Recently I have been struck by the number of thoughtful friends who, having supported the city manager charter proposal in 2017, dismiss support for the current proposal to update the charter out of hand. They decline to engage in a conversation about the actual specifics due to their fundamental opposition to the commission form of government.
I find this odd and troubling. Both Mayor Meg Kelly and Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin supported the city manager form. Yet the Mayor created this charter commission and Peter Martin was an active participant.
Voting for amending the current charter is not an endorsement of the commission form over the city manager form. It is simply an acknowledgement that there are changes to the charter that will improve the city’s operation. Both Commissioner Martin and Mayor Kelly support these changes.
The proponents of the city manager form have made it quite clear that they intend to hold another vote for their proposal as soon as possible. They understandably are hopeful that they will overcome the ten vote deficit they lost by last year.The reality is, however, that they may not succeed. To Kelly’s and Martin’s credit they acknowledge the commission form of government is the form we currently have and may continue to have and that the city will benefit from having a charter that makes that government as effective and efficient as possible .
If you are not familiar with the specifics of the proposed changes, I encourage you to visit the city website where they are detailed and explained.
Mike Sharp, whose name seems particularly apropos, just pointed out to me that the salaries and the provision barring benefits after leaving office were in the proposed 2017 charter. I stand corrected and remove that from my challenge. Having eaten humble pie and admitted to and corrected my errors in the blog, I hope I have set an example that Turner et al will follow.
As documented in a previous post, eight of the now disbanded 2017 Charter Review Commission members issued an attack document on the proposed 2018 charter. They are:
Dr. Robert Turner
Dr. Minita Sanghvi
Ann Casey Bullock
In response, Vince DeLeonardis and Michael Sharp, the 2018 Charter Commission chair and co-chair respectively, issued a point by point rebuttal, to my mind thoroughly discrediting their allegations.
Realistically, I never expected Turner et al to publish a retraction but Dr. Turner and Mr. Boyd have gone so far as to repeat these demonstrably false or misleading statements recently in area newspapers and on their website.
In an earlier and quainter time (pardon my snarkiness), there would have been a debate in a public forum to allow the community to decide for itself which information was valid. Traditionally the League of Women Voters would have performed this service but the League has declined to provide any forum let alone a debate. In fact, in a kind of “blind” efficiency, the board of the League has issued a blanket rejection of the proposed charter without ever having met with members of the charter commission to discuss the changes. The League’s release was a study in brevity. Rather than go though the proposed changes, they dismissed the entire charter in just a few sentences. Apparently, because they oppose the commission form of government, considering whether any of the proposed changes might actually benefit the city under the current form of government was not worth their time to consider.
I will review some of the falsehoods and misrepresentations in the original attack below but I am issuing the following challenge. I will provide any and all of the people who signed the attack the opportunity to write their own post for this site. If all eight of the signatories want individual posts, I will accommodate them all. They can give it whatever title(s) they wish. They can make their post(s) as long as they wish.
The only caveat is that they must address directly the points made by Mr. DeLeonardis and Mr. Sharp in their rebuttal to their allegations. If they, in fact, have credible explanations this should provide them with an excellent forum to share them with us.
Let me go through a few of the points that would need to be addressed.
- They attack the proposed charter for removing the salaries from the current charter with the sensational accusation that this is being done to allow the council members to provide themselves with unlimited salaries. There are quotes in the minutes from Mr. Boyd and Mr. Kane urging that they remove the salaries from the charter. They need to explain this apparent contradiction.
- They attack the proposed charter because it would require the advice and consent of a majority of the city council for land use boards. Their charter had the same policy. These people need to explain this apparent hypocrisy.
- They claim that the projected cost for implementing the proposed charter did not include the increased cost of the city attorney and the cost of a human resources administrator. The city attorney’s hours were increased earlier this year by the council and has nothing to do with the charter. The human resources administrator was approved by the voters in the 2001 charter and thus not “created” by this charter proposal. Mr. Turner and the signers of this statement should have known they were making a false statement since they interviewed the HR person during their own charter deliberations. They need to explain these falsehoods.
