Displaying items by tag: charter

Thursday, 22 October 2020 12:42

Charter Change Insider

Charter VoteNo

Changing from our current Commission form of government to the proposed City Manager + Wards system would be an undesirable change for Saratoga Springs at any time. To do that now in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis is folly and even dangerous. The commission form has helped Saratoga Springs be the most successful city in upstate New York. It allows all city voters to choose city residents every two years who will both make policy and also act as department heads delivering services. Elected officials are held directly accountable by the electorate for services provided to the city. 

In addition, because they run departments, council members are highly knowledgeable about the workings of the city when they make policy decisions. Since departments have many intersecting needs and interests and a majority is necessary to pass laws and the city budget, excellent communication and cooperation are major features of this form of government.

In contrast the charter proposal offers a plan that gives the authority to run the city to an unelected city manager who doesn’t even have to live in the city. The city will be divided into wards and Saratogians will only be able to vote for the mayor and one of the six other council members, greatly reducing citizens’ say in their government. The proposal also has a weak mayor who has few responsibilities and cannot even give any employee direction.

Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.

The responsibilities of the mayor and four commissioners are clearly laid out in the current charter and easily understood: Mayor and Departments of Accounts, Public Safety, Finance, and Public Works. When someone has an issue or opportunity, they simply contact the appropriate commissioner. In short, no one has any idea about the potential new City Manager organization, how it will be structured, nor what it will cost.

Only four positions are mentioned in the proposed charter: the city manager, attorney, clerk, and assessor. The charter change financial analysis claims that one City Manager can replace four commissioners and five deputies, about 18,000 hours of work yearly. 

But Ron Kim, co-chair of the charter change effort, thought differently when he was Commissioner of Public Safety and asked the city council for two deputies to handle all the work in his department, blowing up their current claim that this level of management can be axed.

Danger: The new city government won’t be revealed until after we have voted. The charter grants both a transition task force and then the City Manager the power to “establish, modify, or restructure City departments, offices, or agencies…” 

Net: All decisions and the real costs will be made by an unelected group of people and won’t be known until after we vote.

Q. A question of money. 

The City Manager + Wards System will be much more expensive resulting in higher taxes. Even the change proponents admit that a new city manager brought in from out-of-town would cost Saratogians $262,000 yearly. 

Then they increased the Mayor’s salary 448% to $65,000 plus benefits for a significantly easier job that excludes all administrative responsibilities. Compare this to the $19,000 average salary of a Mayor in New York State in cities run by a City Manager. (Source: Jeff Altamari). Even proponent ‘It’s Time Saratoga’ admits that the Mayor will receive this $65,000 for a part time job; saying the Mayor could concurrently hold another job. That doesn’t show much respect for taxpayers.

But wait, it gets worse. The pro-charter group has not disclosed to the public the real cost of a City Manager + Wards government. Their so-called financials leave out $760,000 of yearly costs including replacing the Deputy Commissioners, our city’s key managers which they arbitrarily eliminated without even interviewing; an Assistant City Manager; and an Internal Audit which is required in the charter but was “mistakenly” left out of their costs.

Remember that the charter is only a skeleton concept with 4 employees which will be completed by an unknown and unelected Task Force, which is one of two transition committees which would be authorized to hire staff including lawyers. 

Transition costs are not even estimated by the change proponents. But any incremental transition costs during this pandemic will require firing city employees or increasing taxes. As both the Mayor and Commissioner of Finance said Tuesday night: The city has no money for charter expenses.The people proposing this change owe it to the public to disclose the real costs of this charter.

Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government. 

Currently, there is a high level of transparency about what our elected officials are (and are not) accomplishing. Since our government services are delivered by 5 departments including the Mayor and 4 Commissioners, it’s simple and efficient to contact the appropriate city official to address our problems. And every one of these elected officials has a report card every two years when voters can retain or fire them.

The City Manager + Wards charter is undemocratic, unresponsive, and not transparent. The City Manager who would run Saratoga Springs is appointed so he (we use the male pronoun since 83% of the City Managers are men) cannot be voted out if citizens are unhappy with how the city is being run.

