May I Be Excused For Being Confused?

May I be excused for being confused?

I received an email from Bob Turner, Charter Review Commissioner Chairman, in which he corrects a statement I made in an earlier post that the Commission had made the mayor’s position fulltime in their proposed charter. His correction is as follows:

“For the record, the Charter Review Commission did NOT establish a full time Mayor.  No city charter uses those terms and neither does ours.  Those words are not in our charter.”  (The full text of his email is below).

Questions about the scope of the mayor’s job under the proposed charter arose at a forum put on by the Charter Review Commission way back in March.  In an email to me at the time, Mr. Turner, referring to the discussion at the forum wrote, “I said I thought that we needed a fulltime mayor and that a reasonable salary was in the $40-60,000 range…”    At the time, however, the members of the Commission told the public that if the charter were adopted, it would be the City Council elected in 2017 that would decide the issue of whether the mayor would be part or full time by setting the salary for the mayor.

The Charter Commission apparently decided not to trust a future council to determine the salary, though, and voted at their meeting on June 26th to amend their proposed charter to incorporate a salary for the mayor of $40,000.00 plus benefits.

It is not surprising then that both the Gazette reporter who wrote a story on the commission’s last meeting and I assumed that by adopting a salary of $40,000.00+ that the Commission was anticipating a full time mayor.

The fact that if this new charter is adopted the future mayor will be paid $40,000.00 plus roughly $22,000.00 in benefits but according to Mr. Turner will be allowed to determine for themselves how much time to devote to the job caused me to look more carefully at this issue.

In his email to me Mr. Turner offered the following:

“There is no correct number, but $40,000 seemed like a reasonable amount.  To put the $40,000 in context, we looked at the average and median household income for Saratoga Springs from the Census.”

Average Household Income $86,757
Median Household Income $61,518

 

I simply do not understand this explanation.  “Reasonable” amount for what?  What is the relationship between the household income chart and the $40,000.00?

So What Will The New Mayor Be Required To Do?

I assumed that the mayor would have significantly more responsibilities and duties than council  members and so it seemed reasonable that the mayor would be paid more. When I actually reviewed the proposed charter regarding the specific duties of the mayor, though, I was dismayed by what the Commission had crafted.  I reprint the list at the bottom of this post but I would draw the readers’ attention to two items.

Item #2 reads “Represent the city in intergovernmental relationships.”  While it would be unfair to exaggerate this issue, it would be unwise to underestimate its potential problems.  One expects that the City Manager will be working similarly with “intergovernmental relationships.”   I assume that in the case of the mayor, this will have more to do with advocating on behalf of the city with other institutions in general and the governor and legislature in particular but unlike our current charter this is not made clear here.  Again, given the right personalities, the vagueness of this would not be a problem but my experience in the real world of egos and power tells me there is the potential for mischief and conflict.

Far more serious is item #10 that reads “Perform other duties as may be specified by the City Council.”  So apparently, the mayor will, in effect, work for the city council.  Supposedly the council will pass resolutions directing the activity of the mayor.  I find this something of a stunner.  Even the most casual observer of what goes on every other Tuesday night at the city council will have to question the viability of this.  Remember, the Charter Commission has been promising us that their plan will result in greater comity in city government.  Here is a simple question, what will happen if the mayor refuses to do something that the council votes for the mayor to do?  Can anyone who has endured some of our less dignified council meetings really say that this could never happen?  Could the readers imagine a meeting in which the council stipulates some project for the mayor and the mayor responds that he/she, for $40,000.00 does not have time to take on the task?

Which brings me to my final point. With the exception of this last, dangerously nebulous item, all the other duties listed are quite modest.  According to the charter, the mayor has no other identified responsibilities that would seem to require he/she spend substantially more time on the job than the council members.  I am not the only one who is going to be troubled by the fact that we do not know what we are paying for when we raise the salary as anticipated in the charter.   It is one thing when the mayor is paid a very modest stipend as is currently the case.  Everyone knows that the amount paid is more a gesture than serious recompense given the mayoral duties under the current charter.  The commission’s plan is to reduce the responsibilities of the mayor under the existing charterand substantially raise the salary. There needs to be far greater clarity as to what is expected from the mayor in the proposed charter to justify the $62,000 for wages and benefits.  For the commission to say that they are leaving it to the elected person as to how much time they will devote to the job is not sufficient.

The mantra of the charter review commission is that the city needs better management.  Good management means that when a person accepts a job the scope of their duties are carefully spelled out so they know what is expected of them.  The Charter Review Commission struggled with the idea that the new position of mayor would be bigger than just running meetings and appointing boards.  Unfortunately, they were never able to find a consensus with clarity so they punted and simply raised the salary assuming that somehow it will all work out.


