Charter Commission member Jeff Altamari bitterly attacked John Franck in an October 13 Reader’s View in the Saratogian regarding criticism of the Charter Commission’s analysis of what the proposed change in government will cost. He wrote:
“Then the shouting started. At its September 18 City Council meeting (he has the date wrong, it was on the 19th) …Frank using profanity in the public forum, ridiculed the Commission’s work, accompanied by Madigan and Scirocco.” Mr. Altamari goes on to urge people to view the video of the meeting. He further states that “It’s disgraceful Franck angrily claimed the Commission’s findings ‘misrepresented the facts.’”
I can understand why Mr. Altamari is stung by this criticism but rather than simply state that Franck’s allegations are false, it would have been more convincing and meaningful if he had addressed Franck’s points and refuted them.
Given the regrettable record of inaccuracies and over statements regularly made by the Charter group, I decided to check out Mr. Altamari’s description of this meeting and watch the video. Now I can understand and have sympathy for Mr. Altamari reacting viscerally to some very sharp and pointed criticism of his financial analysis of the charter proposal, but I have reviewed the video and to begin with there is no shouting. I myself did not hear any profanity but I spoke with John Franck and he admits to using the word “bullshit” at one point. While Commissioner Franck is clearly disturbed by what he characterizes as numbers that simply lack logical credibility, neither he nor any of the other Council members, in my opinion, lose their composure.
I am terribly disappointed in Mr. Altamari. Although I have often disagreed with him, I had heretofore seen him as prudent and responsible. This attack on Commissioner Franck seems recklessly exaggerated on Mr. Altamri’s part and out of character. It cheaply plays to the prejudices of many regarding politicians. I, like Mr. Altamari urge the readers of this blog to take the time to watch the video and decide for themselves.
Video of September 19
In his letter Mr.Altamari also makes the kind of absolute statements that have been unfortunately too commonly used by Charter supporters. “There is no accountability” he writes referring to the current city government. This is the kind of sound bite that so troubles me. City council members are acutely aware that they must run for office every two years. Would he not consider that accountability? I would urge the readers to review his letter. He goes on to claim that “Timely, long-term planning is nearly impossible.” This shrill overstatement ignores the city’s capital budget which does exactly that and has produced the bike trail, addressed the swamp that used to plague Congress Park, replaces aging fire trucks, etc. Mr. Altamari does not do nuance.
In his explanation of how he arrived at some of the numbers in his financial impact statement Mr. Altamari writes that “over 20 cities with city managers were examined.” (He later refers to 31) He notes that “thirteen of these were studied in-depth [emphasis added]: five in New York, three in New Jersey, two in Massachusetts, and one in Vermont.”
So I went to the Charter Commission’s website and under the tab titled “research” I could not find his study. As this is one of the bases for their financial plan, it is more than odd that it has so far not been available to the public. I have written to Robert Turner, the chairperson of the Charter Review Commission asking for a copy of the study. When I receive it I will share it with the readers of this blog.
I would note that while looking at how city manager governments are structured in other communities can be useful, the applicability of these examples is clearly limited. This is particularly true in the case of municipalities in other states where differing mandates and responsibilities for services can have a significant impact on cities’ staffing and budgeting.
The bulk of the savings Mr. Altamari is claiming in his financial analysis comes from the elimination of four part time commissioners and five full time deputies. It simply begs credibility that a man of Mr. Altamari’s experience would recommend the elimination of all of these employees based on looking at other cities rather than carefully analyzing what essential functions these people may perform in Saratoga Springs and how many hours these activities entail before assuming that a proposed city manager and maybe an assistant could absorb these duties. There is also the suggestion that existing staff such as the city’s director of finance or the fire chief or the chief of police would take on some of the duties. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Altamari nor the Commission saw the need to actually ask any of these people if they had the time to absorb these extra responsibilities.
The Commission also assumes there will be savings from two positions a year eliminated through attrition. Even Commissioner Mathiesen who is a strong advocate for charter change characterized that as unrealistic.
It is quite frustrating to me that Mr. Altamari is fully aware of these criticisms but has chosen not to address them. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Franck’s comportment it does not absolve Mr. Altamari from answering the very legitimate concerns expressed at the Council meeting on the 19th.
At the next City Council meeting on October 3rd John Franck did a power point presentation on why he contends that the Charter Commission’s financial analysis badly misrepresent the true costs of implementing the proposed charter. It is no rant. He meticulously and methodically lays out the errors in the document. His presentation goes well beyond the issue of the eliminated positions.
Persons truly interested in assessing whether the financial document is accurate and valid would do well to take the time to watch the video. I have included the power point visuals here.
Power Point Presentation:
And the video of the presentation:
I also urge Mr. Altamari to thoughtfully respond to Commissioner Franck’s critique in the manner it deserves. I would be happy to post unedited his point by point answers or post a video of his response if he would prefer that medium. Since this is such an important issue in deciding whether or not to support the charter, I can think of no reason why a person like Mr. Altamari who is committed to educating the public would not take the time to address the issues.
Finally, SUCCESS has approached both John Franck and Jeff Altamari about participating in a debate which seems to me the best way to serve the public and address the issues. Commissioner Franck has accepted and SUCCESS is awaiting Mr. Altamari’s response. Hopefully he will be willing to attend.