Madigan Calls Out Charter Review Commission on “Antiquated” Payroll System

I received the following description from Commissioner Michele Madigan regarding the city’s computerized accounting system with a focus on payroll. 

Members of the charter review commission have repeatedly asserted that the city’s payroll system is antiquated.  In fact, some members of the commission have even claimed that it is still done with pencils on paper.  Most recently, one of the commission’s members asserted in a post on this site  that “the city payroll system is antiquated… at least 500k can be saved by implementing a modern payroll process.” 

To an unsophisticated person like myself, their statements would make me believe that the city not only has no automated payroll functions but has no plans to address the lack of such accounting tools.

As someone who is a computer programmer and has worked on deployments involving payroll and time recording I can assure the readers of this blog that it is far, far more complex than one would assume. 

I would like to invite any members of the Charter Review Commission to submit a guest post to respond to Commissioner Madigan’s description of how payroll is done currently in the city.  It would be helpful if their response were as specific and detailed as possible explaining what is antiquated about the current system and what system they have in mind that would save the city at least $500,000.


According  to Section 4.3.1 of the current City Charter: “Accounting Systems: The Commissioner of Finance shall maintain and supervise the general accounting system for the City government and each of its offices, departments and entities in accordance with the uniform system of accounts prescribed by the State Comptroller…” As a result: The City of Saratoga Springs utilizes one of the most sophisticated financial management and accounting systems available on the market today – MUNIS – from Tyler Technologies has expertise in Financials, Revenue, Payroll & HR, Citizen Services, and Human Capital Management. 

We are not antiquated, far from it; we have integrated MUNIS software modules into a structured departmental system that centralizes in the City Finance Office. We utilize state of the art technology to streamline all the various nuances of our 7 separate Union Contracts and our Non-Union Employee Contract – ensuring compliance within those individual contracts along with various Finance Policies and Procedures (as required under the current Charter and Commission Government Section 4.2.1 Finance Policy and Procedures Manual).  The City utilizes MUNIS Payroll functionality to manage Contract Improvements, Step and Longevity Increases, Accrual allotment and charges, and Employee Deductions (Health Insurance, Deferred Compensation, NYS Retirement Contributions, etc). At the same time we are interfacing Payroll Cost Accounting into our General Ledger every time we post a payroll. In addition the City uses MUNIS modules for Online Tax and Utility Billing, Tax Collections, Accounts Payable, Building Permits and Purchasing. It’s a sophisticated system.

 Additionally, the Finance Department is in the process of implementing a Time and Attendance system module.  Roll-out of the system has occurred in DPW and within our Police Department.   This project will take approximately 2 years from start to finish and included a detailed review by committee with representation from each department.

System implementations are expensive and take time.  We have invested years in our state-of-the-art MUNIS system. I’ve grown tired of the misinformation being peddled by members of the Charter Review Commission.  Vote yes or no to change the form of government, but please let’s have an honest assessment of this proposal and the costs associated with this new hybrid form of government (City Manager w/ a Strong Mayor).

Thank you,

Commissioner Michele Madigan

 

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30 thoughts on “Madigan Calls Out Charter Review Commission on “Antiquated” Payroll System”

  1. Munis is a Tyler Technologies software that tries to be everything to everyone and nothing to no one. The system that the city has was bought piecemeal and added onto in starts and fits. There are big holes in this software because the Commissioner of Finance does not want to pay the price to bring other departments up to speed. Employees spend an inordinate amount of time literally working around the Munis System.
    There are five purchasing system in city hall, one for each department. The “Kernels” for specific departments are $40,000 to $80,000 each. This comes out of the operating budget of the specific department, not finances budget.
    The city is locked into this system and the cost is exorbitant to get out. The data that Munis has is held hostage, and not retrievable or exportable. All thanks to the Commissioner of Finance continuing to “update the Munis system.” Have you ever look at the munis budget printout sheets they are horrible to read. There is no way to suppress budget items that long ago were zeroed out. More wasted time and paper.
    The individual five departments maintain their own data base in different systems that can not be integrated into Munis.
    As an example off the top of my head, the police garage inventory is not in Munis, the DPW garage inventory is not in munis. The efficiencies and effectiveness of having one inventory system for these two departments is a cost to the city.
    The time spent by various employees engaged in work rounds for munis easily accounts for $500,000 every year.

