A Production For People Who Don’t Think They Like Shakespeare

So many people have had bad experiences with Shakespeare that it is difficult to get them to watch new productions.  I know this was the case with myself.  In my early experiences with Shakespear I found myself unable to understand what the actors were saying.  I might get half and between the frustration and the effort, the impact of the play was lost on me.

The English director Richard Eyre has filmed King Lear in modern dress with a stunning cast of the whos who of the British theater and television.  In this trailer you will see that done well, the dialogue is accessible.

Here’s the cast:

Anthony Hopkins – Hannible Lector (Silence of the Lambs), The Remains of the Day

Emma Thompson – Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day, Harry Potter movies

Emily Watson – Gosford Park, The Theory of Everything

Andrew Scott – Played Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes series with Cumberbach as the sleuth on BBC

Tobias Menzies – Played roles of both modern husband and villain Frank and Jack Randall in Outlander.  Also Game of Thrones

Jim Broadbent – Game of Thrones, Harry Potter series (professor Slughorn),  The Iron Lady (Dennis Thatcher), one of England’s greatest actors

Jim Carter – The butler in Downton Abby along with about a thousand other great character roles

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.  Give it a go!




Charter Change: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go” – Oscar Wilde

There is no other way to put it.  The proposal to update the current charter was crushed at the polls on November 6th.

The city had to endure another campaign, briefer but just as poisonous as the 2017 “fight.”

Using letters to the editor, social media, and flyers the opponents to this year’s ballot question on the charter issued information that was often inaccurate or badly misleading and always fueled by bitterness.  Most disturbing, in spite of being advised of the inaccuracies, they continued to publish these same statements.

As recently as the Monday before the election someone left this flyer on our doorstep.

Its Time Flyer (Although it could be confused as coming from the League of Women Voters)

Dear reader, at the age of seventy-two and a veteran of many public controversies, this latest conflict was all too familiar.  I have never fully understood the pathology of groups like “Its Time Saratoga” (ITS).  In this case the core of the group that formed during the previous charter campaign adopted a kind of magical thinking.  The passion for their cause combined with the desire to be loyal to each other appeared to take on a cult like form.  Rumors and conjecture among their members were confused with the truth and took on a strange, collective orthodoxy unburdened by the anchor of facts and reality.  As often happens with these types of groups, the targets of their campaign were transformed in their minds into ruthless and cunning enemies.  It all became operatic.  In ITS’s eyes, every action by the members of the charter commission hid an allegedly sinister agenda.  Therefore, any consideration of ITS’s opponents’ arguments could be dismissed by ITS as pointless.  Thus ITS was able to hold on to its narrative because ITS was incapable of considering arguments that might jeopardize the euphoric unity its members were experiencing.

It is also important to note that this pathology was not being exhibited by teenage zealots.  The members of this group include professors, lawyers, and retired business executives.

In their quest to portray the writers of the charter proposal as charlatans, the members of this group circulated statements that were either incorrect or grossly misleading:

“City Council Members given authority to set their own salaries [their emphasis]” [in the flier above]

And “Lifetime [their emphasis] healthcare benefits” [also in flier]

And from a TU article: “Critics of the proposal said it was crafted by City Hall’s most powerful insiders [my emphasis]…”

And in the most recent  classic example of magical thinking, Dr. Robert Turner from a November 7 story on WAMC: “I think what this election showed was a stunning repudiation of the commission form of government.”  [JK: As Shakespeare observed “The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.”]

Playing To Fear

Pretty much everyone, including myself, is frustrated by our federal government that seems incapable of acting on behalf of its citizens.  An army of lobbyists armed with generous donations to elected officials seems to have, if not hijacked, at least disproportionally taken control of the decisions made allegedly on our behalf.

Is it any wonder then how easy it is to exploit this general disillusionment with government and create suspicion of our own city officials who many do not know?  Ignorant of the details of the charter proposal and assailed by things like the flyer above and a flood of disinformation on social media, is it any wonder that the proposed charter changes were defeated?

In many ways the modest nature of the changes in the charter proposal meant that a logical, rational defense could not compete with the drama offered by its opponents.

To make my point, review the flyer above and then listen to Charter Commission Chair and city attorney, Vince DeLeonardis’ interview following the defeat of the charter.   Cerebral, thoughtful, and measured, it cannot compete with the image the opponents  conjured up of defeating the alleged cabal that operates out of city hall.