We would only be able to vote for 2 of the 7 elected officials making decisions about providing services and raising taxes. Today, we have influence over every elected official because we vote whether or not to retain all of them every two years. The Wards system eliminates our leverage to impact our city government. 

The proposed charter creates a disastrous bottleneck which will keep residents from getting their problems addressed. Residents contact their Ward politician who can only contact the City Manager who, when he has time, passes the request on to the right department. The Ward politicians and even the Mayor are expressly forbidden to work with any city employee except the City Manager, thereby delaying residents receiving city services and answers to their questions. The City Manager + Wards system is less transparent, less effective, less efficient, and less democratic.

For more information, go to: saratogaworks.org. 

 

Charter VoteYes

The present form of government in Saratoga Springs is comprised of five departments, each headed by a separate elected official who performs both administrative and legislative functions. This system is inherently inefficient and expensive, leading to both gaps in and duplication of services.  A survey of 100 City professional staff in 2016 reported that they spend 30% of their time navigating these five “silos” of city government. Clearly, our city has outgrown this system. The proposed new Charter consolidates all administrative units under a professional manager. The manager would be hired by and be accountable to the City Council, comprised of six neighborhood-based elected City Councilmembers (reflecting the Charter’s proposed six wards) and presided over by a city-wide elected Mayor. This Reform would bring efficiency to the administration, and accountability through representation and separation of legislative powers from administrative responsibilities. The proposal on the ballot was initiated by dozens of volunteers and more than 1,500 citizens who petitioned for this opportunity to vote.

Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system. 

City administrative offices, now divided among five separately elected Commissioners and the Mayor, would be managed as one administration—much like every other city, town and village in NYS--led by an experienced, professional manager. One team not five means less bickering and finger pointing. Clarity will benefit citizens and businesses who need answers from the city. The present Commissioners and their political deputies would be eliminated. But, the remaining top civil service professionals would report to the City Manager. The City Council, chaired by the Mayor, would set the budget, adopt policies, pass ordinances and oversee the administration through a short-term employment agreement with the City Manager.  Members of the Council, elected from the six neighborhood-based Wards, would be the “ombudsperson” for their constituents. This would allow the Council to set priorities that reflect the needs of the people, not the prerogatives of each Department’s political leadership.  The Mayor, elected citywide for a four year term, would be expected to provide policy leadership, oversight of the City Manager, and represent the city in intergovernmental relations. 

Q. A question of money. 

Initial savings would be at least $100,000.  This figure is derived by eliminating the current Commissioners and their political deputies, salary plus health and pension costs: $760,000. Positions required in the New Charter would add to $440,928, including the City Manager and Mayor (salary plus benefits), and six Councilmembers (salary with no benefits). Other positions included in this calculation are an Assistant City Manager and the cost of an Internal Auditor. Competitive compensation for these positions would bring the total net savings to about $100,000.  No other positions are required to be added or eliminated in the proposed Charter.  Any additions or reductions of staff would be made only by the elected City Council seated in 2022.

Long term, consolidation of administrative units under the City Manager will reduce the 30% inefficiency which the professional staff reported to the 2016-17 Charter Commission. 

The new Charter also eliminates the present lifetime free healthcare benefit (free premium, no co-pays) for elected officials who serve 10 years or more, which can cost taxpayers $500,000 or more for each such official over time.    

Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government. 

Voters in the six neighborhood wards will elect the members of the City Council to two-year terms.  Each councilmember would be the neighborhood’s “ombudsperson” for all functions of city government—in other words, “one-stop shopping” for people seeking answers from city hall.  Presently, citizens and businesses are punted from office to office for simple permits.  Public Safety and Public Works leaders have even disputed who is responsible to clear dead animals from the roadways. 

Each new City Councilmember will represent about 3,000 3,000 voters.  The wards would be drawn up by a bi-partisan commission after every decennial census.  If the upcoming 2020 census report is too late for the start of the NYS Election calendar, a backup ward map is included in the proposed Charter that would be used only for the 2021 election. 

