Charter Commission: A Full Time Mayor? A Tangled Web

The issue of whether or not there should be a full time mayor in the new government proposed by the Charter Review Commission has become more complicated. 

 At the March public forum held by the Charter Review Commission the presentation by Bob Turner indicated that the commission envisioned a full time mayor.  When a member of the audience asked him about the salary for this position, Mr. Turner offered that he thought it should be in the $60,000.00 to $70,000.00 range. While Mr. Turner went on to describe activities they envisioned a mayor would engage in such as “consensus building” and “going out into the community and listening” none of this is referenced in the charter draft and indeed it is difficult to imagine how these ideas could be translated into language for the charter. The actual duties they have come up with are  listed in section 2.04 of their draft . They basically include presiding over meetings of the city council, appointing boards and committees, giving an annual state of the city address, and representing the city.

 The new thinking as reflected by the April 6 Charter Revision Commission meeting minutes is that the charter will not address the issue of whether the mayor should be full or part time.  In an email to me, Mr. Turner pointed out that the charter for any of the elected position does not address how many hours the positions require. 

In his note to me he offered:

 “The amount of time a mayor will spend on the job is a function of who the individual is.  It was pointed out to us that there has been a significant difference in the time the last 5 mayors have spent on their duties.  There is no language in any local, state or national charter or constitution about the amount of time a legislator or executive can or should spend doing their duties…”

So the city council we will elect this November would set the salaries and benefits for the future elected officials including how much a future mayor should be paid including if he/she  should have a staff should the charter pass.  There is no requirement in the charter that the mayor ‘s salary match council salaries so in effect, they would decide if there should be a salary for the mayor that is consistent with a full time position.  Nothing would require a mayor under this system, though, to actually work full time.  It is true that in the past most (not all) mayors have in fact put in what most people would consider to be a full week on the job.  It is important to remember, however, that with a city manager, many of the duties that these past mayors have had to handle would now be done by a city manager.

So a hot issue in the next election would be how much the candidates would be willing to pay the future mayor in the event they win and the charter passes. Of course nothing would hold them to this.

 There was quite a bit of push back at the public forum on having a full time mayor.  This new approach may reflect this.  At the risk of appearing snarky, I have a feeling that a majority of the charter commission would like to see a full time mayor but were afraid that if it was incorporated in the language of the charter, it might result in the referendum failing.

Salaries And Staggered Terms

I cannot remember the last time the mayor and city council’s salaries were raised.  Given the current atmosphere, I would doubt an action on this is in our immediate future under the current charter.

The staggered terms for council members the charter commission  is proposing could complicate the process in the future, though,  should their charter proposal pass.  State law requires that a seated council cannot raise their own salaries. They can only  raise the salaries for the next elected council.  So it’s hard to figure out how this would work with staggered terms since at any given time only a portion of the council would be eligible to vote for a raise.  There may be a simpler answer for all of this but it would appear on its face that a council would have to propose raising the salaries not following the next election but following the election after that so that none of the seated council members voted for their own salaries, a delay of perhaps four years. Or would this happen in a year when four were up for election and the other three abstained? Or would some get the raise and others have to wait for the next election cycle?



17 thoughts on “Charter Commission: A Full Time Mayor? A Tangled Web”

  1. Mayor Yepsen appointed 80% of this charter commission and to give her(that’s if she wins) an $80,000 salary on top of at least a$180,000 plus benefits to a city manager is insanity….other than themselves minus a growing number of commission members this mission has been a total waste of time!


    1. merlin
      I am not sure where you are deriving these figures and assumptions, but they are inaccurate. I or any member of the charter review commission would be happy to discuss this further.
      Thank you
      Pat Kane


      1. They are pretty accurate but what is not accurate is this commission’s direction,commission insiders have told me that the city manager concept is about to be scraped for a strong mayor form.


  2. If you recall the US Senate has a staggered 6 year term. The same rule applies to them as far as compensation goes. How did they do it?