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    1. Sounds like Paula is a disgruntled city hall employee who needs some munis training, and perhaps she is the source of Mr. Kane’s claims about payroll and systems.

      I must admit to being a bit comfused about your argument, Ms. Johnson. On the one hand you say that “there are big holes … because the Comissioner of Finance does not want to pay the price” … “the city is locked into this system and the cost is exhorbitant to get out”, and then you argue that money can be saved by getting rid of it.

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      1. Saratoga Sam, I am not sure why you feel the need to denigrate Paula. Clearly she is a city employee who knows what she is talking about. There are very specific claims that Commissioner Madigan or another can verify.

        1. “There are five purchasing system in city hall, one for each department. The “Kernels” for specific departments are $40,000 to $80,000 each. This comes out of the operating budget of the specific department, not finances budget.” Commissioner Madigan- is the cost and accounting true?

        2. “the police garage inventory is not in Munis, the DPW garage inventory is not in munis.” Is that true?

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      2. @Sam While Ms Johnson offers information about a system she is familiar with, you offer conjecture and ad hominem attacks.

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      3. @ Merlin – How about 2016? $1.05 Million due to overruns in all 5 departments as well as poor leadership resulting in a $750,000 settlement. Just because there’s a slush fund that covered these expenses doesn’t negate the problems they represent. Again, ad hominem attacks, as I am neither Paula or Ted.

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  2. Ok—I thought we were talking about payroll systems and the claim that it was antiquated and modernizing it would save $500, 000. So that myth was put to rest.
    Now we’re into purchasing and inventory and the claim that $500,000 can somehow be saved there but again without specific documentation as to exactly how that could occur.
    The problem is I think that all these systems are complicated and upgrading and changing them takes time and money and patience. This can all be particularly frustrating for employees , such as apparently Ms. Johnson, who often see only the micro level and do not have a full understanding of the macro level of design and implementation.

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  3. Saratoga County made this shift several years ago and are nearly completed the transformation.
    They are thrilled with it.
    No more paper checks
    Direct deposit
    No more checks to hand out or pick up
    No more time cards to review and review and to review.
    Employees are totally aware of vacation and or comp time and request vacation time on the system at any time.
    The vendors of the new system claim to save The County 500k to 2 million per year. Per Year!
    The system is still new but savings are rapidly accumulating.
    The install fee was 85K for a government 3 times the size of Saratoga Springs
    The biggest saving comes in “Human Capital”. The old time cards were reviewed in detail by a number of managers and HR.

    The City of Saratoga Springs pays every Friday with many employees still getting paper checks
    And a union contract gives employees 15 minutes off to go cash their check every Friday!
    shift supervisors must distribute checks every Friday.
    Does this sound modern to you?
    With Saratoga County on a modern plan, can you find any other tax payer funded organization that still operates this way? Or even a for profit organization?
    Saratoga Springs Finance Payroll personnel generally work 2 days of each week to produce payroll for the employees each week.
    Imagine how much we would save if we paid every two weeks?
    Or we did direct deposit and got the check cashing time off back.
    Just saying!

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    1. Backing up employees checks by two weeks is a problem, not a solution…same old same old from the person who continues to divide a city that is successful..third time in ten years…had enough? …..me too!

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    2. Mr. Kane-
      I’m reading your description of the county’s payroll with a great amount of skepticism.

      First of all you say the “vendors of the new system claim to save the county 500K to 2 million per year”. Are the vendors ‘claims your only source for these numbers? What are the specific numbers of the savings “that are rapidly accumulating”? Let’s remember this county also believed Siemens would save them tons of money in energy and they ended up with a plant that cost them money for years and that they finally had to sell at a loss.