Today, a candidate for city council (Commissioner of Accounts, Finance, Public Safety, Public Works, Mayor) must run city-wide campaigning directly to more than 18,000 voters—an expensive proposition. The new Charter enables city government to tap into more of our community’s talent and brain power because running in just one of the six districts will be much less expensive than running city-wide. 

No longer will Commissioners work almost full time and leave aside their day-jobs. The new Council will be citizen-legislators, bringing everyday experience and perspective to our city government. 

TERM LIMITS: All elected positions will be term-limited to 12 years.

For more information, go to: commonsensesaratoga.com. 

Published in News
Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:08

Battle Lines Drawn: Charter Change Back on the Ballot

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Buckle your seat belts, the battle lines have been drawn. 

In November, on Election Day, city residents will be asked to consider a change in the only form of governing that Saratoga Springs has known since its inception as a city in 1915. The last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, which took place in 2017, a tense nine-day post-election period was required to await the return of absentee ballots that would decide the winner. In the end, nearly 9,000 residents voted in all and the referendum to replace the long-standing commission form of governing was defeated by a total of 10 votes. 

That razor-thin margin in 2017 was a continuation of an ever-tightening vote differential in community-led proposals for change: a 2006 referendum proposing a change to a strong-mayor form of government was voted down by roughly a 62-38 percent difference, and a 2012 proposal was defeated 58-42 percent. 

This time around, the proposed charter reform calls for the creation of a six-person council whose members would be elected from six newly created neighborhood “wards,” a mayor elected by voters city-wide, and the hiring by the council of a city manager. 

Last week, a pro-charter change citizens campaign committee called Common Sense Saratoga, staged their kick-off campaign at High Rock Park. 

“Why am I here today? When I was in office, politics was the primary thing, unfortunately,” said Ron Kim, former city Public Safety Commissioner and currently a co-chair of Common Sense Saratoga. “Each of the commissioners protected their own turf. That’s not the way I wanted to operate, but that’s the way things were. Everyday citizens would meet roadblocks for the simple things,” Kim said.  “It was open to those who were connected, who had their own attorneys, who had a voice through the political end. That’s cronyism. That’s not representative government.” 

The current “Commission” form of governing features five council members – one mayor, plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively.  Each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. In this council of five, each of whom is elected to two-year terms, decisions are made by majority rule. 

Kim said the change in the form of governing would provide more accountability, representation and transparency. “City wide commissioners who manage bureaucracies don’t, as a first priority, represent people. They represent the department. I know. I was there.” 

Saratoga Works - a group opposing the charter change and in favor of maintaining the status quo, launched their first gathering two weeks ago. 

Led by co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, the Saratoga Works group argue a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, deliver an “expensive version of charter change” and would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.

Kim and the Common Sense Saratoga group scoffed at criticisms that a ward-based system would pit neighborhoods in competition with one another as being “cynical” and argued that the ward system similarly aligns with most representative governments such as Congress and Senate representation. 

Addressing costs, he said swapping the salary and benefit package costs of the five councilmembers and their five deputies in the current form in favor of a city manager, a mayor, and six ward council members in the proposed reform would provide taxpayer savings. 

Saratoga Works argues that even as some city deputy or assistant salary costs would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, increasing financial ramifications. 

The designated wards of the proposed referendum are as follows: “Inner East Side” Ward 1 -  Election Districts 4, 8, 9 and 12; “North Side” Ward 2 - Districts 1,2,3, 24 and 25; “Outer East Side” Ward 3 - Districts 5, 15, 17 and 22; “South Side” Ward 4 - Districts 10, 13, 14 and 23; “South West Side” Ward 5 - Districts 16, 18, 20 and 21; “West Side” Ward 6 - Districts 6, 7, 11 and 19. Each ward counts approximately 2,900 to 3,400 currently registered voters.

A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot. If approved by voters in November, the measure is anticipated to take effect in January 2022.

The concept of a Commission form of government was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged that city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. It proved to be an efficient measure as well as a popular one. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states had followed suit. Saratoga Springs adopted the commission form of governing shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915. Since its popularity in the early 20th century, however, many cities have since switched to other forms.

