At the June 7th Council meeting Mayor Yepsen announced the membership of a new charter review commission she is establishing. She noted that the list is “still growing” so she may be making more appointments.
This is a list of the members so far and who designated them:
- Matt Jones –– Lawyer Specializing in Land Use Issues– Selected by Commissioner Scirocco
- Elio DelSette –– Past President of Musicians Union, head of the Civil Service Commission and I believe served on at least two past charter revision commissions once I think as Chairman– Selected by Commissioner Madigan.
- Robert Kuczynski –– Son of Hank Kuczynski. Hank was Mayor Ken Klotz’s deputy– Selected by Commissioner Franck
- B.K. Keramati –– Former GE engineer, he ran for the NYS Assembly as a Democrat and lost several years ago– Selected by Commissioner Mathiesen
The following were selected by Mayor Yepsen:
- Gordon Boyd – Established and ran an energy consulting business, ran for mayor several years ago, was most recently an official with the Independence Party, was active with the Saratoga PAC
- Jeff Altamari –A retired energy executive, he served as the Mayor’s treasurer in her last campaign
- Barbara Thomas – Long time past president of the Saratoga Springs League of Women Voters
- Robert Turner – Professor of Political Science at Skidmore.
- Laura Chodos –Long time Yepsen supporter and past member of the New York State Board of Regents
- Beth Wurtmann – Was a television news reporter at one time. Is something called a Fellow For Communications with the Regents Research Fund, affiliated with the New York State Education Department
- Pat Kane –Works with a publishing company. Was campaign manager for Mat McCabe when he ran for Finance. Was a leader in the last unsuccessful campaign to rewrite the charter to end the commission form of government and replace it with a city manger form.
- Mike Los – – He works for Congress Park Capital which deals in financial services
There is no question that Joanne Yepsen has an enthusiastic vision of mobilizing people into committees that will take on the many tasks that she thinks would make the city better. The problem is that just establishing committees in and of itself is not always the best way to achieve things.
The last successful charter revision was done when Ken Klotz was Mayor. The committee’s mission was simply to clean up the charter that had all kinds of archaic items that were either no longer relevant or that were in conflict with other provisions or state law. They also added some new provisions for offices and for procedures to address other problems they identified.
It took this group eighteen months to complete their work. It took them many months just to thoroughly educate themselves regarding the charter as it existed then.
My own experience in both government and business tells me that this current project has structural problems from the beginning.
First of all it has no specific charge. These committees can either be directed to make revisions in the current charter, as was the case with Mayor Klotz’s committee, or the committee can be charged with replacing our current commission form with an entirely new form of government as was the case when Ray Watkin was Mayor. Mayor Yepsen has at this point not given her committee a direction. Some of the appointees on this committee feel passionately that we need a whole new form of government. Others have a history of supporting the existing commission form.
Complicating the situation even more, without naming individuals, this committee has some very strong personalities on it that have not always played well together. Worse is the size of the committee. As noted earlier, the Mayor has indicated that she may be adding even more people to the committee. It is my experience that the larger the committee the more time it takes to transact even the most menial of tasks. The larger the committee, the more difficult it is to have problematic personalities learn to work together. Big committees are in general a cumbersome and not usually a very successful way to do business.
So as it stands now it appears that the committee has no clear mission. It has no chair. It has no budget. It has no staff. It has no time table. It remains unknown how much in the way of money and resources the Mayor and the Council will provide this group.
Were they to come up with a plan to abolish the commission government and replace it with a strong mayor and a council or city manager form (which a number of Yepsen’s appointees on this committee have worked hard for in the past) they would need to come up with new administrative positions to manage the city’s business and with a way to transition from the old form of government to the new as well as a realistic assessment of the cost of the transition and the new proposal. This is truly a Herculean project.
Let me be clear, I am open to considering a change in our form of government. I am just skeptical of the idea that you just bring diverse people together and they make magic.
Time will tell.