Bob Turner, Charter Review Commission Chair Withdraws From Participation In This Blog

The members of the charter commission have continually defended the mayoral salary of $40,000.00 that is included in the proposed charter by citing  data from the  New York Conference of Mayors showing the average salary for mayors in NY Sate is $50,000.00.  This figure is glaringly misleading.

The proposed charter calls for a city manager to take over the running of all city departments so the mayor under this form of government will have significantly fewer responsibilities than is currently the case under the commission form. It is not surprising then that  the NYCM data shows that mayors in municipalities that have city managers are paid an average of only $22,000.00.  In fact the median salary, the more relevant measure, is only $12,000.00.

This problem of the misrepresentation of the NYCM data has been repeatedly brought to the attention of Bob Turner, the chair of the charter commission.  In spite of this, last week, he again used the $50,000.00 figure in interviews with the Saratogian and Gazette Newspapers.

This prompted me to email Mr. Turner asking why he persisted in using a number that appeared to me to be so clearly inappropriate for a comparison.

When I did not hear from him, I wrote him a note asking if he planned to respond.  I have always greatly appreciated Mr. Turner’s availability to me and his willingness to engage publically.  He responded that he would write me a reply.

Over the following week I wrote him several times indicating that I wanted to incorporate his answer in a post I was working on.  I know that Mr. Turner, in addition to the many hours he devotes to the charter has a demanding job and a family with two daughters so I always feel guilty pressing him.

Today I received the following reply:


From: Robert Turner (Government) [bturner@skidmore.edu]
Sent: Thursday, September 21, 2017 12:09 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Requests

John,

I have been very open and transparent to and only said nice things publicly and privately about Jane.  However, given your wife sees fit to keep slandering me in the Saratogian, “How many times do you think Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission Chair Bob Turner or a commission member or one of their supporters has used faulty or secret information or cherry picked data to support the need for charter change? I’ve lost count.” I am going to pass on answering your emails.

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

 

 


I regret his decision as I think his participation in this blog has been very helpful in educating the community on the charter.

 

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Commissioner Franck Shreds Charter Commissions Financial Analysis (Version 2)

[JK:Due to an error with the video of Matt Jones, I am reposting the corrected version]

The Charter Commission is required by law to craft an analysis of the financial impact the adoption of their proposed charter will have.

This document was finally released Monday night and I published it in a previous post.  The brevity of the document was best described by Commissioner Madigan when she noted that the disclaimers were longer than the analysis.  I reproduce the document again below for the skeptical.

Commissioner Franck, in addition to being the Commissioner of Accounts, is a CPA and runs his own firm.  The following is a video of his searing critique of the document.  I might have been a little gentler in my style than Commissioner Franck but the substance of his remarks are clearer than anything I have been able to craft on this question.

The projected savings in the Charter Commission’s financial document are based on the elimination of the part time commissioners and their full time deputies.  Commissioner Franck delivers a devastating analysis that exposes the fact that the numbers bear little relationship to reality.

As important background, the Charter Commission interviewed literally hundreds of people in their deliberations but as a commission chose not to interview any of the deputies.  Their defense was that it would have been unfair to question the deputies about the viability of the commission form of government since they serve at the pleasure of their respective commissioners.

This argument ignores that the Charter Commission could have limited their questions to simply asking about what it is that deputies actually do.  For this blogger, and I have stated it in the past, it seems hard to fathom a decision to eliminate the deputies without first determining what functions the deputies carry out that might be required under the new charter and whether the scale of these responsibilities (along with the jobs of the  commissioners) could be absorbed by the single, proposed city manager.

Below are two videos.  The first is Commissioner Francks’ criticisms from the council meeting.  The second is an excerpt from the last charter meeting in which attorney Matt Jones takes exception to Chairman Turner for the unflattering way he has referred to the deputies.  I must say that I greatly admire the respectful and gracious way that Mr. Jones expressed himself.  I think it is an interesting contrast to Commissioner Francks’ style.  I think attorney Jones’ concerns will give  the reader some insight into why the Commission failed to interview the deputies.