- The proposed charter would make the City Attorney’s office and the Information Technology office responsible to the entire council rather than under the Mayor’s office and the Finance office respectively. They claim that having to report to five people (the council) would be dysfunctional. These same people proposed that a city manager report to the seven people who would have formed the council in their proposed charter. They need to explain why this would have been any less dysfunctional than that proposed by the current charter commission.
- They claim that the charter was crafted “with little input from the public.” I would refer people back to the DeLeonardis/Sharp paper but briefly, all meetings were properly noticed, opportunities for public input were provided both at the beginning and end of the meetings. Videos of the meetings were and are available on the city website, surveys and interviews were conducted. I would also note that unlike the Turner commission, the current charter commission strictly adhered to the open meetings laws giving proper notice of all meetings. The frequent violation of the Open Meetings Law by Turner’s group (which included a member of the LWV) was repeatedly pointed out but the violations continued. And because the last commission’s meetings were often held in the Music Hall, the recordings of their meetings are so poor that it is difficult to hear what members are saying. The tape of one of their public hearings was never made public. In addition, Dr. Turner, Mr. Boyd, and Mr. Kane were personally invited to address the current commission and declined. It would be helpful if these people would explain why they declined to participate in giving this commission any input and how their commission was more open to input..
- They claim that under the new charter the council members will be able to set their own salaries. This is false. The council can set the salaries for those who are elected in the future but not for themselves. As noted under item #1, this is the same language as in the 2017 charter proposal. They need to explain why they continue to repeat this false information.
- They make a point that the polling firm used to do a professional poll (as compared to the unscientific poll done by the previous commission) is a “Republican” polling firm. In light of the fact that four out of five members of the council are Democrats, they need to explain what is the significance of this firm, which was the lowest qualified bidder, being associated with Republicans?
- They allege that the mailer sent to the voters was “designed to confuse” and was “hiding the truth.” They say it did not state that the proposed charter “would continue the commission form of government.” The mailer includes the language that the mission was “to improve our Charter without changing the form of government” and further states that the Commission was charged with finding “efficiencies and organizational improvements within the current form of government to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs”. They need to explain why they used this uber language to describe the mailer.
- As to the accusations that the proposed charter would strip the mayor of her power, please review the DeLeonardis/Sharp document where they cite the Turner charter which designates that their mayor will have no administrative duties. They need to explain the apparent hypocrisy of this criticism.
It seems to me that if the facts support them they should jump on this opportunity. In fact, it would be nice if they offered me the same challenge to be on their Face book page. The public deserves these kinds of accusations to be properly addressed.
The following is a reply from Mayor Meg Kelly to a Readers View published in the Saratogian. Yepsen’s Readers View follows.
Readers View: City Charter
Submitted by: Mayor Meg Kelly, 518.587.3550 X2523 Date: 10.22.18
For Immediate Release
I read with disappointment former Mayor Yepsen’s Reader’s View in which she opposes this year’s effort to update our City Charter. Ms. Yepsen takes issue with the manner in which I established the Commission while, at the same time, compliments herself and the Commission she established, despite the fact that their proposal was rejected by the voters.
Ms. Yepsen also attacks the membership of the current Commission and the proposals they have put forward with misinformation and misstatements of fact. Her claims are both unfortunate and incorrect.
While I supported last year’s effort to adopt a City Manager form of government, I also made clear that I would respect the will of the people and indicated that if this proposal did not pass, I would work toward updating and improving our City Charter to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs.
The votes were cast and, for the third time in recent years, the people of this City rejected an effort to change our commission form of government. In keeping with my word, I established the 2018 Commission and charged them with reviewing our Charter and proposing updates/ amendments to a document that hasn’t been updated in 17 years.
That I established the Commission in a manner that Ms. Yepsen believes was wrong, only reassures me that what I did was right. Rather than use my authority to stack the Commission, as she did by unilaterally picking 11 out of the 15 members and thereby denying her fellow Council members an equal opportunity, I appointed my fellow Council members directly to the Commission, together with all deputies and the City Attorney. As she knows, but is apparently displeased by, the residents of this City do not simply elect a Mayor but, instead, five individuals who represent them equally. My Charter Review Commission is reflective of that equal representation and I am proud of the work that they have done.