    1. From the Congressional Institute:
      Who decides how much to pay Representatives and Senators?

      Congress does, and has done so since the Constitution was ratified in 1787. Article I, Section 6 of the US Constitution states:

      “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

      This means that Congress is responsible for adopting legislation, which must be signed by the President to become law, that determines its salary. It took Congress more than 25 years to pass its first increase, which raised the daily pay from $6 to $8 in 1818. It was not until 1856 that Congress decided on a fixed yearly salary instead of the original per diem system. Since 1975 Congress has received automatic cost of living adjustments to their salary equal to the percent increase of other Federal employees. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 made some further adjustments to this system and established the guidelines currently in use. The last time Congress actually voted to raise its salary occurred in 1991 when the Senate’s pay was raised to the same level as the the House of Representatives.

      The most recent change to our Constitution, the 27th Amendment, also deals with the issue of Congressional salaries. The Amendment states:

      “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

      This amendment was proposed in 1789 but was mostly forgotten until the states slowly began ratify it, with enough states finally deciding to make it an official part of the Constitution in 1992. It has the effect of holding Representatives directly accountable to their constituents before they are able to receive the benefits of any new legislation on their salary, although current statutes essentially did the same thing. Federal Court rulings have decided that the annual cost-of-living adjustments do not fall under this amendment because the law establishing them does not require new legislation for each yearly increase.


  3. So this is beginning to feel like a possible Brexit moment for Saratoga Springs. An enthusiastic but unrealistic sales job for a change that will have many unintended consequences including financial ones.


  4. John,

    I believe that on closer examination you will find that a sitting Council can increase or decrease its compensation by local law following hearing and subject to permissive referendum. Changing the compensation of a subsequent council would only require adoption and filing of a local law after public hearing.

    I have always been predisposed to favor charter change but prefer a council/mayor form. The proposal now on the table seems to me a tough sell. An appointed city manager cannot function as the chief executive. That role is reserved to the mayor. Discarding the commission form is likely to be difficult enough without adding what will certainly become a contentious debate on the role and function of the manager vis a’ vis the role and function of the mayor.

    I know that the manager form has been portrayed as somehow apolitical, but that is silly on its face. The manager serves at he pleasure of the mayor and council and, therefore, must be sensitive to the political winds. Any government devoid of politics would be boring at best and unresponsive at worst. A full time mayor and a council form would, it seems to me, be more in this community’s interest, allow for unambiguous roles and greater accountability.

    Overtime the lines of authority can become blurred and the legislature and executive can retreat from the hard decision at the expense of the manager. Here in Saratoga County this has happened. The county administrator title was established by local law and the the incumbent serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors but the chief executive role is still held by the chairman of the board. Over the years though, the county administrator has often been seen as the county “executive.” Some supervisors have even referred to the administrator as the “county executive” and have used him as the political lighting rod and to give them political cover.

    Lew Benton


  5. The proposed charter resembles a script that needs to be passed on to another team for a rewrite. It’s based on a lot of solid research, but the commission seems to have lost sight of the big picture.

    Two year terms, as John writes, are worth retaining, but having both a full-time mayor and city manager sounds like the set-up for a disaster movie called Clash of the Egos. If the mayor is a legislator with extended duties, then a nominal increase over the basic council salary is reasonable. Bumping it up to $60K or so, seems excessive and contradicts the idea that the new charter is designed to be more cost-effective. An expanded council whose duties are primarily legislative is a positive move that should attract a larger field of candidates — many people just don’t want to be department managers, too, as the commissioners currently are.

    If the proposed charter has a major flaw, it’s the general lack of creativity and failure to include real checks and balances. How about the ability of the mayor to veto city council resolutions and the council’s power to override those vetoes with a larger majority? The council should also have to power to confirm or remove mayoral appointments to the various boards for cause, including obvious conflicts of interest and ethical lapses, as John’s various exposés have revealed.

    Instead of a “strong mayor” or “strong manager,” perhaps we should consider a “strong council” that vets applicants, appoints the department heads, and hires a “weak manager” to coordinate functions. Alternatively, we could keep the elected commissioners, add two at-large, legislative-only members, and enact the checks and balance provisions outlined above. While not necessarily advocating for either of those concepts, they’re presented as examples of what a greater sense of vision might look like.


