I received a post from Pat Kane on July 14th in which he addressed issues associated with the Charter Commission’s plans to eliminate the deputy positions. The full text of his post appears below and I have also posted it as part of the original thread it was directed to.
I found Mr. Kane’s comments quite disturbing. As part of responding to him, I sent the comments to someone who has a keen knowledge of government processes in general and Saratoga Springs processes in particular. I think sufficiently highly of this person that I would venture he/she would put this blog out of business were he/she ever to decide to blog on politics. Here is the text of the response.
Full disclosure, while I’m not totally supportive of the charter commission’s recommendations, (and I am extremely disappointed in the way this was handled by the mayor, and subsequently by Mr. Turner and Mr. Kane) I’m 100% in favor of ending the commission form of government in our city. There is a reason, perhaps an almost Darwinian reason, that this form of government went from existing with some regularity in the early-mid twentieth century, to being almost non-existent today. I believe we are only one of three municipalities in the state that still have this form. It increases inefficiency, duplicates services and operations, and leaves the staff and deputies subject to the whims of elected officials, some of whom are shockingly un-invested in the day-to-day operations of City Hall.
I have several issues with Mr. Kane’s response and perspective on this.
1) I would love to know how Mr. Kane and the charter commission (CC) picked which deputies to interview. Doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, which to me, makes it a sloppy bit of research. By his own telling, Mr. Kane says that they interviewed only 3 who served in 2017, which begs the question: why did you only interview 3 out of 5 (60%) of the deputies currently in the city’s employ? I find that odd. Other people should too.
2) While I understand that concerns abound regarding “patronage” jobs, it is not at all unusual for mayors, city council members, state assemblypersons, state senators, governors, etc., to put people in top positions that they are familiar with. Given the level of complexity and sensitivity of the jobs, and the fact that voters put a particular elected official in that spot largely based on his or her policy beliefs, it makes sense to have an elected official employ a like-minded person – a person who is capable and comfortable executing that vision. Mr. Kane (and others) routinely conflate the idea of jobs that are politically appointed (e.g., deputies) with “patronage” jobs – which in the political world, have a certain “not what you know, it’s who you know/gravy train” connotation to it. It feels like he is trying to make the idea of an appointed job a dirty or insidious thing; it is not.
It should also be noted that a city manager and asst. city manager would also be appointed, and would not be totally void of politics. You wouldn’t necessarily want the arbitrary results of civil service examination picking your top operations person for you.
3) Mr. Kane’s January 2018 forecast on deputy tenure sounds arithmetically right to me, but it couldn’t be clearer that he is picking a yardstick which distorts the data in his favor.
So, in January 2018, the longest deputy will have served for 2 and ½ years, and he goes on to cite the other would-be tenures to come to an average of “about 1 year per deputy.” When he cherry-picks the timeline like that, he is actively choosing to massage the statistics in his favor. Shauna Sutton served for 6 years; Joe Ogden for 2.5 years; Lynn Bachner for almost 5 years; Tim Cogan for many years; and Eileen Finneran is completing her her tenth year having served as a deputy under Mayor Keehn, Commissioner Kim and Commissioner Mathiesen. That average of deputy experience is considerably more than “1 year.” He then proceeds to directly and disingenuously compare this “average” of 1 year with the idea that the incoming city manager and assistant city manager would have 15-20 total years of general experience and he seems to suggest that this manufactured juxtaposition should make the choice a no-brainer. Mr. Kane is only considering “deputy” experience to build his 1 year “average”; Mr. Kane then allows himself to consider all of one’s work experience when considering the 15-20 years the prospective managers would have. My understanding is that Joe Ogden who served as Mayor Yepsen’s deputy for 2.5 years, served something in the range of 10 years of public finance and state government experience coming into that job. All of the deputies currently serving in City Hall have had other jobs, for many years. It’s absolutely ridiculous for him create this 1 year versus 15 years comparison that is not only wildly misleading, but false.
Also, he seems to be casting the “deputies come and go” reality as the disease and not the symptom, when it is really the other way around. The city election cycle is two years, and people plan for that reality accordingly. The deputies, the highest ranking non-elected officials in city government, are also paid about half of what the city’s top grossing employees make. The deputies often leave because the mayor and the City Council lack the requisite political courage to say: “the deputies are high-level managers; they work many hours; they put up with a lot; they are there in our stead; they need to make more.”