Ms. Yepsen also fails to understand that this year’s proposed Charter does not “weaken” the Mayor, as the position continues to be the Chief Executive Officer of the City and remains administratively responsible for numerous departments and critical functions in City Hall. To centralize the City Attorney and Human Resources, as currently proposed, recognizes that those positions serve city-wide functions across all departments and not simply the Mayor’s Department.
While it is unknown why or how Ms. Yepsen believes the currently proposed Charter would create a “weak” Mayor, yet she fully supported and advocated for last year’s proposal which removed all administrative duties, gave them to the City Manager, and left the Mayor a mere “ceremonial” figurehead. Also surprising, and I believe hypocritical, is the issue she now takes with having appointments to the land use boards be made with the advice and consent of City Council; that is exactly what was proposed by last year’s Commission.
Ultimately, Ms. Yepsen is misguided. This year’s proposal provides crucial updates and amendments to our City Charter and I encourage you to vote Yes.
Readers View: Proposed New Charter for Saratoga Springs
Submitted By Joanne Yepsen The Saratogian October 21, 2018
For numerous reasons, I will be voting NO on this year’s proposed new charter for Saratoga Springs. The approach, membership and proposed changes that will be on the ballot are very different than the 2016 – 17 Commission.
The 2016-17 Charter Commission included 15 talented individuals throughout the community with diverse skills, political affiliations, broad geographic representation, and professional experience needed for the task. It only came up short by 10 votes out of over 9,000 with no recount. This year, the make up of the “Commission” included no members of the community. Instead, the city hall internal committee crafted a constitution that perhaps accomplished political inside trading but not what’s best for our great city and us.
Also in contrast, the charter on the upcoming ballot weakens the Mayor’s role significantly; moving major departments, the City Attorney, the Human Resources Director, and land use board appointments out of the Mayor’s authority as well as weakens his/her position to bargain with the unions, present the annual state of the city and offer the Capital Budget plan.
Who wants a weak Mayor? Saratoga Springs needs a strong leader who is equipped with decision-making power, hiring and appointment capabilities and bargaining executive power to accomplish the vision and budget that the Council approves. In fact, the only charter commission that successfully passed a new charter in our history was in 2001 under Mayor Ken Klotz, laying the groundwork for a stronger executive. We must conclude, this year’s proposal sets the city backward, not forward.
Lastly, the new charter does not increase the Mayor’s annual salary of $14,500 (essentially the same salary for many decades) which continues to significantly reduce the pool of people that can serve. This is not sustainable, nor reasonable given the importance of our City in the state, nation, and world.
Shortly after the 2018 Charter Review Commission (CRC) began its deliberations, its members issued an invitation to Skidmore Professor Robert Turner, Patrick Kane, and Gordon Boyd to address the Commission. As many of you will recall, these three were among the most active in the now-disbanded 2017 CRC. All three declined the invitation.
Their response, while a disappointment, came as no surprise. During the 2017 campaign those members made their view clear: the current Commission form of government in Saratoga Springs is a dysfunctional disaster that had not only historically damaged the City, but represented a real threat to its — that is to say, our — future. In declining the invitation I assumed that they wanted to broadcast that they felt the commission form was so dysfunctional that any change in it would have no real positive impact. In addition they seemingly did not want to lend credibility to the proposed new charter through their participation.
With only two weeks until we vote, the dissidents, along with five other former members of the past Commission, have now issued a rather ugly, scorched-earth attack against the proposed revisions being offered by the 2018 Commission. I find this troubling on many levels. I could fully have understood if they had urged a “no” vote for the reasons deduced above. They have made it clear that, as is their right, they plan to offer their proposed charter again as soon as legally possible. They could have used this moment as an opportunity to make their case for why the existing charter should be abandoned in favor of one in which City government revolves around a city manager.
Instead, the dissidents have adopted a bunker mentality, issuing a release that embodies much of what has gone wrong with politics in today’s America. It broadcasts their stark narrative that the members of the City Council are greedy politicians who will stop at nothing to gain power and enrich themselves at the City’s expense. This makes me think of John LeCarre who, in his great spy novels, portrayed a cycle in which the perceived venality of one’s opponents is used to justify replicating the same behavior — to win.
So Bob Turner, Pat Kane, Gordon Boyd et al. felt the need to cast the proposed changes to the charter as simple abuses of the public trust. Perhaps they have congratulated themselves for their timing, as we are just two weeks away from a vote. These tactics may in some instances succeed but we should recognize them for what they are: they are by design intended not to reason their way to consensus but to shock and wound.
