Recent Developments In Charter Review

It has now been more than six months since Meg Kelly became mayor.  In my own assessment, she has shown extraordinary leadership.  Prior to her tenure the council had been plagued by contentious meetings that ran on interminably.  Under the mayor, the meetings are run efficiently in the best sense.  They are not only collegial and much shorter, but the important issues are not lost as a result of unnecessary conflicts and rambling, unfocused reports.

The value of her leadership is best expressed by the quality of the work being done by her Charter Review Commission.  It is interesting that the mayor’s decision not to be on the commission probably contributed to the collegial nature of the commissions deliberations.  It sent a message that revising the existing charter should not be marred by petty issues of control.  Her appointment of Vince DeLeonardis added to this.  In the past, city attorneys often functioned as a kind of weapon by mayors.  In the case of Mr. DeLeonardis, his fairness and probity has established real trust among the commissioners.

I have edited out a section from a video of a recent meeting.  This excerpt focuses on how the IT (Information Technology) should operate within the structure of the city.  The discussion explores the idea of establishing IT as an distinct department potentially outside of the Finance Office where it now resides.  It would not have been surprising if this discussion were marred by resistance from Commissioner Madigan and her deputy, Mike Sharp over the loss.  Instead, the proposal to reconsider the issue of IT is initiated by Sharp.

The video is not terribly dramatic but that is because of the thoughtfulness and lack of grandstanding in the discussion.  Around the table are representatives of all the city’s departments including three of the commissioners themselves.  The viewer will note that everyone participates in the discussion and their comments and suggestions are thoughtful and representative of the well grounded knowledge of how the city operates.

Upcoming Hearing

The Charter Review Commission will be holding a hearing on Tuesday, August 21st at the City Center (the event had to be moved due to the fire.  Below is a press release from the city:


City Attorney Vincent J. DeLeonardis Charter Review Commission Chairman

518-587-3550 x2414

MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT: 2018 Charter Review Commission Update Date:     August 15, 2018

 Saratoga Springs, NY — The 2018 Charter Review Commission (“CRC”) will hold its second public Forum on Tuesday August 21th at 6pm in the City Council Room, during the regularly scheduled City Council meeting. The purpose of this Forum is for Commission members to hear input, concerns, and questions from City voters on the proposed Charter crafted by the CRC over the past several months. The current draft is available for review on the City website. At the start for the Forum, the CRC will present the results of a recent survey completed regarding the proposed expansion of the City Council from five to seven members. For those unable to attend in-person, the Forum can be watched via the City website.







More On City Hall Fire

This is a link to the David Lombardo story from the Times Union on Friday night’s city hall fire.  Apparently, while the fire was quickly contained, the smoke and water damage was extensive to the Lake Avenue side of the building.  This included the city council chambers.  The damage was sufficiently severe that city hall will be closed on Monday and meetings of the council are being moved to other locations. The Council’s Monday morning pre-agenda meeting will be held at 9:30 at the Rec Center. Tuesday’s City Council meeting will be at the City Center including the Charter Review  Commission’s public hearing which will begin at 6PM. Any further changes will be posted on the city website.

 I understand that the members of the council have risen to this occasion by working closely to develop short term plans about where to relocate the staff of offices that were particularly severely damaged.  They have established an emergency task force to help manage the crisis. Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin told Lombardo that while the city is insured, the cost of addressing the damage will be substantial, especially in light of the fact that city hall is an historic building.



Minnie Bolster Estate Sale: Not To Be Missed


Minnie Bolster had an astonishing collection of all things Saratoga Springs.  From beautiful maps to souvenir chachkas there is an amazing accumulation.  She was an amazing historian of our city.
The estate sale runs through Sunday (tomorrow) August 12 from 9 to 4 at 161 Church Street.  If you are at all interested in the history of our city, you owe yourself a visit.

 Minnie died as 97 on December 16, 2017.   Here is a link to her obituary


This is an article about the estate sale.

 Even more fun and I cannot recommend it enough is the charming interview that Dave Patterson did with Minnie.  If you care about this city you will want to watch Dave interview Minnie.

Times Union Covers Critics Of Mayor’s Charter Review Commission

In a story dated August 1st on the Times Union website Wendy Liberatore reports that the current Charter Review Commission is considering expanding the city council by adding two additional members who would serve strictly as legislators with no administrative responsibilities over city operations as I had posted in a blog  earlier this week. This is a link to her story:

In her story Ms. Liberatore writes that “Critics of this latest charter review group, which is made up of elected officials and their deputy appointees, dispute that two at-large council members would have equal power with council members who head up city departments. They say the idea demonstrates the group’s lack of understanding of municipal government.”

