The Charter Commission met on Tuesday, January 10th.
Selecting a Date for the Referendum.
The commission voted to schedule a special election for a referendum on a new city charter for Tuesday, May 30.
Pat Kane had met with John Franck who had acknowledged the authority of the commission to set the date and to secure the required funding from the city for this election. There had been some question as to whether the commission could compel the city to pay for a special election and apparently the answer to that is yes.
Commission chair Bob Turner led a discussion about the costs associated with holding a special election in the city. Usually the cost of running elections is primarily covered by the county. For a special election just for the city, though, Saratoga Springs will pay. Apparently there are two models for elections. The less expensive model for primary elections involves shorter hours and the ability to have as few as one polling place open. The consensus was to go with the model for general elections with all polling places open from 6AM until 9PM. According to the county board of elections the cost to the city for printed ballots, polling places, and staff will be around $37,000.00.
There was a very long and extensive discussion about whether to go with the May 30th date. For a variety of logistical reasons, this was the only viable date if they wanted to have a vote on the charter in the spring. The question they then turned to was whether to have this on the ballot in the spring or have it included on the November ballot at the regular November general election.
Mr. Turner repeated the arguments he made to the City Council when he appeared before them and most of the members of the commission offered related, supporting arguments. They liked the fact that the charter will be the sole source of discussion as the only item on the ballot in a special election. They will not have to compete with the noise of concurrent campaigns for office. They apparently have budgeted $20,000.00 for a mailer to the public and there was a strong agreement that this mailer would be lost in the blizzard of advertizing that a November election would bring. They felt that by the end of May the “snow birds” will have migrated back to participate in the vote.
There was also the issue that the referendum would have appeared on the back page of the ballot in an election that included candidates whereas in May it would be the only item on the ballot. It was stated that in an earlier referendum held during a general election some 2,000 people cast ballots but did not vote one way or the other on the charter revision item. Someone observed that they were not sure how much of this could be attributed to the public’s confusion or how much to the public’s indifference.
The committee discussed at some length Commissioner Franck’s contention that a spring election would in effect “suppress” the vote.
Some of the commission’s advocates for a spring vote took exception to the idea of “suppression” asserting that the public would be fully informed of the opportunity to vote and that the decision would rest with the citizens as to whether or not to participate. No action was being taken, they argued, to hide the referendum.
Someone asked what the turnout had been in the past for special elections and someone else said that this would be the first special election in the city’s history.
Attorney Matt Jones expressed reservations. He noted that if the ballot included both candidates and the referendum that voters would be quite informed and aware of the charter issue. It would, he argued, be a major issue in the campaign as the candidates would be pressed on their positions on a charter change. His main concern was that an election date be selected when the most voters could be expected to participate and in his opinion that would be in November.
In the end Matt Jones (appointed by Commissioner Scirocco) and Elio DelSette (appointed by Commissioner Madigan) were the only dissenting votes. I believe that Rob Kuczynski (appointed by Commissioner Franck) was absent. All but one who voted in favor of the May 30 date were Yepsen appointees.
Pulling Back From Submitting Changes to the City Council
For many months, a subcommittee chaired by Matt Jones has labored over amending the existing charter. Some of the changes expected to come out of his committee could be enacted by the City Council without a referendum while others would require one. All the changes would assume the continuation of the current “Commission” form of government.
In December, the Charter Commission adopted a resolution put forward by Gordon Boyd (and discussed in an earlier post) that called for a spring referendum on a charter change that would replace the current “Commission” form with something else. It also committed the Charter Commission to submitting the work of Mr. Jones’ subcommittee to the City Council by February 1.
Jeff Altamari asked that the original Boyd resolution be amended to some sort of language that would have Jones’ Committee complete its work by February 1 but not submit it to the City Council. He was concerned that submitting this to the City Council before a vote on a change of government might produce confusion. I think it was a rather shrewd move because throwing this to the council would have directed energy to reforming the existing form of government. It would also have changed the forum for charter change from this commission to the council. Given the overwhelming support for ending the “commission” form of government by the commission members, this was not a route they wanted to travel.
The Boyd resolution was amended accordingly.
An Agenda For Changes But Where Is The Elephant?
Apparently the members of the Commission had received the agenda for their planned meeting for January 12th prior to this meeting (January 10th) [JK: No one can accuse this group of being lazy!] . It is as follows:
7:20 Discussion of Charter Provisions on City Council to include some or all of the
- City Council
- Council qualifications and compensation
- Member qualifications
iii. Vacancy and forfeiture of office
- Council to be the judge of the qualifications of its members
- Council compensation: to be set in charter or to be set by council in
- Council representation and composition
- Number of members
- Terms of office: number of years; staggered or concurrent
iii. Nomination method
- Election method: wards, at large, combination (if wards, method of
districting and apportionment)
- Term Limits
- Council organization and procedures
- The presiding officer: election by voters at large or chosen by
council, duties (voting power)
- The council’s secretary, selection and duties
iii. Time and place of regular meetings
- Method of calling special meetings
- Meeting procedures
- Public meetings
- Council to establish rules of procedure
- Voting, quorum, binding action requirements
As the readers can see, these agenda items are limited to a discussion of aspects of a council in a new form of government rather than a consideration of a strong mayor or city manager form of government. Commission member Minita Sanghvi innocently asked the obvious question. The group was supposed to take on the big issue of what type of government they planned to adopt as their next task. She pointed out that this list of items did not include this.
Mr. Turner and several others on the Commission assured her that addressing the questions on the above agenda would lead them into a discussion of what the new form of government would be.