Financial AnalysisFinancial Analysis

John Franck Video


Matt Jones Video

It is a little confusing but when Mr. Jones goes on about describing the deputies in very unflattering terms, he is quoting Mr. Turner.


Robert Turner Responds

Saratoga’s Racino Down 25%

Jesse McKinley reports in the September 20 edition of the Gazette that “…the Saratoga Casino Hotel has seen a precipitous drop in its net winnings since the opening of the Rivers Casino, some 30 miles south”.

The Gazette reported the racino brought in $16,000,000.00 last August, typically their best month.  This August their earnings were down by nearly 25%. 

The story reports that James D. Featherstonehaugh, part owner of the Saratoga racino, expected “even more declines.”  Featherstonehaugh said,   “It’s clear we’ve reached the stress point, especially in upstate New York.  The number of good quality jobs and first-rate facilities, we’re at the end of that”.

The Gazette has a pay wall but for those with access, here is a link.  https://dailygazette.com/article/2017/09/19/new-york-s-bet-on-new-casinos-has-yet-to-hit-jackpot

 

Charter Commission Releases Analysis of What Their New Government will Cost: They Don’t Have Any Idea

If you thought you were going to find out how much a new government under the proposed charter will cost you, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Monday night the Charter Review Commission finally adopted their “Financial Disclosure Summary.”  This was supposed to disclose what the financial impact of adopting the new charter might be.

The poverty of this document is stunning but not surprising.  In effect, the Commission declined to risk any kind of projection as to what the cost of the transition to the new government might be or what the cost of this new government might be over the first year or for any time frame for that matter.

Commission member Jeff Altamari, its author, defended the document by saying that there were so many unknowns that he only felt comfortable using the most minimal known figures from the charter.  I have both respect and sympathy for Mr. Altamari.  He had neither the resources nor the time to figure out what he and the commission envisioned this new government to actually consist of and therefore had to base his analysis on a minimal series of assumptions. 

His document simply states that the cost savings of eliminating the salaries and benefits of the commissioners and their deputies along with the costs incurred for a city manager, six council members and the increase in salary for the new mayor will add up to a savings of $391,000.00.  He then covers himself by admitting that these numbers do not represent the actual costs of the new government.

One of the big problems with this financial  analysis is that the major savings are based on the assumption that the deputies will disappear along with the Commissioners. The proposed charter, however,  states that the deputies will continue after January 1st at the discretion of the city manager.  Nevertheless the financial analysis assumes the savings of the eliminated deputies as though their last day of work were the day before the charter takes effect. 

The document’s financial calculations, as written here, would also rest on the huge assumption that the new city manager alone will be able to absorb the work done by five full time deputies and four part time commissioners. Previous discussions by the commission during the year had assumed there would probably be a need for at least a deputy city manager. Budgeting for an external auditor was also dismissed in the drafting of this document.

In their defense, no attempt was made to hide the poverty of this financial analysis.  The document states:

“No attempt is made to conjecture about costs and savings that may be the result of future actions by a Council Manager government.”

And

“The above [the table of numbers] does not include any costs that may be incurred transitioning from a Commission to a Council-Manager form of government.”

In something of an understatement they write: “The above are strictly estimates and are not guarantees of savings.”

The Charter Commission is simply stating as an act of faith that the city will save money.

 

 

Financial Analysis

Financial Analysis

 

Saratoga County League of Women Voters Sacrifices Years Of Trust In Their Haste To Endorse Proposed Charter

Dear reader:

This is a rather long piece.  The length is necessitated by the gravity of my accusation against an institution which I believe to have played, up to now,  a vital role in our democracy. I deplore cheap attacks and to understand what the League has done, it requires understanding the history of the League and the specifics of what has occurred.  I have included at the bottom a copy of the League’s explanation as to what they have done.