DeLeonardis Interview

In the end, the failure of the very modest changes proposed by the commission was a lost opportunity.

Weak Mayor?

The term “weak” is pejorative.  There is no way of getting around it.  A Google search results in the following definitions:

1. lacking the power to perform physically demanding tasks; lacking physical strength and energy

                                    synonyms: frail, feeble, delicate, fragile;

2. liable to break or give way under pressure; easily damaged lacking the force of character to hold to one’s own decisions, beliefs, or principles; irresolute.

So any discussion of “weak” versus “strong” mayor is problematic from the beginning,

The commission form of government had populist/democratic roots.  The idea was to directly elect the people who would run the different departments that delivered services to the city (in our case public works, public safety, finance, accounts).  In some cases the “mayor’s” role was simply to run meetings and act as a spokesperson for the government.  As such, the role of mayor was rotated among the commissioners in some historical examples.

In the case of our own city, it appears that the mayor’s responsibilities evolved as activities taken on by the city that did not fit into the domains of the other commissioners were allocated to the mayor’s office.  These involved economic development, grant writing, and city planning functions.  It appears that by default, these responsibilities fell into the mayor’s domain.  These responsibilities were added to the duties of the chairing of council meetings, representing the city to other public institutions, and serving as the face of the city rather like the royals in England.

Often when people think about a mayor they envision mayors who play more traditional roles in other cities that don’t have a commission form of government. In many municipalities the mayor is the true CEO.   All administrative responsibilities fall under the jurisdiction of  a traditional mayor.  The budget officer, the public works director, the chief of police, etc. all report and serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

A separate body, the council, passes legislation such as budgets, zoning ordinances, etc.

So to understand the changes being recommended by the current charter commission one needs to recognize that in the commission form of government that we have, the city is really run by five people and that the mayor’s position is quite modest.  Any “strengthening” or “weakening” of a mayor is going to be fundamentally limited. If a citizen wants a mayor with real authority, they need to consider a different model.  I find it ironic that many of the advocates of the city manager model who are expressing concern over the “weakening” of the mayor, are ignoring that under their proposal they would have stripped the mayor of all administrative authority.

Mayor Kelly’s charge to the current charter review commission was to update  the current commission form of government , not replace it. What was refreshing about this process was that the members of this commission, all our elected officials and their deputies, did not focus on the usual parochial issue of how to divvy up power.  If you observed their deliberations, you would have seen thoughtful discussions on how best to manage resources given that administrative responsibilities are delegated to departments based on the unique mission of each.

So, for example, it was determined that since the Informational Technology office’s role was an internal one that needed to be shared between departments, it should not be under the domain of one commissioner but instead operate independently as a shared service to all departments.

Over half of the city’s recreational program budget is devoted to the maintenance of the city’s playing fields and buildings.  The program has its own recreation commission and director running the program but in the interest of better coordinating the constant maintenance  of facilities with the actual activities, it was decided to move the recreation program from the mayor’s office to the Department of Public Works which is charged with all maintenance.  In fact, the Recreation Commission issued a statement that endorsed this reconfiguration.

It seems especially logical, and a credit to Mayor Kelly who implemented this last January, that the state of the city address should be done by the entire council, not just the mayor as has been done in the past. In their literature, the critics see sharing this function as representing a weakening of the mayor’s authority.  It appears to me that this is simply a thoughtful recognition that in a commission form, to accurately describe the state of the city, it is best done by the mayor and all the other commissioners.

It should be noted that it is not just the mayor’s office that has been affected by the changes proposed this year. For instance,  the Finance Department is giving up IT, and appointments to boards made by the Commissioner of Accounts and the Commissioner of Public Works will also be subject to the approval of the majority of the council.

So, in the end, it seems all of this is a matter of perspective.  If you are not comfortable with the distribution of responsibilities in a commission form of government in general, it makes sense that you would be troubled by these reforms.  For those who see merit in power sharing, these reforms will be welcomed.



Daily Gazette Endorses Proposed Charter

The Daily Gazette Newspaper has editorialized urging its readers to vote yes on the proposed Saratoga Springs Charter.  The editorial begins by reminding its readers that it supported the 2017 charter which would have changed the city’s form of government to a city manager.  The editorial goes on to acknowledge that last year’s charter failed to pass and that as long as the commission form continues, the proposed changes make sense to improve operations.

