City Council Responds To Charter Review Commission

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 3, Robert Turner, chair of the Charter Review Commission, updated the Council on his commission’s work. Originally Turner had planned to bring a budget to the Council for this meeting but then postponed this. 

Turner noted that his commission has spent twelve of the sixteen thousand dollars approved for 2016.  $6,000.00 was spent to pay city Assistant Attorney Tony Izzo for legal help and $6,000.00 for a clerk to record the proceedings. Turner told the Council he planned to meet individually with members of the Council in the following days to discuss their 2017 plans and needs.

Mr. Turner told the Council that his commission planned to present to voters a new form of government to replace the Commission form that currently governs the city. While his commission has not yet decided on what alternative form they will present to voters, they want to schedule a vote for a special election to be held in April of 2017. His commission feels this is preferable to putting the item on the ballot for the regularly scheduled November election. He asserted that to have the referendum on charter change at the same time as a general election for City Council in November would make the process “political.” He asserted that the focus on personalities in a regular election would undermine the ability of the public to thoughtfully address the charter change issue.

He read from the state municipal law that basically requires the city to fund the Charter Commission’s work.

Under some pretty withering criticism, Mr. Turner remained composed.  When the discussion was closing he promised to have a budget for 2017 by next Tuesday (January 10th).  Under subsequent questioning he indicated that while he had sent out a proposed budget, no formal action had been taken by his committee yet.

The reaction from the Council was spirited.

Accounts Commissioner John Franck was extremely skeptical about the ability of the city to have a special election in April. Since the city, not the county (which is usually in charge of running elections) would be responsible for conducting a special election; the Accounts Department would play the major role in carrying this out.

Franck told Turner that he had no position on what the outcome of the referendum should be.  His primary concern was over what he viewed as a problematic process.  He noted that holding a vote on charter change in April would seriously “suppress” the vote and suggested that some in favor of charter change might prefer a smaller turn out. 

As to Mr. Turner’s concern about “politics” confusing the outcome of a November vote, he reminded Turner that the 2006 vote on charter change lost in every district and the 2012 vote for yet a different charter change lost in all but two.  Franck offered that such an overwhelming rejection seemed to undermine Turner’s arguments about the public being diverted by politics.  The defeats weren’t even close, he told Turner. 

Franck questioned the ability of the Charter Commission to meet the strict election regulations and timeframes required for an April vote in light of the fact that the Commission had yet to determine the most basic issue: what form a new government might take.  He looked at the timeframes and speculated that in order to be on the ballot in April the charter language would have to be resolved by law at least sixty days prior to a city vote.  This would mean that the Charter Commission would have to complete its work by February at the very latest.  Franck then went on to discuss the enormous difficulty the city had in dealing with the ballot preparation even after the previous commissions had adopted their plans.  He said the process went on for many weeks.  He strongly argued that even sixty days was insufficient time to complete the many steps required. He also told the Council that the full cost of preparing the ballot and having a special election could easily cost the city $40,000.00.  In an exchange with Tony Izzo they reminisced about the many hours devoted to editing and cleaning up the last two charter proposals as support for how difficult the process would be.

Franck engaged city attorney Tony Izzo in a discussion regarding the scope of the city’s financial obligation to the commission.  In particular he asked Izzo whether the commission could require the city to appropriate moneys for a special election as well as moneys for its general deliberations.  He said the responsibility of the city to fund the general support for the deliberations of the commission was clear but that requiring the city to fund a special April election was not.  Mr. Izzo was unsure of this and said he would research it.

Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco was even harsher.  He asserted that there was “no justification” to change the city’s commission form of government in light of the fact that “there is no more successful city” in New York.  He characterized the Commission’s plan for a special election as “ludicrous.”  He said they would do better to strengthen the existing charter.

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, asserted that having a special election in April would be expensive and noted that the city had not budgeted for this.

Mayor Yepsen explained that she was intentionally keeping a distance from the commission to allow them to independently work on the charter.  Of the fifteen members of the commission, Mayor Yepsen appointed eleven.

Commissioner Mathiesen who has publically expressed support for ending the commission form of government spoke briefly thanking the commission for its work.

To Mr. Turner’s credit, he remained positive and conciliatory throughout the entire discussion and emphasized repeatedly his commission’s desire to work with the City Council.

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “City Council Responds To Charter Review Commission”

  1. Wow! They are already changing the form of government. Have they ever laid out the case for the advantage of one form over another in a clear and concise manner? (Listing all the forms of government available to us.) Costs, efficiency, etc. Is there a document that the commission put out explaining all this?

