decision. It was a long process, but well worth it.”

Turner said the commission’s goal was to conduct the most comprehensive and in-depth review of Saratoga Springs’ city government that has ever been executed. Interviews were conducted with 20 current and former city council members, 10 city hall department heads, and six other mayors and city managers, in addition to separate surveys of City Hall employees and potential City Council candidates. A town hall meeting and 30 committee and subcommittee meetings were held over the past 6 months.

City Workers: Commission Form of Government Doesn’t Work

A 16-question survey distributed to City Hall and Public Safety employees from Nov. 25 to Dec. 8 received 75 responses. More than eighty per cent of those workers have worked at City Hall for at least six years. The majority responded that political conflicts or tensions between department commissioners affected workers’ ability to do their jobs and nearly half said they didn’t trust deputy commissioners to make decisions in the best interest of the city. As to the commission form of government specifically, 71.8 percent of the city employees said they don’t believe it provides for effective management of the city, and most opted instead for either a strong mayor, or city manager form of governing.

Five members – the mayor plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively – comprise the Saratoga Springs City Council, which operates in a commission form of government. That is, each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. The concept was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged the city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. Five department heads were given equal say in how the city should be reconstructed. It proved to be an efficient measure. The city of Houston adopted a similar form four years later. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states followed suit, from Margate City, New Jersey - with a population of 129, to Oakland, California, with 150,000 residents at the time. Saratoga Springs followed suit shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915.

Survey: Commission Form of Government Excludes Diverse Voices and Talent, Chairman Says

In a second recently issued survey by the charter review commission, a pool of 182 potential City Council candidates who were queried revealed that changing from the commission form of government would dramatically increase the number of people willing to run for City Council. Only 8.2 percent responded they would be “somewhat,” or “extremely likely” to run for one of the four commissioner positions in the current system of governing. More than three times as many said they were “somewhat or “very likely to run” were they to serve as a part-time legislator and did not have any administrative responsibilities.

Commission positions are paid an annual salary of $14,500 and hire a full-time deputy to run their office. Interviews with current and former commissioners revealed that many found it challenging to balance a full-time job with the dual demands of running a major department and legislating, a combination unique to the commission form of government. Seventy percent of the survey respondents reported working full-time.

“We clearly have a large pool of civically engaged citizens who want to serve the city, but are unable to make the time commitment required under the commission form of government,” Turner said. “The data shows we are excluding a diverse set of voices and talent.”

The Commission has met two to three times each month since June to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the charter. The next meeting will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 at City Hall.

Upcoming Meetings: The City Council will host a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19 and a full council meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20 at City Hall. The Zoning Board of Appeals will host a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19 at City Hall.

Published in News

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