Link To Editorial


Recreation Commission Endorses Charter Proposal To Move The Recreation Program To The Department of Public Works

One of the four oft repeated attacks on the proposed charter is that it would move the Recreation Program from the Mayor’s department to the Department of Public Works.  The attack has taken several forms.  In one case it was asserted that the children would suffer from the change and in another it was asserted that it would interfere with the management of the city’s streets and water.

The Recreation Commission voted six to zero praising the reorganization in the proposed charter (One member of the seven person commission was absent).

In their statement the Recreation Commission praised the Charter Review Commission for the excellent job they have done (full text below).

In their November 1 email/newsletter the Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission announced:

“After reviewing how the proposed changes would affect the Recreation Commission, the Commission voted 6-0 to approve these changes. Learn (full text below) the reasons why here.”

City of Saratoga Springs


15 Vanderbilt Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866 518-587-3550 x2300  Fax 518-584-1748


Derrick LeGall Recreation Commission Chair

Alphonse Lambert

Amy Smith, Robert Manasier, Cheryl Smith, John Dowd, Michelle Merola

Dear Recreation Community,

The Recreation Commission would like to remind you to VOTE, on Tuesday, November 6th. The ballet will contain a referendum proposing to update the City’s Charter which will have a direct effect on the Recreation Department.

Many of you have asked for our opinion on the Charter Review Commission’s (CRC) proposed amendments. Below we will share our experience with the CRC and our opinion of the effects from the proposed amendment in regards to the Recreation Department in hopes that it is helpful as you make your own decision.

We encourage you to visit the CRC’s website to read the current Charter, the proposed Charter amendments, and other helpful information including a 1 page document outlining the proposed amendments to the City Charter as it relates to Parks and Recreation.

Our experience with the CRC has been great, as we have found them to be very respectful, diligent, and inclusive throughout the process. In meetings, with our Rec director and Rec Commission Chairman, CRC showed an interest in listening, learning, and engaging with us to better understand how the Charter works, in regards to Recreation. In addition, the director took part in a non-bias questionnaire, in which he could document how the Charter applies to Recreation and offer recommendations for improvements and changes. The CRC also presented at a Recreation Commission meeting, outlying the proposed changes while highlighting the direct impact the proposed amendments would have on Recreation. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the efforts and attention that the CRC took to understand how the Charter impacts our service to the community.

As for the proposed changes, it is important to know that regardless of Tuesday’s Vote, the City’s Recreation Department will continue serving our community under the supervision of the Recreation Commission. Our mission, focus areas and goals are not being changed by the proposed Charter. The Recreation Department’s budget, which is currently shared between the Recreation Department and the Department of Public Works, are not being changed by the proposed Charter. The proposed charter amendments, in our opinion, will however, have a direct impact on the service provided to you. And although this impact is not directly financial, it will provide efficiencies and effectiveness with the Recreation Department.

In the current Charter, “Parks”, including the maintenance for Recreation, is the responsibility of the public works staff under the Commissioner of Public Works. Recreation is the responsibility of the Recreation Department under the Recreation Commission which resides under the Mayor’s Office for administrative, reporting, and oversight purposes. The proposed Charter addresses this with the creation of a Parks and Recreation Department under the responsibility of the Commissioner of Public Works in coordination with the Recreation Commission. Essentially, the two departments, Recreation and Public Works, currently charged with providing recreation opportunities for our residents, who currently share a recreation budget, maintain our recreation facilities, develop recreation programs, and support our community recreation organizations will unite as ONE department called Parks and Recreation to serve our community more efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, the proposed amendment would require the Commissioner of Public Works, in coordination with the Recreation Commission, to develop a Policy and Procedures Manual to be reviewed and approved by the City Council which will aid in both our efforts to be efficient and effective in our service to you.

In conclusion, the CRC’s proposed amendments, in our view, align with our mission and goals and align with the CRC’s goal to find efficiencies and organizational improvements to better serve the people who live and work in the City of Saratoga Springs.

We hope you find this information helpful in making your decision on November 6th. VOTE! IT MATTERS.


Recreation Commission


Our mission is to create fun, safe, affordable activities, and to enrich the community’s quality of life through outstanding recreation programs, resources