An Ambitious Schedule
The Charter Commission unanimously approved a resolution introduced by member Gordon Boyd at their December 13 meeting. The motion set an ambitious schedule for completing their work.
Currently, a subcommittee chaired by attorney Matt Jones is working on cleaning up the existing charter. It aims at eliminating duplications and other technical problems. More ambitiously, Mr. Jones’ committee will consider removing items from the charter that are seen as too rigid and restrictive and which should be decided on an on-going basis by elected officials rather than codified in a charter.
For example the following item is in the charter. It probably can be addressed by action by the Council:
No vehicle shall be parked, left unattended or abandoned on any street within the City of Saratoga Springs during a snowstorm, snow-removal operations, flood, fire or other public emergency in such a manner that it creates a hazard or obstruction to traffic. If any vehicle is so found, it may be removed by the City Police Department.
Mr. Boyd’s resolution calls for the subcommittee to submit its final report to the full commission by February 1.
According to Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo, there are many areas in the charter that do not require approval by the city’s voters in a referendum. In general, items that do not limit the authority of elected offices can be amended by a vote of the City Council.
The resolution also committed the group to adopt and publish their “Findings.” I assume this report will set out what they learned from the many meetings they have had with current and past elected officials from our city, city employees, and officials from other communities whose experiences helped them understand the different types of government organization.
The resolution commits the Commission to holding a public referendum in the spring of 2017 should they decide to rewrite the charter to end the existing commission form of government and replace it with a new form like a strong mayor or a city manager.
At the meeting, Mr. Boyd explained that if a new form of government were adopted, it would not take effect until January of 2020. It would, however, mean that candidates in the next election cycle would know that were they to win they could only be in office for one term. They would also be involved while in office with orchestrating the city’s transition to the new form of government.
Mr. Boyd noted that if there were a referendum to adopt a new charter and it were defeated, the work of Mr. Jones’ committee to refine the existing charter would still be available for adoption.
An End To The Commission Form of Government?
Following the approval of Mr. Boyd’s resolution, Matt Jones suggested that it would be helpful to know what the commitment might be for changing the form of government. Bob Turner, chair, then polled the members. Of the fifteen members, eleven voiced their support for adopting a new form, one opposed the change, and three indicated they were undecided. Interestingly, the eleven in support were all appointed by Mayor Yepsen. None of the eleven who were opposed to keeping the commission form indicated what form they would support instead.
The dissenter was Elio DelSette who was appointed by Michele Madigan. B. K. Keramati who was appointed by Chris Mathiesen abstained. Commissioner Mathiesen has been quite public in his call for changing our form of government. Rob Kuczynski who was appointed by John Franck abstained. Mr. Kuczynski is the son of Hank Kuczynski who was the Deputy Mayor under Ken Klotz. Matt Jones who also abstained was appointed by Skip Scirocco.
I am impressed by the quality of the people who are serving on this commission and by the civility of their meetings.
I continue to be skeptical about the ability of a committee of this size, and without an attorney serving solely them, to craft a new charter. The lengthy discussion just to adopt Mr. Boyd’s resolution at the last meeting is instructive of how difficult this job will be. Most of the discussion was thoughtful with many appropriate issues raised. Nevertheless, it took a great deal of time to resolve the issues and vote. The mountain of a new charter will be quite a climb. Bear in mind that they have not even decided what form of government they think the city should adopt and this is after many months of meetings (they began back in June). All of this is greatly exacerbated by their target of completing this work this spring. As I recall, the last successful charter that was adopted in 2001 simply refined the existing charter, and it took that commission almost two years to complete the work.
The challenge is made greater by commission member Jeff Altamari’s requirement that whatever they come up with must be revenue neutral. I remember the tortured efforts made by past commissions to project the costs of their proposed new government forms. The vagueness of their numbers I believe contributed to defeating those attempts. I think that projecting the costs of both making the transition and of the ongoing costs of the new government will be needed as the public will want to know what all this is going to cost. Requiring that it be revenue neutral only adds to the difficulty.
It is worth noting that the cost of having a special election for the city to vote on a change in government is estimated to be around $25,000.00.