Since the changes to the charter in Ballot Question One (as compared to Ballot Question Two which would add two members to the council) are both modest in scope and easily explained, Turner et al. had to go to extreme lengths to attack them.
For example (see previous post with all the details of all their accusations) they use shrill oratory to claim that the proposal to remove council members’ salaries from the charter will mean that future members of the City Council will be able to award themselves “unlimited” salaries. This plays on a skeptical public’s fears of “politicians” burdening the citizens with taxes while lining their own pockets. Put otherwise, we’re invited to fear that our government and our elected officials are our enemies. Does this sound familiar?
The problem is that Bob Turner, Patrick Kane, Gordon Boyd, et al. all supported making the same change in their own 2017 charter. So, logically, if you vote for their proposed charter sometime in the future, you will presumably be voting to award Council members “unlimited” salaries. As if borrowing from a Gothic novel we all know, these individuals must have the capacity to stare into a mirror and not see themselves.
The following is an excerpt from the white paper prepared by Vince DeLeonardis and Mike Sharp on this very subject:
… It is also curious why Mr. Turner and the others who signed the letter question the removal of salaries from the Charter, when their own legal counsel, Bob Batson, explained to them that “the model charter rejects putting compensation in the Charter” (see 2/6/17 Commission meeting minutes). Even Pat Kane recognized that “the Department of State and NYCOM recommend that salaries not be in charters” and that “most charters do not identify salaries in the charter”. Mr. Kane believed that “salaries should be left to the Council” and Gordon Boyd fully agreed, stating that “Council should set salaries” and proclaiming that “there is a moral and statutory obligation of the Council to set salaries” (see 3/6/17 Commission meeting minutes).
The Ghost Of Marshall McLuhan
The problem here is not so much whether or not these charter changes are adopted or rejected. Our City is healthy enough to withstand the impact of either the continuation of the existing charter or the adoption of a city manager form of government. Instead, what stands at risk is our ability to thoughtfully engage with each other as citizens in a democratic process. Healthy civic debate, however animated, should not be confused with combat.
And it is not just proclaiming falsehoods or gross misrepresentations, masquerading as fact, which puts us at risk; it is the creation of an overheated rhetoric which is so pernicious and toxic. It intimidates many from offering their opinions for fear that they will be subject to the kind of character attack that pervades documents like the release. Worst of all, it causes many to simply avoid even listening because the experience is so dreadful.
Marshall McCluhan famously observed that the “medium is the message.” That pretty much sums up our situation.
The Grim Decline of the League of Women Voters
In the past, the League of Women Voters set a standard and an expectation for the kind of public dialogue that now appears quaint. They were absolutely scrupulous about fairness and accuracy. Their forums were a study in decorum. If I wanted information on something about local government I could always turn to League-sponsored public events.
Unfortunately, the League appears to have been negatively impacted by the larger forces in our culture. Last year they held a forum on the proposed 2017 charter. They originally set it up so that only the supporters of that proposed charter could participate. Barbara Thomas, who was one of the three co-chairs of the League, was allowed to participate in the decision-making process and to be a panelist in spite of the fact that she was a member of the 2017 charter review commission. When the critics of the charter protested, the League responded by making them a poison-pill offer: there would be three representatives of the charter commission on the panel who would have unlimited time; they would add a representative from “It’s Time”, which was the public relations arm of the charter; and someone else would offer the opposing view. These latter two would be limited to ten minutes each. Needless to say the critics declined to participate in such a lop-sided forum.
This year I contacted the League asking if they planned to sponsor a public forum on the newly proposed charter. I was told by a member speaking for the League that, because they oppose the commission form, they would not be having a forum. I subsequently received an email back from one of the League’s leaders advising me that they did not have time to do a program. A letter to the editor in the Saratogian from League representative announced their opposition to the commission form of government and thus to this year’s charter proposal.
The League made its decision without inviting anyone from the current Charter Review Commission to address them. This could not be more out of keeping with the League’s history, nor more damaging to its public profile.