The National League’s Standards For Fairness

[This excerpt is from the National’s narrative on how to arrive at an organizational position.  Note that the process is not exclusive to the members of the board but is supposed to involve the membership]

“The first step is vital: STUDY. League members across the country must look at all sides of an issue, study the facts, the ramifications of all approaches to that issue, alternative solutions, the impacts on people, places and things, the costs and benefits. Only after studying the issue do League members come together in their own local Leagues to discuss that issue at a meeting to arrive at the “consensus” of their League on the issue.

The results of all local Leagues discussing the issue are compiled to determine the consensus of the League as a whole. CONSENSUS is not a vote – rather, consensus is a mutual agreement of League members arrived at through civil discourse, the hallmark of the League of Women Voters.

In the process of discussing the issue, League members must turn the issue upside down, sideways, backwards and forwards. Because of our nature, training, upbringing,  experience and hearing others’ ideas, League members will see an issue differently. In fact we cherish the fact that we bring different perspectives on issues. Because the process of coming to consensus is an amalgam of members’ thoughts, ideas and ways of looking at the facts, members attending the consensus meeting must dig deeply into the issue. That is why we cannot typically pose a consensus question in the frame of “Do you support the NPV compact approach to electing the President?” Consensus questions are designed to spark a discourse about the issue akin to the discussion we would expect policymakers to have when they deliberate the issue. Consensus questions are not black and white, yes or no questions. There is no right or wrong answer to a consensus.”

How The Local League Studied The Forms Of Local Government And What They Decided

Concerned about the organizational effectiveness of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and other municipalities the local League initiated a “study” in May of 2015.  Consistent with the standards of its national organization it labored over this work for two years and issued its position in April of 2017.  Note how modest their finding is.  A mere two paragraphs, it reflected the caution that is consistent with both its history and the nature of the process.  Here is the text:

“The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County believes that it is important to have a clear separation of powers, and checks and balances in County Government and therefore we support having an elected County Executive. Additional reasons for supporting a County Executive are that because the County Executive would be elected county-wide the Executive would be focused on the needs of the County as a whole; and because the term of office would be longer than the current one-year term of the Chair of the Board of Supervisors continuity and long range planning would be enhanced.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County believes that Cities in this County should separate their administrative functions from their legislative functions by having a City Council that makes policy and laws and either an elected executive or an appointed administrator to carry out administrative functions. The League supports this separation of functions in order to have a strong centralized administration, to have clear lines of responsibility and to eliminate waste.”

The Local League Pushes Through Endorsement At Board Meeting

As noted in the excerpt from the National League, decisions are supposed to be the result of consensus which is supposed to involve the membership.  No notice was sent out to the membership of the local League advising them that the board planned to take action on endorsing the proposed city charter.

In a release to the media, the board of the local League defended their action by asserting that they had studied the charter to determine that it was consistent with their previously adopted position, to wit, that it would separate the legislative duties from the administrative duties.

This piece of legal sophistry is painfully thin.  The proposed charter involves far more than the separation of powers.  I will be going through the issues of the charter in a series of related posts but here are just a few.  The proposed charter changes the terms of city council members from two to four years and staggers the terms.  It creates a mayor who no longer has any administrative duties but whose salary is roughly triple the current mayor’s salary.  As of the date at which the League made its decision there had been no financial analysis of the cost of the new form of government although members of the charter commission have made claims that it will save many hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There are more but these are just some of the substantial issues involved.

Most conspicuous was the League board’s failure to invite representatives who opposed the proposed charter to their endorsement meeting.  The only person with an in depth knowledge of the document was Barbara Thomas who is one of the rotating League presidents, who is on the board, and who is also on the Charter Review Commission. This seems rather out of keeping with the National’s admonish, “members… must look at all sides of an issue.”

