Charter Commission Opts For Council Manager To Replace Commission Form

[JK: This is a release from the Charter Commission]

Spa City Charter Commission Unanimous 14-0 for

Council Manager Form of Government

After eight months of research and deliberations, the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission voted 14-0 in favor of the council manager form of government. The decision is a non-binding recommendation as the commission continues to develop a new charter that will go before voters in a May 30 referendum. If approved, a new charter would take effect in 2019.

The Charter Commission members discussed the importance of representing the wishes of the citizens, providing city services efficiently, and keeping taxes low.

One of the major themes was the increasing competition to attract and retain businesses and workers in the 21st century economy.

“I was on the City Center Parking Garage Task Force in 2001 and saw the plan fall apart due to jurisdictional and political turf conflicts between commissioners,” said Gordon Boyd. “It is 16 years later and we still have no garage.  Now, we are competing with at least 30 other cities nationwide to retain Ayco.  I am worried that the five silos of the commission form of government inhibit the ability to act quickly.”

Jeff Altamari, a former VP of Finance at a Fortune 500 company, emphasized that Saratoga faces increasing competition to attract and retain businesses and workers.  “A new charter needs to be focused on the demands of future growth.  While the existing commission form of government may have been adequate for the last 100 years, it cannot accommodate these demands given its parochial structure and short terms of service.”

Several commission members emphasized that interviews and research had highlighted how a city manager could improve city services.

“When we interviewed city managers from Corning and Batavia, I was impressed with their long-term vision for infrastructure improvements, technology and economic growth,” said Beth Wurtmann. “A strategic ten-year plan under a skilled city manager is what Saratoga Springs needs to stay abreast with 21st century demands.”

Mike Los, who has served in senior management for several major medical device companies, said, “In interviews with city managers from around the state, I was impressed by how they use their professional organization, the International City/Council Manager Association, to identity best practices to save taxpayers money. The city manager of Geneva saved millions on city employee health care costs by creating a regional health care consortium.”

Several commission members also felt that a council manager form of government could minimize partisan bickering and infighting.

“I think the council manager structure offers the dual benefits of professional management, which our dynamic City demands for its future growth, guided by the personal involvement, experience and commitment of citizens on the Council, the bedrock of our City’s historical strength,” said Ann Bullock.

“A council manager structure would reduce political pressures and in-fighting by having the City Council represent the will of the people and the city manager administer the daily operations of the city,” said BK Keramati.

Several members highlighted how they felt the council manager structure would reduce taxes for city residents.

“I think the city would save money by hiring one professional city manager instead of five deputy commissioners,” said Rob Kuczynski.

“In Canandaigua, the city council and mayor told the city manager to keep costs down,” said Bob Turner, Commission chair. “The city manager is forced to squeeze out the waste and inefficiency or lose his job.”

 What is the Council Manager Form of Government?

Under the council manager form of government, the city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning.  The council hires a highly trained non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery. Managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council.

The council manager form is the most popular structure of local government in the United States.  Among cities with 25,000-49,999 population, 63% of cities have a council manager structure, 31% have mayor council, and 1% has the commission form of government. Currently, Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville are the only cities in New York that have the commission form of government.

Next steps

The Charter Review Commission will continue developing an alternative charter at its next meeting on Tuesday, January 24, 7pm, City Hall, with a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. Members will discuss the role of the mayor under the council manager form of government, as well as finance provisions, the city attorney role and the recreation commission.


8 thoughts on “Charter Commission Opts For Council Manager To Replace Commission Form”

  1. Well, you probably won’t attract the best candidates to be city manager if you make them an “at will” employee so they will want to give them a contract. While a majority of the Council can theoretically fire the manger they will probably have to come up with the money to buy out their contract to get rid of them. Usually a very expensive proposition. Remember, too, this commission wants council members to have 4 year staggered terms. It could take 4 years for Saratogians to change the make up of the council that could then get their act together to fire an incompetent city manger and also come up with the taxpayers dollars to get rid of him/her.


  2. Thank you for posting. Now that I know a strong mayor is not a recommended option, I will be glad to consider this as it develops.


  3. Thanks to Gordon Boyd the Charter Committee has finally been exposed and their AGENDA of PRO GROWTH for the City is front and center………..No surprise here Gordie is also a member and big donor of Saratoga Pac which is the anti sustainable saratoga group. All things being equal this should be the death Yepsen’s attempt to do away with our unique gov;t and her rival Michele Madigan.


  4. If I am reading this story correctly, one reason we need to change the form of government is because there are (and always will be) personality conflicts between our elected officials?


    1. There will ALWAYS be personality conflicts between elected officials regardless of the type of government there is in place. Nature of the beast you might say.


    2. Dee, under the proposed council-manager model, there will still be an elected city council, and from time to time council members will disagree on issues, politically or personally, just as they do now. But once the council has taken a position on an issue through majority vote, there will be a single city manager, overseeing the entire city workforce, to make sure all city staff work together to implement the council’s decision efficiently. Under our current commission form, each council member heads a department. If members don’t get along, it often happens that the staff from their departments don’t work together. Even when commissioners and the mayor do get along, the nature of the commission system does not encourage regular interaction and cooperation between departments. This has long been a major criticism of the commission form by many who work in city hall. The results of an extensive questionnaire recently administered by the charter commission bears this out.

      The proposed council-manager system was considered by its creators as a way to correct a structural defect in the commission form. In our current commission system, there is no single government executive – there are five. In the new form, the city manager becomes the chief executive officer. Our elected council members will make the big decisions on the city budget, taxes, and all the other important issues that come before them, just as they do now. We will have a mayor, with similar authority and responsibility to our current mayor. But they will be freed of the day-to-day supervision of staff in a city department, a job they often are not suited to by education or experience. Instead, everyone who works for the city will report to the city manager, who will be a person educated and experienced specifically in local government management.

      Much more to come!


      1. In 2012 ‘”the pig that wears lipstick”..(the city manager form of gov’t) was defeated by 1500 votes….what makes you think that will change because you have more to come?….You also embraced the Arab Spring right?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Rick– We are supposed to move AWAY from centralized control, not coalesce towards it. Too much power in the hands of one, breeds corruption. Just look at how the governor’s office works. Saratoga Springs is successful because of its unique form of governance that has worked for over 100 years. Don’t blow it.

    Liked by 1 person

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