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    1. I agree with Dave’s comment above. A clear document would be very helpful. Also, I perhaps am not paying close enough attention, but why do we need to revisit this issue over and over again? Is there something in the Charter that requires us to do so? I can’t recall any huge public outcry to change our form of government. Maybe I’m missing something? Thanks also for your excellent reporting!

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      1. Our charter indicates the charter must be reviewed every 10 years. This review, though, does not have to involve looking at a totally different form of government. It can involve looking at the existing charter and tweeking it. In my opinion this commission is squandering a valuable opportunity to explore improving our current charter in their rush to dump the commission form, something many of them had indicated they wanted to do even before the Mayor put them on this commission.

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  2. NUTS!…Lets be frank this group had no direction from the beginning other than to change this form of gov’t. The vice-chair of this group is none other than pat Kaine who also was involved in the last two attempts to change this form of gov’t……guess who appointed him???….Yepsen….Yepsen is the driving force behind this committee because she wants a STRONG MAYOR FORM with a six figure salary…..is SHE to be rewarded for her unethical behavior??,lets hope not.

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  3. This is a blatant attempt by the mayor for more power – which is EXACTLY why this should NOT happen here. While I am in support of some changes with the city charter (such as the addition of a city manager, but only if the city manager reports to the city council on a whole, equally), ANYTHING giving the mayor any more power should NEVER be allowed here – and especially one who has already proven herself to be unethical. What she obviously wants here is a fulltime position for the mayor with fulltime pay – ans more power. Even a ‘weak mayor’ form of government would give her more power. This should NEVER happen – let alone in a special election (and I agree with John Franck that tactics like this IS voter suppression and for that reason alone this should NEVER be allowed to happen).

    And yes, this is yet ANOTHER reason why #TheMayorsGottaGo

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    1. Mayor clearly cracking under stress. Pressures of the job. Ratings sinking below Tom Curley. Pitiful. Another reason why #TheMayorsGottaGoToAFabuousResort Know just the place. Call me, Babe.

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      1. Don Tweetle: Please don’t put Tom Curley in the same light as our current mayor. I know Tom personally, and I know he is a good and honorable man. I also know that the crap in the papers concerning him was beyond wrong, and what the party did to him for truthfully doing the right thing. Unlike what today’s dems appear to be doing with our current mayor.

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  4. Those on the commission who indicated in the straw poll they took that they wanted to change the form of government were all Yepsen appointees. All of her appointees and only her appointees voted for change.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 7 comments before i get to bat – all accurate. This is a non-starter with a proven track record as a loser. Which is a shame, because Charter Change is not without it’s merits per se` – but because it gets lumped in with self-interests, laid out by several before me, it has no chance.

    I hesitate to be so definitive given the fact that i blew my prediction in last November’s election epically… but you guys don’t pay me to keep the bat on my shoulder. So, I’ll add this: The only way the electorate will seriously consider Charter Change is if the resolution contains one simple provision: These changes will take effect after the current occupant of the Mayor’s office leaves. Imagine, Yepsen is our last ‘weak’ Mayor.

    She can then position herself is a modern-day Moses: Leading her people to the promised land, though not able to enter it herself. That would be leadership! Let us see if she instructs her appointees (a majority, as John noted) to craft such a provision. Sure.

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    1. Readers,
      To date nothing has been drafted outlying what this new form of government will look like, what it will cost, or what it will be (city manager, strong mayor, wards, etc.) The only decisions that have been made is that they will hire someone to write / draft a new charter that includes a new form of yet undetermined government, and they would like a special election at taxpayer expense on May 30th – a Friday. They would also like 4 year staggered terms so essentially some local office elevtions will get caught/up campaigning during state and federal elections.
      Thank you,
      Commissioner Michele Madigan

      Liked by 1 person

      1. May 30th is a Tuesday. It is the last possible date to hold a election before nominating papers are due to run for the City Council on June 6th. The Charter Review Commission felt that having a decision on the Charter either way by May 30th would allow candidates to make a decision whether to run or not knowing what the future form of government would look like. May 23 is the state mandated Tax Grievance Day and May 14 is the School Board elections.

        Under 4 year staggered terms, the local elections would not get caught up with state or federal elections. City Council candidates would run in 2019, 2023, 2027 etc. and the other class would run in 2021, 2025, 2029 etc. 67% of municipalities in America have four year terms.

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  6. Bob Turner – how about a commission that is NOT 90% appointed by an unethical mayor that wants a full time gig with full time pay?

    I’m sorry, but three times in 10 years for this is ludicrous. I disagree with a LOT of these suggested changes as well. NONE of this is needed now – or wanted.

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