For more information about the pro-charter change referendum, go to: commonsensesaratoga.org. For more information about the group opposed to change of the city’s current form of government, go to: saratogaworks.org

Published in News
Friday, 09 November 2018 14:44

Saratoga Election 2018

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Similar to the higher-than-normal turnout of voters across the country Tuesday, the tallied number of locals casting ballots in Saratoga County on Election Day is expected to register among some of the highest in recent local midterm history. 

County-wide, more than 91,000 votes were counted regarding the 2018 vote - nearly 60 percent of active county voters, and dwarfing previous mid-term election tallies. Those elections - held in 2014, 2010 and 2006 – typically have returned 70,000 to 84,000 voters.

Those 2018 figures have yet to include absentee or affidavit ballots. When the Board of Elections officially certifies the vote, the tally could reach triple figures, which is typically in range with Presidential Election years.

The county Board of Elections is currently organizing data related specifically to city voters on Election Day 2018, but those figures are not yet available for comparison to previous years.

 

PROPOSAL TO CHANGE CITY CHARTER DEFEATED

In Saratoga Springs, a proposal to amend the City Charter was soundly defeated, with 6,537 votes against the change and 3,610 in favor. A second ballot question to further amend the Charter by providing two additional City Council members for decision-making purposes met a similar fate. 

“I respect the outcome and the will of the people and the votes cast,” said city Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis, chairman of the Charter Review Commission.

A 2017 City Charter referendum which proposed a greater change – to change the city’s form of government - was narrowly defeated last November, by a 4,458 - 4,448 vote. That Charter Commission was headed by city residents and conducted 16 months of study. This time around, the commission board was run by City Council members and city staff as selected by the mayor, and proposed more modest changes.

“The very subject of Charter is contentious in this city. It has a very long-rooted and deep history and I respect that,” DeLeonardis said Tuesday night.  “I respect that the debate over our form of government is going to continue, but I think there was some confusion over this round as to what was on the ballot. This year, the ‘form’ of our government was not on the ballot. It was just an effort to update and amend the current form of government we have and the form of government the voters decided to keep, just last year.”

DeLeonardis said he was pleased with the group’s effort in regard to public awareness and education, but that those efforts of providing information “had to compete with misinformation and disinformation.”  The status of any future study and public vote regarding the City Charter, DeLeonardis said, “is up to the people and up to the elected officials.”

    

DEMOCRAT, REPUBLICAN SEATS MAINTAIN STATUS QUO

In the 20th Congressional District – which includes parts of Saratoga Springs as well as Charlton, Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Malta, Mechanicville, Stillwater and Ballston, Democrat incumbent Paul Tonko bested GOP challenger Joe Vitollo by a near 2-to-1 margin.

 “I am very thankful and humbled for the support of the voters,” Tonko told supports at the Inn at Saratoga, where Democrats gathered on Election Night. “Whether they voted for me or not, whether they voted or not, I’m there and I want to bring us together in the 20th Congressional District to address the issues of our times.”

With Democrats set to regain control of the House in January, Tonko offered a glimpse of the party’s priorities moving forward.  

“We have pledged as a Democratic Caucus in the House, If chosen to lead the House of Representatives, we need most certainly to not repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, but to strengthen it, and to strengthen it in a way that absolutely includes protecting the pre-existing clause,” he said.    

In the 21st Congressional District – which includes parts of Saratoga, Galway, Greenfield, Milton, Moreau, Northumberland, Providence, Wilton, and some parts of Stillwater and Ballston – Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik defeated Democrat challenger Tedra Cobb by a 55.9 percent to 41.2 percent margin.

In the 43rd Senate District – which includes parts of Saratoga Springs as well as Greenfield, Halfmoon, Mechanicville, Moreau, Northumberland, Saratoga, Stillwater, and Wilton – Daphne Jordan – a prodigy of Kathy Marchione, garnered 63,540 votes to defeat Democrat Aaron Gladd – who secured 53,902 votes. The seat is currently occupied by Kathy Marchione, who received the GOP nod in 2012 after fellow Republican Sen. Roy McDonald voted to back gay marriage. 