      I don’t understand your statement that “payroll personnel work 2 days a week…to produce payroll.” There is one fulltime person in city hall doing payroll, Florence Wheeler. I don’t think anyone from the Charter Commission interviewed her to find out what she does.

      Time and attendance have been automated in Saratoga Springs for two of the largest departments and is in the works for the rest. I note that you said the County has been working on their transition for several years and is “nearly” completed although no date is given for when they realistically expect to be finished. Obviously these changes take time.

      I don’t know what you mean by “many” when you say “many [city] employees [are] still getting paper checks.” The city of Saratoga Springs does do direct deposit. The thing is, and I’m sure this is also true of county employees (but if you have the statistics to prove me wrong I would be happy to look at them), not all employees choose to take their pay this way for a variety of reasons. This is also true at my workplace btw .For example not everyone has a bank account.

      As to the 15 minute check cashing provision I have no idea (nor do you I presume) how many employees are still eligible for this. In any case this and the frequency of pay are subject to union negotiations which will be a factor no matter what the form of government.

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      1. My data about the county information came from 2 high ranking elected officials.
        Let start with my comment about staff using two days each week. Yes Christine G-brown was interviewed and stated that she dedicates 2 days a week to payroll. Mrs Brown is the Director of Finance and highest paid employee in the Finance Department. She also started in the same interview that conflicts amounts the 5 Commissioner impacts 50% of her work days.
        We attempted to interview as many tenured employees as possible. Most declined for fear of retribution in the workplace.

        Saratoga County has eliminated paper checks. The county employees without checking accounts are giving a card similar to debit card for their pay.
        Saratoga County government is a much larger organization and the officials I spoke with are very proud of the progress the county staff and employees have made to modernize their processes.
        I believe that modernization will solve many of these issues in all departments.
        You are right, the form of governance does not solve all of the issues. The important question is
        Should a 50 million dollar operation be as efficient and effective as possible?
        The current form of governmence has been in place for 102 years and for many of those years doing a good job.
        But we can do better given the right circumstances.
        The light bulb was not invented because the candle broke.
        This not experimental surgery. This a proven solution to outdated governmental operations. 65% of cities our size using Council manager and the rest use strong Mayor.
        Have a nice day.

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  4. Dear Patrick Kane
    you haven’t said it, in your most recent posting (8/30 @5:32 pm), but even if all of your points can be substantiated……does this mean we must change the entire form of government, that we now have in Saratoga Springs, in order to overcome/fix the deficiencies you have noted?
    Isn’t it possible, for example, to change our payroll system, and remain as a commissioner form of government?
    Cannot we pay our personnel twice a month, instead of weekly? With union approvals, of course !!
    etc.etc.
    You are making good points, but must we take things to the extreme?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The question about “tweaking” was carefully reviewed before proposing a different form. Operational modifications could have been done or can be done at anytime.
      The most significant gain in this proposed charter in legislative. The vast majority of our interviews clearly demonstrated the reluctance for citizens to run for office and participate in the governance process. November 2017 60% of our city officials are running unopposed.
      Tweaking can not solve the inherent challenges of the dual role of legislating and operational aspects of the Commission Form. This is another reason why no city has adopted the Commission Form in 75 years. And nearly all have left it.
      Not one city that has left the Commission Form it has returned to it.
      This is not extreme. It is merely upgrading to a more effective operational model and improved citizen engagement structure.
      Arthur told me not to offer to meet for coffee or phone calls. I disagree with him completely with that. I served on a committee and I am always available to share my experiences and opinions in an open forum