List Of Mayoral Duties From Proposed Charter

    1. Be a voting member of the City Council and shall attend and preside at meetings of the City Council.
    2. Represent the city in intergovernmental relationships. (One wonders how to untangle which relations the city manager will handle as compared to the mayor).
    3. Execute any and all contracts for which City Council approval has been granted.
    4. Appoint with the advice and consent of the city council the members of all regulatory boards and commissions…
    5. Present an annual State of the City message.
    6. Appoint Members and officers of City Council standing committees…
    7. Assign, subject to the consent of the City Council, agenda items…
    8. Create such advisor committees and appoint members…
    9. Chair the Finance Committee of the City Council.
    10. Appoint a Charter Review Commission…
    11. Perform other duties as may be specified by the City Council (Wow!!!! The mayor apparently works for the city council? The mayor must perform any duties assigned by the council? What if the council does not exercise this authority? What will the mayor do?

 


From: Robert Turner (Government) [bturner@skidmore.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 2:28 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Compensation

Hi John,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

NY State law establishes the rules governing a City Council’s ability to raise its salaries.
According to Tony Izzo, a Council can do it one of 2 ways.

1.     They can vote to increase their salaries immediately.  A public referendum is held for voters to decide whether to approve the changes or not.
2.     They can vote to increase the salaries of a future City Council.  There has to be an
election between when a council member votes and the salary increases go into effect.
So if the City Council voted to increase their salaries in 2020, it would not go into effect
until after the 2021 election for half of them or 2023 for the other half.  According to
NYCOM, what usually happens is City Council delay pay increases going into effect until
the entire City Council is eligible.

According to the ICMA Municipal Form of Government, 2011 survey of local governments, 85%
of city council elections are staggered.  So, we don’t believe this is a problem.

Personally, I believe that the current provision of a medical plan with no deductibles,
premiums, or copays for part time City Council members is excessive.  To put their
compensation in perspective, the cost of their benefits ($18,000) and salaries ($14,500) of
$32,500 is higher than the legislative salaries of 30 state legislators.  (see
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-much-should-state-legislators-get-paid/)   And the provision of lifetime health benefits to City Council members after 10 years to service is unheard of in the public or private sector.

Hope this answers your question.

Also, Matt Veitch had asked: Is it now that Supervisors have 2 year terms while the rest of the elected officials will have 4 year terms?

Our original proposal, established 4 year terms for County Supervisors, largely because of your input about the position.  However, our drafting attorney, Bob Batson, told us: “It is my opinion that the Charter provision authorizing a term of 4 years for the Supervisors is not valid since it is inconsistent with the cited provision of state law.  Subdivision 2 of Section 2 of the General City Law authorizes a 4 year term for supervisors elected in the City of Geneva. I believe that Saratoga Springs would need either a special act of the State Legislature or a charter law of Saratoga County to give the supervisors 4 year terms.”  Batson is the Government Lawyer in Residence at the Government Law Center of Albany Law School.  Batson has drafted charters
for: Albany, Amsterdam, Cohoes, Glen Cove, Oneonta and Troy, among others.
Batson said that a special act of the state legislature is required to change the term length of supervisors to 4 years.  Evidently, Geneva, I believe, asked for this and it took 4 months to pass the change.  So the term lengths are 2 years until the law changes and then they are 4 years.

The revised language is below.
There are two slight wrinkles on this.
1.      BK Keramati offered an amendment to specify that the first subsequent election shall be the “beauty pageant” format, where the candidate with the most votes gets the 4 year term and the runner up gets the 2 year term.  After that, the supervisor elections will be staggered 4 year terms. Supervisor A would run in 2021, 2025, 205; etc and Supervisor B would run in 2021, 2023, 2027, 2031 etc.
2.      Matt Jones offered an amendment subsequently that each county supervisor position will be contested separately, head to head elections, until the state changes the law to 4 year terms.  His argument was that this increases accountability in elections, based on his time on the Board of Election.

The exact language is below.

Bob

Bob Turner
Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
Director, Faculty Student Summer Research Program
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, June 26, 2017 6:29 PM
To: Robert Turner (Government) <bturner@skidmore.edu>
Subject: RE: Compensation

Thanks.   What about:
I am confused how, with staggered terms the council will amend salaries.  Since they will serve overlapping years, if they adopt a budget with salary increases for the following year, some of the council members term will not have ended so they could be voting to increase their own salary.  Is this an issue and if so, how will the commission address this?

With respect, B under ethics is vague to the point of irrelevance.

JK

From: Robert Turner (Government) [mailto:bturner@skidmore.edu]
Sent: Monday, June 26, 2017 4:35 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Compensation

The commission will consider two amendments tonight.