So using the terms from the national, would anyone argue that at this single meeting of the board our League “…study[ied] the facts, the ramifications of all approaches to that issue, alternative solutions, the impacts on people, places and things, the costs and benefits…”  Or that the “League members [had turned] the issue upside down, sideways, backwards and forwards.”

It is also worth noting that as a member of the charter review commission, Ms. Thomas’ decision not to recuse herself from the vote is quite troubling.  When asked by the Saratogian about this, Ms. Thomas responded that she “did not see it as a conflict.”  It seems to me that people of good faith could argue over this issue.  The thing that I used to admire about the League was that it would go the extra mile on issues like this to avoid even the appearance of a problem.  Their main concern was insuring their credibility in the eyes of a public grown cynical about manipulation.

I will be following up this post by going through the charter identifying what I believe to be the critical policy issues outside of whether a reader prefers the commission form or prefers the council/city manager form.  When you vote in November, notwithstanding the League’s myopic approach, you will decide on some very important changes to our government beyond these two models.

One can only hope that the board of the League will see the folly of what they have done and take action to acknowledge the error and to assure the public that they will again adhere to the policies that have made them such an important resource for the community.

Finally, I would take exception with the League’s original position that the legislative players in government should be structurally separated from the executive players.  Most democracies in the world have parliamentary systems.  These include Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries.  When a political party wins a majority of seats, the prime minister selects individual members of parliament to serve as the heads of the country’s key institutions.  There are positions like minister of health, minister of transportation, minister of housing, etc.  Many, myself among them, think that this is a more democratic model and less prone to the kind of executive excess and gridlock that our own country seems to suffer from.


[The League’s statement to its members]


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LeageLogoLeague of Women Voters of Saratoga County Making Democracy Work ~  Not For Women Only! www.lwvsaratoga.org             

 

CharterLogoLWVSC Supports the Proposed new Charter

To the members of the LWVSC: LWVSC supports the new Charter proposed for SS At its meeting on September 6, 2017 the board of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County decided to support the new Charter being proposed for the City of Saratoga Springs. The board decided that the proposed Charter (which will appear on the SS ballot on November 7th) meets the requirements in our position on the Governance of Local Governments, and that the current Charter does not.    The relevant part of our position is: The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County believes that Cities in this County should separate their administrative functions from their legislative functions by having a City Council that makes policy and laws and either an elected executive or an appointed administrator to carry out administrative functions. The League supports this separation of functions in order to have a strong centralized administration, to have clear lines of responsibility and to eliminate waste. Before announcing our decision to the public we want our members to have an understanding of the process we used to reach this decision.  How LWVSC came to support the new Charter being proposed for Saratoga Springs: [As you review the following chronology note that the League study of local governments was initiated a full year before the first meeting of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission (6-28-16) and that the LWVSC board reviewed the proposed new Charter at its first regularly scheduled meeting (9-6-17) following the completion of the proposed new Charter, which was formally adopted by the Charter Review Commission on 6-26-17.]   May 30, 2015 – LWVSC adopted a proposed 2 year local study: “Study whether local governments in Saratoga County (villages, towns, cities and county government) should separate executive or administrative functions from legislative (policy making) functions. Year one of the study will look at current structures, practices and definitions. Year two of the study will reach a consensus position.”   October 2, 2016 – the local government study committee, chaired by Francine Rodger, presented its findings from the first year of the study at a membership meeting.   April 1, 2017– Consensus was reached. April 5, 2017 – The board received the report from the consensus meeting and formally adopted the Position on the Governance of Local Governments. http://www.lwvsaratoga.org/pdfs/LocalGovernance.pdf   September 6, 2017 – the LWVSC board reviewed the proposed new Charter for Saratoga Springs and determined by a vote of 11-0 that it meets the requirements of our position. Four board members who don’t live in the city abstained. (Once a position is adopted by membership consensus, the League board at the appropriate level, evaluates proposed laws and actions for their compliance with our positions).   You are encouraged to find out more about the proposed new charter for Saratoga Springs. LWVSC has scheduled a public information meeting Thursday, September 21st at the Saratoga Springs Library, 49 Henry Street, Saratoga Springs, beginning at 7 pm. Three members of the Charter Review Commission will describe the main provisions of the proposed charter, the process the commission used to study forms of government for cities, and share how they decided to recommend a new charter of the city of Saratoga Springs. Panelists will be Gordon Boyd, founder of EnergyNext, Minita Sanghvi, assistant professor, Management and Business, Skidmore College, and Barbara Thomas, community activist and will be moderated by Pattie Garrett, LWV Saratoga. Read the entire proposed charter :   https://saratogacharter.com/category/documents/ Questions?  Contact any steering committee member.