That the League of Women Voters would squander the trust it had so carefully cultivated over the years by insulating themselves and depriving the public of thoughtful debate and consideration of the most recent proposal for charter change speaks volumes about the state of the body politic in the country in general, and in our county in particular.
This country has had other dark periods in our history. Most obvious was the hysteria we faced during the McCarthy period, when organizations and institutions assumed to be stronger than demagogues failed. Enduring these periods was never easy but there is a native resilience in our democracy and I expect we will come through this one, too, though not unscarred.
Bob Turner and seven other members of the previous 2017 charter commission issued a release this weekend urging a “no” vote on the proposed charter that will be on the ballot this November. Even by the lowest standards from their past campaign they have successfully lowered the bar.
City attorney, Vince DeLeonardis and Finance deputy, Mike Sharp, the chair and vice chair of this year’s charter review commission, issued a response. The contrast between Turner and friends’ release and the response from DeLeonardis and Sharp is striking. The release is full of wind and fury with an utter disregard for accuracy. The response is clear, carefully argued, and devastating.
The one thing we can be thankful for is that we only have to endure this kind of uber rhetoric from Turner et al for three more weeks.
Below is the press release from the current Charter Review Commission. Following that is their response to the Turner release.
2018 Charter Commission Press Release – October 16, 2018
Attached is Saratoga Springs 2018 Charter Review Commission Chair Vincent DeLeonardis’ response to a letter recently issued by members of last year’s Charter Commission. It is unfortunate that these individuals declined to be part of the 2018 process, as three of them were formally invited to do, and instead have resorted to a letter with numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods, corrections for which are outlined in the response.
Given how contentious the Charter referendum was last year, the 2018 Commission aimed to find consensus between those on both sides of the issue, and it is curious to see members of last year’s group now denounce changes they themselves recommended a year ago, and feign ignorance on topics their meeting minutes show they are aware of. The letter also highlights several areas its authors are either not well-versed in or are purposefully obfuscating, such as current City Hall personnel, how the existing Charter functions, and New York State Law.
That this group has decided to misinform voters is regrettable, especially through a letter so obviously hypocritical and given that many of the complaints within the letter are easily proven incorrect based on publicly available information.
We encourage voters to review the proposal Charter on the City website to make their own determinations, and look forward to answering resident questions at the 2018 Charter Review Commission Public Forum on 10/23 at 6:30pm in the Saratoga Springs Public Library. The proposed Charter, as well as other information related to the 2018 Charter Review Commission, can be found at http://saratoga-springs.org/charter.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact Commission Chair Vincent DeLeonardis, CC’d above, or me.
2018 Charter Review Commission Vice Chair
Deputy Commissioner of Finance
City of Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
518-587-7098 ext. 2571
2018 CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
RESPONSE TO LETTER FROM CERTAIN MEMBERS OF THE 2016-17 CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
The 2018 Charter Review Commission has been provided with a letter drafted by Bob Turner, Gordon Boyd, Laura Chodos, Beth Wurtmann, Minita Sanghvi, Jeff Altamari, Pat Kane and Ann Bullock, in their capacity as former members of the 2016-17 Charter Review Commission.
As the letter contains numerous inaccuracies, misstatements of fact, and false allegations, it is necessary, although unfortunate, that a response be provided so that the voters can make a truly informed decision when they go to the ballot on November 6th.
The letter has been copied below in its submitted form. Portions of the letter have been separated to provide a response to each identified portion. Responses are noted in bold.
As former members of the 2016-17 Charter Review Commission, we strongly urge a No vote on this year’s proposed changes to the Saratoga Springs’ charter. The proposed charter was developed with little input from the public, weakens the position of mayor, and does not separate legislative responsibilities from administering laws. The Citizens of Saratoga Springs deserve better government than this. The proposed charter is an inside job designed to serve the interests of city council members who wrote it at the expense of the citizens.
There are two proposals on the ballot, and both merit No votes. A Yes vote is a vote for unlimited City Council salaries, lack of management accountability, and more patronage and self-dealing in city government. Vote NO!
Response: The claim that the proposed updates and amendments were “developed with little input from the public” is false. To date, the Commission has held twenty public meetings, including two workshops and two public forums; submitted and received responses to questionnaires from former Council members and deputies, as well as designated City employees; conducted interviews with numerous individuals relevant to our review; and received extensive public comment and input at meetings, public forums, through written submissions, and in response to both an informal and formal survey, the latter of which generated responses from 250 City residents.