      Patrick Kane
      518-857-6129

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      1. What I said was meeting people for coffee one or two at a time was tedious and not answering those readers here who might have questions but are silent. Doing that is as inefficient as the systems you want to replace. Of course you can meet people for coffee, Pat – or a beer if you like. I’m just saying that questions that are raised here should be answered here. For your sake, as i am sure there are many readers who stay informed via this and other media, but would never comment. Enjoy your coffee with Henry, he seems like a decent sort – but he is just one person. It’s now Labor Day weekend – even if you had iron kidneys and not a full-time job, you will not have enough time to convince the number of people you need to even come close to passing this at this point. This is not an argument about the merits pro or con – its pure logistical math,

        Further, I advised you to speak about the savings that will occur, to quote you “from day one” – centralizing payroll and purchasing will certainly save money (though you do not need to change the government to do it) – but new systems will take time. My dad did this exact same thing at Skidmore, and it took years to get out of bad contracts with vendors. Certainly not from day one.

        From day one. Make a list of these items and the amount of savings that will be saved on January 1 of 2020, and post it here:
        1)
        2)
        3)
        etc.

        Speaking only for myself, my vote depends on that answer, if there is one. I doubt i’m the only voter who feels that way.

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  5. Beebee
    This deficit issue has been discussed thoroughly on this blog and in the Times Union. I’m not sure why you are re-visiting it again with the same misrepresentation.

    Cities get sued no matter what the form of government. This lawsuit goes back to 2005.

    It is impossible and inappropriate to put money for something like this in the general budget given the number of unknowns about exactly what the city would owe and when. The deficit in general, though, was anticipated and planned for by Commissioner Madigan and thus was covered with money from the city’s unassigned and unappropriated fund balance without raising taxes.

    Saratoga Springs is in excellent financial shape with no tax increase for 6 straight years. It has the second lowest tax rate of all cities in NY State. The NY State Comptroller rates us the strongest city financially in NY State and we have excellent bond ratings.

    Someone must be doing something right in the Finance Office.

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    1. @Fact Checker – A deficit is a deficit – no misrepresentation. Any finance person with real experience will tell you that reserving up to 25% of the operating budget as a contingency is a huge red flag. I.e., the inability to forecast with any remote level of accuracy. Because the Finance Commissioner prides herself on creating this large slush fund shows she doesn’t understand best practices in financial management.

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  6. Hi kids.
    Just a side note…
    What can we do to help our fellow citizens in Houston Texas?
    Not that it matters, eh?
    Think.
    Just a thought.
    It’s a big country, eh?
    But we are all one.
    Yes?
    Think.

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    1. The Giving Circle here in Saratoga is already mobilizing a relief effort for the devastated area of Houston and the other area.
      The Giving Circle is on Facebook
      They do amazing work! Call Mark at 518-469-6769 and their PO box is 3162 here in 12866.
      I believe Mark will be announcing an organized relief trip to the devastated area in the very near future. They also will need donations too.
      Please call Mark

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  7. I think it’s time we stop going down this rabbit hole with Pat Kane. He is the vice chair of the charter review commission and spends all his time denigrating the commission form of government, very unprofessional. He understands little to nothing about the processes and procedures of the hard working people at city hall, including our elected representatives and their deputies. Why does he denigrate? He does this because the argument to CHANGE to a new form of government (strong mayor with a city manager) cannot stand on it’s own merits. There are no cost savings, which is what Madigan highlights, so he moves on to distractions that have nothing to do with the proposed charter.
    Why? Well, there are no details in this proposed charter, only a strong mayor and city manager hybrid form a government that will be implemented by a transition team of 9 unelected people. If this crazy document (the new proposed charter) is successful 5 of these transition people will be appointed by Mayor Yepsen, and 1 by Comm. Mathiesen, both of whom are not even bothering to stand for reelection, and are voluntarily removing themselves from our city government. Why should they have so much sway in what happens after they are gone? Their appointees would have no accountability to the people. This is undemocratic to say the least. 6 of the 9 members of a very powerful transition team will have no accountability – why? Why not allow the new Council to choose our representation? Frankly, I think this alone would make for an excellent-depth review by our favorite Saratoga Springs Politics Blogger.