At the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs where Republicans gathered on Election Night, Jordan thanked Marchione - “my friend and mentor” - as well as fellow Republicans Chris Gibson and Joe Bruno.

“I’m a mom, a former small business person and a community leader,” Jordan told supporters. “I’m a real fighter for upstate.”

In the 49th Senate District – which includes Ballston, Charlton, Clifton Park, Galway, Malta, Milton, Providence and parts of Saratoga Springs, Republican incumbent Jim Tedisco secured more than 58 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat challenger Michelle Ostrelich. 

Republican Mary Beth Walsh, running unopposed, secured the 112th Assembly District. The district includes Ballston, Charlton, Clifton Park, Galway, Greenfield, Halfmoon, Milton and Providence.  And Democrat incumbent Carrie Woerner retained her seat in the 113th Assembly District, defeating Republican challenger Morgan Zegers by a 28,199 – 21,737 vote tally.

“It truly takes a village to win a campaign and you are my village,” Woerner told supporters of the district, which includes Malta, Mechanicville, Moreau, Northumberland, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga, Stillwater and Wilton.

“I am so looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly and my new colleagues in the State Senate…to fight for women’s reproductive health, to ensure quality health care, to once and for all fix the funding formula so our rural schools, our schools that have high rates of poverty - get the kind of funding they need,” Woerner said. “And to make sure that we have quality farms that are viable and continue to produce good, locally-produced nutritious food for all of us to eat.”    

Republicans Karen A. Heggen and Andrew B. Jarosh, retained their seats as County District Attorney, and county Treasurer, respectively, after running unopposed.

 

STATE

Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo was re-elected to a third term by statewide voters – although Saratoga County voters rejected Cuomo, instead choosing Republican Marc Molinaro with 54.5 percent of the vote to Cuomo’s 37.6 percent     

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was re-elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating Republican challenger Chele Farley by a 2-to-1 margin statewide, although in Saratoga County, that margin of victory was significantly closer, with Gillibrand securing 49,000 votes to Farley’s 40,900.  

Democrat incumbents state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also won re-election; Democrat Letitia James was elected as the attorney general.  

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of Nov. 1, Saratoga County counts 153,325 active registered voters. The breakdown: 39.2 percent are registered as Republicans, 27.5 are registered as Democrats, 25.1 percent registered voters opted for no specific party affiliation, and the remaining approximate 8 percent are comprised of members who designated their affiliation with the Independence, Conservative, Green, Working Families, or other party.    

In the city of Saratoga Springs specifically, the 2016 Presidential Election 14,239 city votes cast their ballot.

Published in News
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

Blotter

  • COURT  Todd A. Buchas, 42, of Saratoga Springs, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, after pleading to rape in the first-degree, a felony, in connection with an incident that occurred in Saratoga Springs. The date of the original charge was April 10, 2020.  Brittany A. Matthey, 35, of Saratoga Springs, pleaded Jan. 12 to felony DWI, in connection with an alleged incident in Wilton. Sentencing March 16.  D’Jontay Bennifield, 21, of Greenfield Center, pleaded Jan. 12 to two felony charges: criminal contempt in the first-degree, and aggravated family offense. Sentencing Jan. 12.  Alexander P. Jones, 33, of Ballston Spa,…

Property Transactions

  • BALLSTON Matthew Call sold property at 5 Frank St to Diane Gagliarrdi for $293,000. Thomas Lowe sold property at Goode St to Farm Raised LLC for $177,000. Thomas Lowe sold property at Goode St to Farm Raised LLC for $330,000. Ryan Legere sold property at 59 Casey Pass to Margaret Chevalier for $258,500. John Russell sold property at 15 Lakehill Rd to Dawn Hunt for $148,000. Matthew Shambo sold property at 457 Devils Lane to Robert Lewis for $439,900. CORINTH Meredith Fiel sold property at 4880 Rt 9N to Jamaldine Oulacha for $128,000. Luke Petteys sold property at 65 Locust…
  • NYPA
  • Saratoga County Chamber
  • BBB Accredited Business
  • Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau
  • Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association