The 2018 Charter Review Commission was also benefitted by the 2017 effort and, in particular, by the numerous individuals who voiced opinions and expressed concerns both in favor and in opposition to the proposed change in our form of government. Many of those opinions and concerns remained relevant, and were duly considered, even with the understanding that the current proposed Charter would maintain our form of government.
Interestingly, Mr. Turner, Mr. Boyd and Mr. Altamari now complain of the level of public input while, at the same time, failing to indicate that each were asked to provide such input and be interviewed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission. Each declined our request.
The claim that the proposed Charter “does not separate legislative responsibilities from administering laws” fails to either understand or appreciate the fact that the 2018 Commission was charged with reviewing our Charter and, specifically, to find “efficiencies and organizational improvements within the current form of government to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs.” To separate the legislative and administrative functions as suggested would, of course, be to change the form of government.
- The 2018 Charter Commission is the four city council members and their deputies and city attorney. All are city employees. There were no private citizens on the Charter Review Commission. There is not a single charter review commission in the history of Saratoga Springs or New York that does not have any private citizens. It is a case of the “Fox Guarding the Henhouse.” VOTE NO.
Response: Saratoga Springs has five City Council members. The 2018 Charter Review Commission consists of the four Commissioners and their deputies, the Deputy Mayor and the City Attorney. Each member of the Commission was duly appointed by Mayor Kelly in accordance with New York State law. The “fox guarding the henhouse” idiom is misguided and objectively false as it is the voters of Saratoga Springs, or “private citizens”, who will ultimately have final say and determine whether the proposed updates and amendments to the City Charter will be approved.
- Saratoga Springs voters should not give City Council members a blank check to set their own salary and benefits. Under the current charter,the existing salaries for the commissioner and mayor are set at $14,500. The 2018 Charter Commission members removed those constitutional salary limits. Under the proposed charter, the commissioners and mayors get to set their own salary increases. This is bad public policy and government without oversight. Vote no.
Response: This statement is false. Under the proposed updates and amendments to the Charter, City Council members do not have the ability to “set their own salary increases”. The salary contained in the current Charter is not a “constitutional limit” and may be established by the Council pursuant Local Law. The process by which any salary increase may occur remains unchanged from the current Charter.
As each member of the 2017 Charter Review Commission knows, or should know, a city council cannot increase their own salary during their term without a public referendum, in accordance with New York State law.
Establishing salaries by Local Law is not only allowed in the current Charter and the proposed 2018 Charter but, ironically, was also the method established by Mr. Turner. Indeed, Section 2.24 of the 2017 failed Charter provided that annual salaries for the Mayor and Council members “shall be established by Local Law in conformance with New York State Law.” Thus, the salary amount identified is not a “constitutional limit”.
Additionally, and for clarification, Saratoga Springs does not have “mayors” but, rather, only one Mayor.
The proposed charter has no limits on salary. Why? According to the Charter Commission Chair, DeLeonardis said, “There is general consensus that the salaries are inadequate”. Similarly, the Council members and their deputies maintained the policy of council members receiving taxpayer funded lifetime health benefits after 10 years in a part time position. This new proposal adds fuel and incentives to runaway costs of our local government. VOTE NO.
Response: As indicated above, neither the current City Charter, the proposed Charter, nor Mr. Turner’s failed Charter, contain “limits on salary”.
It is also curious why Mr. Turner and the others who signed the letter question the removal of salaries from the Charter, when their own legal counsel, Bob Batson, explained to them that “the model charter rejects putting compensation in the Charter” (see 2/6/17 Commission meeting minutes). Even Pat Kane recognized that “the Department of State and NYCOM recommend that salaries not be in charters” and that “most charters do not identify salaries in the charter”. Mr. Kane believed that “salaries should be left to the Council” and Gordon Boyd fully agreed, stating that “Council should set salaries” and proclaiming that “there is a moral and statutory obligation of the Council to set salaries” (see 3/6/17 Commission meeting minutes).
That these individuals now take issue with what they actually proposed themselves is by definition hypocrisy.
