Friday, 21 September 2018 14:49

New City Charter Heads to Public Referendum in November

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The mayor-appointed City Charter Commission has completed their work on a 38-page document which proposes a new City Charter. The proposition goes to public referendum on Nov. 6. If approved, the new Charter becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2019 – effectively repealing the city’s existing 2001 Charter.

A second part of the referendum seeks to increase the voting members of the City Council from five to seven. If that second proposal is approved by voters – that referendum also takes place Nov. 6 – the addition of the two council-members-at-large will become effective Jan. 1, 2020. As such, city voters in November 2019 – the next scheduled vote to elect the council – could be headed to the polls to vote for seven council members, instead of the traditional five.  It is anticipated there would be a list of candidates for council members-at-large on the ballot, and the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes would then serve as council members-at-large. 

Specifically, the Nov. 6 ballot will contain two separate questions about the Saratoga Springs City Charter.

1. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?

2. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?

Voters who choose to approve the first question – changing the City Charter – may also vote on whether to approve the second question. The initiative – adding two council members-at-large, cannot be enacted without a “yes” vote on both questions.

The 2018 Charter Review Commission was formed on March 6, 2018 by Mayor Meg Kelly with the goal of finding efficiencies and organizational improvements to better serve the people who live and work in the City of Saratoga Springs. The ten-member City Charter commission is comprised of the following members: City Attorney Vincent J. DeLeonardis, Chairman; Deputy Commissioner of Finance Mike Sharp, Vice Chairman; Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety John Daley, Secretary; Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan; Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco; Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin; Commissioner of Accounts John Franck; Deputy Mayor Lisa Shields; Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Joe O'Neill; Deputy Commissioner of Accounts Maire Masterson.

City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis served as chairman of the Commission. This week, he sat down with Saratoga TODAY and discussed some of the proposed changes.   

  1. What is the status of the proposal?
  2. We have completed our review, drafted our proposed recommendations and filed that (on Sept. 6) with the city clerk. The document will now be forwarded to the county Board of Elections and it will be on the ballot on Nov. 6. It will be on the ballot, by the way, as two separate questions.

Through our process of drafting proposed amendments, we have all of those incorporated into a draft charter relating to the first question that the voters will have: whether they will approve the Charter as amended by the Charter Review Commission.

A separate question is whether they will further amend the Charter to incorporate the two additional at-large council members.  

If they vote yes for question 1 to amend the charter, they will then vote on whether it will be further amended to address the two at-large council members, but if question 1 does not get approval, then question two does not go into effect.

How would the two at-large council members work?

- If approved by the voters, the two at-large council members will have legislative responsibility only and would not have any administrative or departmental responsibilities at City Hall.

Will they be paid positions?

- They would be, but salaries are to be determined by council. The amount of the salary is not contained in the Charter itself. The amount of any salary to be provided to the council members at-large would be established by the City Council in accordance with Local Law. That would be decided after the vote passes. (Note: at-large members would not have deputies).

Would the council members at-large attend every council meeting?

- They would be expected to. They will be full members of City Council.

What influenced the idea to consider expanding the voting council from five to seven members?

- I think as a commission we were aware of certain public concerns that the responsibilities of the five council members may prevent qualified citizens from seeking public office. So, there is an opportunity to serve in city government as a member-at-large, and not be responsible for running a city department. It would enlarge the opportunity for individuals to participate in city government. They are charged with being fully involved in all voting procedures. They will be full members of the City Council, they just will not run a department.

Would there be a specific criteria or requirement for members at-large?

- No, it’s an elected position and it’s up to the people to decide who they put as members of the City Council.

What are your thoughts about the overall review process with the commission?

- I thought the process was positive. The commission worked well together, and we had a level of respect and professionalism that assisted in the process of getting things done.

What are some of the proposed changes to the Charter?

- Generally we’ve re-numbered and re-organized certain sections, provided amendments to the existing Charter - including new sections. and of course, there’s the separate and distinct question submitted in respect to council members at-large. More specifically, there are a number of things we did not change (such as) term limits. That was one thing that had been raised, but we did not make changes to it. In a number of areas we eliminated things like specific job titles and outlined department functions.  We’ve incorporated requirements related to the State of the City (Address) – that it be presented by the entire City Council, rather than just the mayor. We have also required that appointments to the Land Use Boards – including the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the DRC – which are still to be made by the mayor, will now be made with the advice and consent of counsel and will require a vote. And, the Rec Commission and the Recreation Department was moved from the Mayor’s Department to the DPW.

Will there be Public Hearings?

- We did receive an invitation from SUCCESS – who is hosting an event at the Library on Oct. 3 – and so we accepted that invitation and we’re looking forward to presenting at the library on that date. We’re also reaching out to other organizations and entities for meetings.

Note: The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission will give a presentation on the proposed charter changes at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in the H. Dutcher Community Room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. A Q&A session will follow. This meeting is being sponsored by SUCCESS and is open to the public.

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