4) He appears to lack an understanding about city operations regarding this idea that 2 people can do the work of 5. That simply will not happen. Again, Mr. Kane is totally confusing the structure of government as codified in a charter with the goods and services the public requires that government to produce. The best example of this is the deputy commissioner of finance. The deputy commissioner of finance not only serves as the traditional deputy for that department, but that job also – and more importantly – serves as the city’s budget director. Even if the deputy job went away, you would have to hire a budget director as that job is far too big to be absorbed by the finance director, a unionized job which is already akin to being the city comptroller. Honestly, it would appear to a non-city employee that that job is the hardest deputy job. The deputy mayor job would be/should be eliminated in the face of a city manager, but the work currently being done by these individuals will have to get done by someone else. And a city manager and assistant city manager, reporting to the mayor/City Council and to a very active, very involved public, will not be able to absorb all those functions. Mr. Kane’s comparison here does not hold water.
5) Mr. Kane also seems to be confusing the notion of what it costs the city to employ someone with their compensation package. Deputies make about $72k and a family plan for health insurance costs about $23k per year is my read of info from the city is about right. That’s $95k in compensation If you’re taking the family health insurance option. The additional $15k in expenses that the city incurs (retirement/social security contributions) are not considered compensation. Again, Mr. Kane tries to make it look as if the “16k per year of experience” is the better bargain, because he counts all of the city manager’s job experience when crafting that number, and he then he turns around and tells us that the deputies are costing us “110k per year of experience” as he conveniently leaves out any other job experience, counting only the deputy job experience. If that isn’t being disingenuous I don’t know what is.
6) Mr. Kane’s comment about the 3-4 high level, experienced employees in each department is true, but he is wildly mistaken if he is banking on those employees absorbing deputy functions. Those employees are largely – if not exclusively – unionized and they are not supposed to be working more than 40 hours per week or outside their job title. Even if the charter changes, the collective bargaining landscape will not.
I think charter change is a generally good idea, but it has been executed so poorly from beginning to end that it’s really hard to get behind this particular iteration.
Pat Kane’s Original Comment
|Patrick Kane commented on Deputies: Challenging Charter Commission’s Prejudices
“This week Finance Commissioner Madigan announced the appointment of a new deputy, Michael Sharp. This is one of the five …”
I too served on the charter commission this year. I personally interviewed 7 people who served as deputies in our commission form of government. 3 who have served in 2017 and 4 who have served in the last 3 years. Every single person would speak on the condition that their name would be left out. All current deputies or former deputies were perfectly clear in their professional opinion that The Commission Form of Government does not serve the City of Saratoga Springs in a professional manner. The most common terms used was ” constant fighting and bickering among commissioners and departments”. 6 of the 7 felt that they brought little or no professionally specific skills to the job. 5 of the 7 also stated that they had a personal relationship with the person who appointed them prior to the appointment.
In January of 2018. Deputies Tenure The longest serving deputy will have 2 1/2 years experience. Finance deputy will have 5 months service, public safety will be brand new to the job, Public works will have 1 1/2 years, and the deputy mayor will be brand new. That average is about 1 year per deputy. Currently deputies have a 110,000.00 compensation package or 550,000.00 for 5 (110K per year of experience)
Professionally trained and experienced Professional City Manager and Assistant City Manager The combined experience with two professional management positions will likely be 15-20 years. Their salary package for both will be an estimated 330,000.00 ( 16K per year of experience) So is 550,000.00 for 5 people with and average tenure of 1 year of on the job training, equal to 2 people with 15-20 years of professional training and experience at 330,000.00 ? The show will go on. Lets not forget that there are 400 full time employees that have been serving the public year after year regardless who is in office or who that commissioner appoints as deputy to work in their department. Additionally, there are 3-4 senior level employees ( non-deputies) in each department that have served in their departments longer than 15 years in their role.
With a two year transition period, the needs of the city will be reviewed and a professionally crafted plan will be in place for a seamless transition on January 1, 2020.