- There are no savings, only increased costs. The official mission of the 2018 charter reform was to find “organizational efficiencies”. Their own estimate of the potential savings of their charter is $0. Moreover, their estimate does not include the $67,000 raise they gave the commission chair and city attorney, Vince DeLeonardis, to go from 30 to 40 hours a week. The new charter also does not include the significant salary increase of creating a Human Resources Administrator in Title 10. VOTE NO.
Response: The charge placed upon the 2018 Charter Review Commission was to find “efficiencies and organizational improvements
The claim that there are “no savings, only increased costs” is inaccurate. As was articulated on numerous occasions, the proposed updates and amendments to the Charter under Question 1 (which maintains a five member Council) will cost the taxpayers a total of $0. Costs are only associated with Question 2 (which adds two Council Members-At-Large) based upon salaries, and potential benefits, for the additional Council members.
The determination by Council to make the position of City Attorney full time occurred well prior to the proposed updates and amendments to the City Charter and is, thus, entirely unrelated. Moreover, the position of Human Resources Administrator has existed in our Charter since it was approved by the voters in 2001 and, thus, already exists. In fact, the HR Administrator was even interviewed by Mr. Turner’s Commission.
To be clear, the proposed Charter does not include amendments that result in “creating” the position of Human Resources Administrator and it is troubling that Mr. Turner and the others could somehow be unaware of this, given their purportedly thorough review. Simply moving the position from Title 3 to Title 10 will cost the taxpayers a total of $0.
- The 2018 Commission is using taxpayer funds to run a political campaign to protect their jobs. First, the 2018 Commission spent $7,500 of taxpayer dollars to Public Opinion Strategies, a prominent Republican polling firm, in Alexandria, Virginia, that asked individuals what party they belonged to and how they voted on the 2017 charter. Second, it used taxpayer funding to send a political mailer to every voter in the city. The mailer does not even state that their proposed charter would continue “the Commission Form of Government”. Why are they hiding the truth? It is designed to confuse voters who supported the 2017 charter into voting for the 2018 charter. The mailer never states the difference between the 2017 and 2018 proposed charters. VOTE NO.
Response: The claim that the 2018 Commission used or is using “taxpayer funds to run a political campaign” is false and wholly misguided. Public Opinion Strategies conducted a poll regarding potential City Council expansion. They asked a variety of demographic questions, which informed how representative the pool of respondents was to the City’s population, and allowed the Commission to make an informed decision about what to include in the proposed Charter. Public Opinion Strategies was chosen because they were the lowest cost respondent and had the required polling expertise and bandwidth; and it is unclear how their work with Republican organizations would impact the results given that the 2018 Commission crossed party lines, the Charter itself is apolitical, and the respondents represented a cross section of City residents by demographic groupings such as gender, age, and political party, among others. The full respondent breakdown is, and has always been, available on the City website.
The claim that the informational mailer was somehow “designed to confuse” and is “hiding the truth” based upon Mr. Turner’s suggestion that it does not indicate that the proposed Charter would “continue the Commission Form of Government” is absurd. The mailer clearly states that the proposed amendments are “to improve our Charter without changing the form of government” and further states that the Commission was charged with finding “efficiencies and organizational improvements within the current form of government to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs”.
I encourage Mr. Turner and the others to more carefully read the mailer prior to making such false and misinformed allegations.
- Saratoga Springs does not want a ceremonial mayor. The proposed charter would leave Saratoga Springs with the weakest mayor in New York State. The mayor is stripped of their appointment powers for the city attorney and land use boards. The Recreation Department is taken from the Mayor and given to the Public Works Commissioner. The Mayor no longer has the sole authority to give the State of the City Address or represent the city to the state. A weak ceremonial mayor is not in the best in interests of Saratoga Springs. VOTE NO.
Response: Under the proposed Charter, the Mayor is not “ceremonial”, and any such claim would be false. The Mayor remains the “Chief Executive Officer” of the City and is administratively responsible for the Building Department; Planning Department; Zoning; Economic Development; staff support to the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board, and Design Review Commission; Open Space and Preservation of Lands; the City Historian; Collective Bargaining and serving as the Chair of the Capital Program Committee.