    1. Why not live dangerously and just update the current charter…I as a voter want to cast my vote for who runs the depts. it’s worked all this time.


      1. Do the commissioners run the departments or just appoint the deputies who really run them? A strong and diverse council, who you’d also vote for, can do that, too.


  6. Further thought:

    As someone who’s been involved in marketing for several businesses and organizations, what the various charter commissions fail to see is that Saratogians like the current form of government not because it’s better (I’ve pointed out elsewhere that there’s no objective evidence for this), but because it’s quirky and different. However, the commissions keep making proposals that are borrowed and boring and who wants boring? Until these commissions can come up with plans that are quirky, different, and also better than the current form of government, then their efforts are doomed.

    Think of a revised charter as a form of open software, where the code is freely distributed for anyone to modify and improve, like the Linux computer operating system (John knows what I’m talking about). Let the charter commission put all of its research and interviews online, so anyone or group can use it to craft something uniquely tailored to Saratoga. Turn it into a competition and see what alternatives creative minds can come up with. Michele Madigan gets this and it’s how she’s promoting the proposed Saratoga app.


    1. Thank you, Joe for some fresh and innovative thinking on this. It’s so disappointing that this charter review commission decided almost from the very beginning to just drag out and dust off the old city manager proposal that was already voted down overwhelmingly not that long ago. I don’t know what they think has changed since then that would make them want to trot it out again. Really a waste of time and money and a missed opportunity.


  7. We don’t have a ‘strong diverse Council right now’. There is nothing diverse about this Council or the Councils of the recent past. The Councils are made up of people who are either wealthy, retired or have uniquely flexible professional schedules. Most of our citizens can not run for office because they do not have the time to fulfill both the required legislative and executive duties. Voters don’t understand our form of government. Do they vote for a brilliant legislator who has great vision for the future of our City but whose department he or she oversees forgot to pick up their leaves? How do Council members deal with issues before them as legislators which conflict with their executive oversight responsibilities? It is time to open up participation in City government to a broader choice of talented candidates.

    I think that the Charter Commission is on the right track. We need to take politics and egos out of the the daily operation of City government. A professional administrator will better coordinate the functions of City Hall. No longer will City employees be holding their breath every two years out of fear for their continued ability to do their jobs properly and efficiently. Having staggered four year terms for elected legislators will ensure continuity and stability. The mayor will have more responsibilities than the other members of the Council and so should be compensated accordingly. I do think that the mayor should be required to have Council approval for most of his or her appointments. I believe that some land use board appointments do not require Council approval per state law.

    There will be flaws in any proposal for a new form of Saratoga Springs City government. Rather than picking apart the Charter Commission recommendations, we should be acknowledging that any change to replace the deeply flawed Commission form of government is a step in the right direction.

    Chris Mathiesen (not wealthy or retired but having a uniquely flexible professional schedule)
    Commissioner of Public Safety


    1. I’ll stand by what I said and add being able to vote for the people who will run the very depts. your tax dollars are paying for is the purest form of democracy,you say the council is made up of rich retired people but you say you’re neither but you ran for the seat!..this council is made up of a Accountant,a Librarian,a Professional Fund Raiser,a high school drop-out and a Dentist,that’s not diverse??…Bottom Line this Form of Gov’t works despite the fact that a poor working Dentist was able to run and get elected…..Recommendation Chris: Read Trump’s “The Art of the Deal”..LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “We need to take politics and egos out of the the daily operation of City government. A professional administrator will better coordinate the functions of City Hall. No longer will City employees be holding their breath every two years out of fear for their continued ability to do their jobs properly and efficiently. ”
    1. Comm. Mathieson really believes that politics and egos will be eliminated by this new Charter? How naieve.
    2. City employees will never be holding their breath for fear of losing their jobs, as long as the civil service system exists. He knows this to be true.
    Two exaggerations. Let’s just tweak the form of government that we have, if necessary.


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