8.07 (E)  Initial Salary of Mayor and Council Members.
The mayor shall receive an initial annual salary in the amount of $40,000 and medical
insurance paid in full by the city.  Each city council member shall receive an annual salary in the amount of $14,500 with optional medical insurance offered under the city’s plan, with the premium paid in full by Council member.  This compensation shall remain in effect until such amount is changed by the council in accordance with the provisions of this charter and State law.

Stronger Ethnics/Transparency language –

2.08 Code of Ethics

A.    The City Council shall adopt a Code of Ethics to guide the actions of elected and
appointed City officers and employees. The Code of Ethics adopted shall be consistent
with Article 18 of the General Municipal Law of the State of New York. The City Code of
Ethics shall be updated as needed pursuant to § 806 of the General Municipal Law.

B.    It is the policy of the City that the activities of City government should be conducted in public to the greatest extent feasible in order to assure public participation and enhance public accountability.

Bob Turner
Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
Director, Faculty Student Summer Research Program
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, June 26, 2017 3:21 PM
To: Robert Turner (Government) <bturner@skidmore.edu>
Subject: Compensation

I see in the TU that the commission has decided to write the compensation for the mayor and the council into the charter.  I understand the proposed charter will be amended tonight to address this.  Could you email me the text?
I am confused how, with staggered terms the council will amend salaries.  Since they will serve overlapping years, if they adopt a budget with salary increases for the following year, some of the council members term will not have ended so they could be voting to increase their own salary.  Is this an issue and if so, how will the commission address this?

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2 thoughts on “May I Be Excused For Being Confused?”

  1. One thing I don’t see addressed is what staff the Commissioners will have. Will there still be a Deputy? Will the Mayor still have an executive assistant? This will make a difference in the amount of time a Mayor spends actually doing those things listed as responsibiities. For example, currently, the following is what generally occurs:

    List Of Mayoral Duties From Proposed Charter

    Be a voting member of the City Council and shall attend and preside at meetings of the City Council. (Currently the Mayor has the Deputy and/or the assistant prepare all that is needed for this – attendance at the meeting is the most time consuming as it is for all on the Council)

    Represent the city in intergovernmental relationships. (One wonders how to untangle which relations the city manager will handle as compared to the mayor). (And, currently. much of the main communication is done by the Deputy with the Mayor entering only for the official aspects)

    Execute any and all contracts for which City Council approval has been granted. (Assuming the Mayor has read the contract prior to voting on a contract, this takes minimal time – simply a fact of signing the contract. The assistant does all the rest)

    Appoint with the advice and consent of the city council the members of all regulatory boards and commissions…(This may the one thing that does take some concerted effort and time on the Mayor’s part)

    Present an annual State of the City message. (Again, at this time written by the Deputy with approval of the Mayor)

    Appoint Members and officers of City Council standing committees…

    Assign, subject to the consent of the City Council, agenda items… (Currently a short weekly meeting to identify the items, Deputy and assistant do the rest)

    Create such advisor committees and appoint members…(Once members are assigned, the Mayor has only superficial responsiility unless he/she chooses to be highly involved – which the current Mayor has not)

    Chair the Finance Committee of the City Council.(Again, currently this responsibility has been given to the Deputy)

    Appoint a Charter Review Commission…

    Perform other duties as may be specified by the City Council (Wow!!!! The mayor apparently works for the city council? The mayor must perform any duties assigned by the council? What if the council does not exercise this authority? What will the mayor do?

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  2. Here’s the thing: We don’t need a Mayor, in the conventional sense. We need an Ambassador – a person who first and foremost, will effectuate #2 from the list you printed, to wit.

    “Represent the city in intergovernmental relationships”

    I would expand this to private sector economic development as well…

    If a new charter passes (‘perhaps’ is a generous assessment, way up from ‘you kidding me?’ in previous go-rounds) this Ambassador could be voted upon by the seven member Council – for a one-year term. One year – not renewable, for life. They are the “Chair.” That person, and their fellow Commissioners, work with and direct the City Manager.

    If this sounds similar to our County Board of Supervisors’ procedures, it’s only because that governmental entity works. Without rancor, and drama.

    Give the “Chair” all the specified the specified duties, 1-11, and the higher salary for that year. They will earn it. I could care less whether they do these things in 10 hours or 100 a week. Like me, I believe they will stay until the job is done.

    Why do academics complicate things? In this case, I believe that they have worked in the world of theory, not practice, all their lives. Has any member of the Charter Commission ever held elective office? Not sure, but I think not.

    Perhaps Professor Turner would like to run for the Council, and be our first “Chair”? Might be an eye-opener –I hope he can take the pay cut hit.

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