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    1. Wow Sam

      Your last post is ridiculously filled with errors and misrepresentation of facts. Please read the proposed charter.
      The form proposed is Council Manager not strong Mayor.
      Our elected officials make all the decisions. Your statement about transitional team is also ludicrous.

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      1. It’s really hard to believe anything you say, here is what your proposed Charter says:

        Section 8.09 : Transition to New Charter:
        A. “Charter Transition Task Force. A Charter Transition Task Force shall be established not later than sixty (60) days after approval of the amended charter by the voters. The Charter Transition Task Force shall be comprised of nine members: five representatives appointed by the Mayor and one representative appointed by each of the four commissioners… ”

        And yes, you are proposing a strong mayor / city manager form of government. Your Charter Chairman (Bob Turner) calls it a hybrid in your recent meeting of 8/22/2017 Watch it for yourself, you were there: http://saratogaspringsny.swagit.com/play/08222017-1464/#2 He specifically says, it’s really “a hybrid form of government” which is why you all elected not to state that you are changing to a council manager form of government in your ballot / referendum language this November.

        Why is it that the opponents know more about this document than what the Charter Commission seems to know. Did you actually pay any attention to what you wrote? Or did you pull your proposed Charter from a template? Answer, Yes. The city of Saratoga Springs deserves better than that. I remember the shock on Bob Turners face at a recent charter forum at the library when the members of the audience had to tell him that the deputies aren’t removed under this charter, so relying on these savings is silly…he then told everyone “well it’s likely the deputies will be removed!” and thats is also on video. Again, this is also stated clearly in your proposed Charter under Section 8.09 Section B: Transition to New Charter: “Deputy Commissioners. The existing deputy commissioners or their designees shall continue to serve in their department management functions until the City Manager’s appointment is effective, at which time they shall serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.”

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  8. Saratoga Sam: The appointments to the Transition Task Force would be made by the Mayor and City Council elected in the upcoming city election. The exact language from the proposed charter makes clear that the ultimate decision to all of these issues lies with the duly elected officials.

    “The Charter Transition Task Force shall prepare a detailed work plan addressing, at a minimum, the following transition issues: re-allocation of the specific duties of each commissioner and deputy commissioner to new or existing positions; establishment of recruitment and selection timetable for City Manager; recommendation of competitive salary ranges for the position of City Manager; recommendation to the City Council of amounts necessary to adequately fund reasonably foreseeable new positions in the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2020; and estimation of any other expenses necessary to include in the 2020 fiscal year budget to fund a smooth transition to the new Charter.”

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  9. Saratoga Sam- I think my shock came because I didn’t understand the questioner. It is very clear from the charter and everything we have said that there are no deputy commissioners in new system. We believe that Saratoga needs a professional with experience and education running the day to day operations of the city, rather than someone who is hired for their political loyalty, and may or may not have experience.

    There is no need for a Deputy Commissioner in the new system because the day to day operations will be provided by the City Manager (see their duties in Article III). We included this language in the charter, “The existing deputy commissioners or their designees shall continue to serve in their department management functions until the City Manager’s appointment is effective” to provide for a smooth transition to the new form of government.

    As for the “template,” the charter we created uses some of our own language but language from many other city charters. As Matt Jones said, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Charter Review Commission used the National Civic League’s Model Charter. The National Civic League’s Model City Charter 8th edition, National Civic League is a set of best practices for drafting charters drafted by a national panel of practitioners and scholars. However, we also kept significant parts of the existing Saratoga charter. We included almost verbatim Article 5 Financial Management, that was drafted by Mark Lawton and the 2001 Charter Review Commission, as well as the entirety of Article VII Tax Districts ; Bonding Limits; Contracts; Assessments, Taxes, and User Fees which was in the 2001 City Charter but is original language that predates the 2001 changes.

    We used parts of over 20 different cities charters for the language on the city attorney, term limits, city boundaries, mayor and city council duties, vacancies, succession to office, city manager powers, personnel, city assessor, and many other parts of the charter. We were also aided significantly by Bob Batson, the Government Lawyer in Residence at the Government Law Center of Albany Law School, who recommended many charters for us to look at and use.

