In a story dated August 1st on the Times Union website Wendy Liberatore reports that the current Charter Review Commission is considering expanding the city council by adding two additional members who would serve strictly as legislators with no administrative responsibilities over city operations as I had posted in a blog earlier this week. This is a link to her story: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Spa-City-council-may-grow-13123866.php
In her story Ms. Liberatore writes that “Critics of this latest charter review group, which is made up of elected officials and their deputy appointees, dispute that two at-large council members would have equal power with council members who head up city departments. They say the idea demonstrates the group’s lack of understanding of municipal government.”
She then offers the following quote:
“They would be junior city council members,” said Bob Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College who was the chairman of 2017’s charter review commission. “They will be at a significant disadvantage. It reflects their lack of any kind of research and understanding of the problems inherent with the commission form of government.”
I don’t understand how they would be “junior members” which I take is meant to be pejorative. These two members would have equal rights at the council table. They would be able to introduce legislation, have an equal vote, work with constituents etc. Maybe he is thinking they will have a disadvantage because they will lack the kind of in depth knowledge and understanding of the workings of city government that Commissioners who run departments have. But then that would have been the case of the entire city council in the manager form Turner’s commission proposed.
Even more puzzling, though, is Turner’s statement that the current Charter Review Commission members don’t understand city government.
The members of this Commission are people with extensive practical working experience in government in general and in the Saratoga Springs’ commission form in particular. I would encourage readers to sit in on one of this commission’s sessions or watch the videos on the city website. The conversations at the meetings I have attended/watched have been thoughtful, in depth, and sophisticated explorations of all aspects of our city’s charter. Members have shown not only an understanding of the charter’s provisions and legal implications but also how those provisions play out practically in the day to day running of city government. The other aspect of this commission that I find interesting is the lack of acrimony and the respect shown when members differ.
Professor Turner does not seem to understand what it means to civilly disagree with others. He might consider that Mayor Kelley supported the charter as proposed by his committee but in light of what appears to have been the defeat of the that charter, decided to explore what could be done to improve the commission form. He also might consider that Commissioner Peter Martin who is a member of the current commission was an outspoken supporter of charter change. Turner’s attack on the current charter commission that they are have no understanding of the “problems inherent with the commission form of government” is simply baseless and unhelpful.
Professor Turner’s obsession with ending the commission form of government in Saratoga Springs seems Ahab-like. One hopes that he might step back and take the tack of Mayor Kelly and Commissioner Martin. They have accepted that barring the overturning of the last election, the city will be maintaining the commission form and that we should explore how to make it as effective as possible. Most of all, he might observe the proceedings of this Charter Review Commission as an example of how thoughtful people can come together to work on thorny problems where there are differences in a civil and constructive manner.