You are receiving this information because you requested to be on our mailing list. Board Meetings are open to all MEMBERS: Held 1st Wednesday of the month at 7:00-9:00 pm (except July and August); United Methodist Church, Henning Road,Saratoga Springs, NY

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More Hotels! It’s Going To Be Big!

23 Washington
23 Washington Street
Adelphi Hotel
Adelphi Hotel

According to the Albany Business Review the owners of the Adelphi Hotel who are close to completing what must be the most expensive restoration in the history of the city ($28,000,000.00) have even bigger plans.  They are seeking to build what the ABR describes as “a second hotel with a spa and ‘resort-style pool’ on the land along Washington Avenue which includes the old parsonage at 23 Washington along with what appears to be the parking lot (19 Washington?).

 

 

The developers, Toby Milde and Adelphi Hotel Partners LLC say they are going to invest $14 million dollars to build a six story,  50 room hotel there.

The parsonage would be converted into what they describe as a “three-room presidential or bridal suite with an entertainment parlor on the first floor.”  This would be connected to the new hotel and through that into the Adelphi.

In the meantime, the Van Dam which abuts the Adelphi is going to be transformed into a 152 room hotel.  Earlier stories indicated it would be a Hotel Indigo property.

Just up the street on Washington is the Universal Preservation Hall being developed by Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors (Schenectady) for a measly $7,000,000.00 as an expanded entertainment venue.

This is going to be quite the intersection.

Saratoga County League of Women Voters Charter Panel Violates Their Standards of Fairness and Balance

The Saratoga County League of Women Voters has a long and extraordinary history of serving our county regarding public policy issues and elections.  They have earned a reputation for scrupulous impartiality.  They have been tested on many occasions as they have become the established body to host the “candidate nights.”

In addition, they have taken on a kind of consumer reports function by studying a variety of controversial public policy issues and providing educational materials and events to share their findings.  People rightly look at recommendations from the League as an important resource in assessing community controversies.

The League handbook states under Guidelines for Presenting Differing Views of an Issue at a League of Women Voters Information Meeting: “When the League of Women Voters Study Committee has studied an issue and arrived at consensus (my emphasis), it is legitimate that we inform the public of our position and why we support the stand.  In such cases, it is not necessary to present opposition views.”

In April the League issued a position paper entitled “LWV Saratoga Position on Governance of Local Governments”.  The position paper vigorously argued that Saratoga County government needed professional management and advocated establishing an executive who would professionally manage the county.  Currently the county is managed by its legislature through subcommittees.  It also included the following text regarding the cities in Saratoga County:

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County believes that Cities in this County should separate their administrative functions from their legislative functions by having a City Council that makes policy and laws and either an elected executive or an appointed administrator to carry out administrative functions. The League supports this separation of functions in order to have a strong centralized administration, to have clear lines of responsibility and to eliminate waste.

Several weeks ago the League announced that it would hold a public forum on the proposed Saratoga Springs city charter.  Three representatives from the Saratoga Springs Charter Commission would be the presenters.  No one opposing the adoption of the charter was included. The League leadership cited the position taken in April on separation of powers and the section of their handbook cited above as the justification for presenting a panel on the charter that included only those in favor of the change.