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    1. BT—In your reply to Saratoga Sam you say “It is very clear from the charter and everything we have said that there are no deputy commissioners in the new system.”

      In citing a section from your proposed city charter to support this , however, you conveniently left out the rest of that section which I have printed in bold:
      the existing deputy commissioners or their designees shall continue to serve in their department management functions until the City Manager’s appointment is effective, at which time they shall serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.(8.09 B) (emphasis added)

      You go on to say, “There is no need for a Deputy Commissioner in the new system because the day to day operations will be provided by the City Manager.” But how can you be sure that one person can absorb the duties of 4 full-time employees (along with the other responsibilities you reference in Article III) when your commission never interviewed deputies to find out what it is exactly they do? (see video of your June meeting where this is confirmed)

      If your commission is so sure these deputies are not needed then why have them continue at all? And since you have included the above clause, what happens if the new CM disagrees with your conclusions about the uselessness of deputies? What happens then to all the savings you’ve promised that are dependent on their elimination?

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  10. The city manager is going to be knowledgeable about trucks, snow plows, black-top and concrete. As well as understand the seven union contracts in public safety, understand the hijinks that are played out in both the PD and SSFD, understand the finance and accounting practices and be available for ribbon cutting. All in a day’s work you say. But not knowing who this manager will be (might be?) I can’t wait to see that person. Babs Lombardo worries about the five-headed monster that is our current form of government? This will be interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Hank37

      Both the current charter and proposed charter provide for a person to run the day to day operations of the city. Where they differ is in their experience and education requirements and ethical constraints.

      Under the current system, there are no experience and education requirements for the deputies. Under the proposed charter, “The City Manager shall be qualified by possessing a master’s degree with a concentration in public administration, public affairs or public policy and five years’ experience in an appointed managerial or administrative position in municipal government.” The city manager will have had coursework and experience in negotiating collective bargaining.

      Do you want a patronage appointee or professional directing the day to day operations of the city, aka buying a snow plow? Deputy commissioners can, and very often do, participate in partisan and electoral politics of the city on behalf of their bosses. Very often they are the Commissioner’s campaign manager. City managers are forbidden from participating in partisan politics.

      Under both systems, the departments will continue to be run by the professionals such as the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the Director of Public Works, the City Planner, etc. However, instead of reporting to separate bosses, they would report to the City Manager. The centralization of executive authority in one person, as opposed to 5, is what 99+% of all cities as well as private and non profit organizations do in order to facilitate the coordination of activities and sharing of information for increased efficiency.

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  11. My God, Professor…
    Every time you open your mouth, I am more and more embarrassed for Skidmore – a great institution, which has a (small) scholarship dedicated to my father’s memory.

    Thank goodness, that scholarship is earmarked for a student of business, not poly sci – lest that scholar learn how to design fake, invalid surveys.

    My understanding is that you were appointed to objectively examine the charter – not to change the government.

    Nonetheless, you took the reins with the predisposed intent to impose a new structure of government. Everything that followed had all the objective credibility of a Chinese show trial. This is apparent to everyone – including the people who are voting for charter change.

    I came into this round of debate over charter change with an open mind – but you sir, the mentor of fake survey creating students – you sir, with the arrogant ivory tower approach to the electorate that indicates to me that you have never gotten your hands dirty, like many you are attempting to convince to vote for your pre-determined agenda….

    You sir, like another Professor – Professor Harold Hill in the Music Man (ask your music professor colleagues if you are not familiar) have sounded the alarm, to wit:
    “Oh we got Trouble… right here in Saratoga!
    “With a Capital T
    “That rhymes with C
    “Which stands for Charter!”

    I’ve never bought a snow plow, but I know a snow job when I see one.

    Based on your conduct, and yours alone – I am voting ‘No’ on Charter Change.

    Like

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