She then offers the following quote:

“They would be junior city council members,” said Bob Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College who was the chairman of 2017’s charter review commission. “They will be at a significant disadvantage. It reflects their lack of any kind of research and understanding of the problems inherent with the commission form of government.”

I don’t understand how they would be “junior members” which I take is meant to be  pejorative.  These two members would have equal rights at the council table. They would be able to introduce legislation, have an equal vote, work with  constituents etc. Maybe he is thinking they will have a disadvantage because they will lack the kind of in depth knowledge and understanding of the workings of city government that Commissioners who run departments have.  But then that would have been the case of the entire city council in the manager form Turner’s commission proposed.

Even more puzzling, though, is Turner’s statement that the current Charter Review  Commission members don’t understand city government.

The members of this Commission are people with extensive practical working experience in government in general and in the Saratoga Springs’ commission form in particular.  I would encourage readers to sit in on one of this commission’s sessions or watch the videos on the city website. The conversations at the meetings I have attended/watched have been thoughtful, in depth, and sophisticated explorations of all aspects of our city’s charter. Members have shown not only an understanding of the charter’s provisions and legal implications but also how those provisions play out practically in the day to day running of city government. The other aspect of this commission that I find interesting is the lack of acrimony and the respect shown when members differ.

Professor Turner does not seem to understand what it means to civilly disagree with others. He might consider that Mayor Kelley supported the charter as proposed by his committee but in light of what appears to have been the defeat of the that charter, decided to explore what could be done to improve the commission form.  He also might consider that Commissioner Peter Martin who is a member of the current commission was an outspoken supporter of charter change. Turner’s attack on the current charter commission that they are have no understanding of the “problems inherent with the commission form  of government” is simply baseless and unhelpful.

Professor Turner’s obsession with ending the commission form of government in Saratoga Springs seems Ahab-like.  One hopes that he might step back and take the tack of Mayor Kelly and Commissioner Martin.  They have accepted that barring the overturning of the last election, the city will be maintaining the commission form and that we should explore how to make it as effective as possible.  Most of all, he might observe the proceedings of this Charter Review Commission as an example of how thoughtful people can come together to work on thorny problems where there are differences in a civil and constructive manner.




City Settles With Pedinottis Over City Center Parking Structure

The City Council voted unanimously for a settlement offer to the Pedinottis, the owners of the Mouzon House who sued the city  over the original proposal to construct a parking facility for the City Center.  The settlement calls for the city to withdraw their approval for a site plan for the facility along with its subdivision of the plot.  The city agreed to keep the Pedinottis informed as the city works to develop new plans for the site.

Mayor Kelly told the Saratogian the city plans to develop a “community destination” that will include “green space, the rebirth of Flat Rock Spring, a parking structure, conference space, and an inclusion of the Greenbelt Trail in what’s being called the Flat Rock Centre.”

The full story is here

The original parking facility was supposed to have 480 parking spaces.  The Saratogian story noted, “The LA Group presented a conceptual design of the potential Flat Rock Centre Tuesday night, projecting possibly over 750 parking spots in addition to a park at the corner of the lot with a spring as well as green space.”

The original project was planned by the City Center which was going to pay for the construction.  While the City Council voted to authorize the Mayor to apply for funding it is unclear where the money will come from for this new design.

John Franck Goes Bold On Charter Change

At a recent meeting of the Charter Review Commission John Franck offered a major change for the new charter.  He wants to add two “commissioners” to the city council.  These positions would have no administrative responsibilities.  They would in effect be simply legislators.  Commissioner Franck said that while he believed in the commission form of government, he believes that the advocates for that last charter change proposal had an argument very much worth consideration.  He acknowledged that he agreed that there were people who felt intimidated by the responsibilities of running a department.  His idea was to offer people interested in serving on the council a way to participate without the burden of administrative management.

There was some discussion about whether to call them “commissioner” in light of the fact that they would not run a department.  Commissioner Franck said he would prefer the title of commissioner but the label was less important than the principle.   It was agreed that while there would need to be some support for the new positions the costs would be minimal.  It was also suggested that the salary for these positions might be less than the other commissioners.

 Based on the response from the other members of the Charter Review Commission and those in the audience it appeared there was strong interest.  Still, it was agreed that it was an idea that required a thorough review to explore its full potential implications. The charter commission’s lawyers are exploring whether such a proposal would be allowable under NY State law and will be reporting to the  commission at tomorrow’s (Tuesday) meeting.