Jane Weihe, my wife and one of the leaders of SUCCESS, a group opposing the adoption of the proposed charter, contacted the League.  She pointed out that the proposed charter involved far more than the establishment of a city manager.  For example, in addition to the replacement of the current commissioners with council members who only have a legislative function, it established a mayor’s position with an increased salary and decreased responsibilities.  It revised the city attorney from a part time position to a full time position.  It changed the terms of the members of the council from two years to four years and it staggered their terms.  It established term limits for members of the council.  It established a controversial plan for how the transition would take place.  Many questions about what the new government would actually look like and what it would cost have been the subject of heated debate.

Jane would have had no problem with a one sided forum on the virtues of separating administrative from legislative functions in local governments as that was the position adopted by the League.  What she took grave exception to was that the League has never studied the proposed charter (it still may not be complete) let alone endorsed it and it was specifically this document that was to be the topic of the forum

A common definition of  “consensus” is unanimity.  I know for a fact that there are members of the League who vigorously oppose the adoption of the charter.  Not only has the League not formally taken a position on the charter, in light of the divisive nature of the issues it is extremely unlikely that they could adopt it by consensus.  [JK: Betty Gallagher, who was one of the founders of the League has indicated that the League’s definition of “consensus” does not require unanimity.]

The League seems to not have considered that it is quite possible to support the idea of a city manager but to disagree with other facets of the proposed charter and thus oppose its adoption.

I would note that the League has a stellar history statewide of taking strong exception to maneuvers by politicians who stretch rules to serve their goals.  It is hard to reconcile this record with the failure by the Saratoga County League to study and unanimously endorse the Saratoga Springs charter while putting on a panel consisting only of supporters of that charter.

My friend Barbara Thomas is one of the three people who head the League as a member of the Presidential Steering Committee.

I cannot think of a person in our city who has worked harder on social justice issues than Ms. Thomas.  She was on my board when I was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council.  For decades she worked for Planned Parenthood championing women’s rights to healthcare and abortion.  She has served for decades in a leadership position in the League of Women Voters.  If there is an issue of injustice, I can fully expect that Ms. Thomas will be there to fight to right it.

Last year Mayor Joanne Yepsen appointed Ms. Thomas to the Charter Review Commission. I was concerned earlier this year when she defended the Commission’s plan to hold a special election the day after Memorial Day week end to vote on the charter by claiming the voter turnout on that day would be higher than the turnout at the regular November election.

She has now been selected by the League to be part of the three member Charter Panel.  So Barbara chairs the League, is a member of the Charter Review Commission, and will be a panelist presenting the virtues of a new charter.

Following complaints by members of SUCCESS about the lack of balance on the proposed panel, the League emailed Jane.  They proposed that in addition to the panel made up of 3 charter commission members, they wanted someone opposed to the charter and someone in favor of the charter to each speak for 10 minutes.

After consulting with other members of her group, Jane declined the offer.  Three charter commission members were to be allotted an undetermined amount of time to state their case and in addition a member of the pro charter advocacy group It’s Time would be given another 10 minutes to make arguments for the adoption of the charter.  That would leave 10 minutes for one member of SUCCESS to put forward arguments against adoption. 4 to 1 and an unbalanced time allotment did not meet the standards the League has always met for presenting balanced information on controversial topics.

I am simply stunned by all of this.  There has been plenty of zealotry accompanying the controversy over the charter.  As I have documented on this blog, some rather questionable tactics have been used by good people whose judgment has been compromised.

I would have expected my friend Barbara, in spite of her role in crafting the charter, to insist as the League always has, that both sides of the issue be scrupulously balanced so that all the facts would come out

 Wherever one stands on the future of the proposed charter, I hope that you would share my concern that the League is tarnishing its extraordinary record and its credibility by violating the rules that are the essence of the trust they have earned over the years.

 

 

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