While the 2018 proposed Charter does not include a mere “ceremonial” Mayor, it is interesting to note that Mr. Turner and the others did propose such a Mayor in the failed 2017 Charter, something they now claim “is not in the best in (sic) interests of Saratoga Springs.” Indeed, Mr. Turner’s Charter proposed a Mayor who would have been recognized “as the head of City government for all ceremonial purposes” but would “have no administrative duties” (2017 proposed Charter, Section 2.04).
In yet another example of hypocrisy, Mr. Turner and the others now take issue with having the appointments for the City Attorney and members of the land use boards be made with the advice and consent of the Council, when that is exactly what they proposed in 2017 (Section 2.04 and 4.03).
- The proposed organizational changes are a recipe for confusion and diminished accountability. Under the proposed charter, the City Attorney, Director of Risk and Safety, Human Resources Director, and Information Technology Director are no longer accountable to any of the elected commissioners, but to the City Council as a whole. Having five or seven bosses means no one is responsible. Anyone who has worked in any sizable organization knows that if you have five bosses, you really have no boss. When decisions are needed, only dysfunction will ensue given this structure. Citizen access to these services will be limited, with no elected official to turn to for help. VOTE NO.
Response: Moving the Human Resources and IT Administrators to their own departments where they will be answerable to the entire Council recognizes that those positions serve city-wide functions and not simply departmental functions. The inclusion of these proposals is akin to how the City Attorney operates in the existing Charter, whereby they report and provide services to the entire Council.
The suggestion that “[h]aving five or seven bosses means no one is responsible” or that “you really have no boss” is incorrect and ironic. Under Mr. Turner’s 2017 failed Charter, the City Manager was to be “responsible to the City Council” (Section 3.04) and, thus, would have had seven “bosses”. However, there was no suggestion by him or the others, who now complain, that the City Manager would “really have no boss”.
Additionally, and for clarification, the City has a Mayor and four Commissioners. Human Resources was never under the direction of “any of the elected commissioners” but was, instead, under the Mayor’s Department.
- Keep politics out of the Recreation Program. Giving the Public Works Commissioner authority over the Recreation Department is likely to result in our children being an afterthought and given low priority. The Public Works has more important responsibilities like maintaining the city’s drinking water and city streets to be responsible for scheduling soccer games as well. VOTE NO.
Response: DPW currently and under the existing Charter already performs functions accounting for a significant portion of the budget for recreation. Allegations that moving the Recreation Department to DPW will result in “children being an afterthought” are baseless. The 2018 Charter Review Commission made the recommendation based upon public input and with full agreement and support of the Mayor’s Department, DPW, the Administrative Director of Recreation and members of the Recreation Commission. Recreation programming, such as the “scheduling of soccer games”, is the responsibility of the Administrative Director of Recreation and the Recreation Commission, and such responsibility would remain the same within the proposed Charter.
- The proposed two city council members are “Junior Council” members. The second charter states “they shall have no powers or authority to serve or act as administrators or directors of any City department or entity. They shall not have deputies, but they shall be entitled to such employees as the Council may determine.” There is not a single city in the history of the commission form of government with additional council members that serve as legislators.
Response: The false claim that the Council members-At-Large would be “Junior Council” members has been repeated by Mr. Turner on multiple occasions, with the apparent belief that it becomes less false by continually repeating it.
As is clearly indicated in the proposed Charter, the two additional Council Members-At-Large would “be vested with all the legislative powers and authority conferred upon members of the City Council by this Charter and the laws of the State of New York.”
- The proposed new two city council members are “Junior Council” members. The proposed charter states “they shall have no powers or authority to serve or act as administrators or directors of any City department or entity. They shall not have deputies, but they shall be entitled to such employees as the Council may determine.” Why have two classes of council members? The new proposal dilutes the authority of the mayor, adds two positions without the same authorities as other commissioners, and allows commissioners to set their own salaries shows us the real purpose of the proposed charter : to strengthen the existing commissioners power and fill their pockets with more of our public funds. VOTE NO
Response: Oddly, Number 8 is essentially a restatement of Number 8 above with additional misstatements of fact already addressed herein.
By voting ‘no’ to the Charter referendums on November 6, Saratogians can reject this Inside Job. They can demand a charter reform process that includes citizen input, instills checks and balances to political power, and makes structural changes that modernize our government and keep pace with our City’s rapid growth. Fellow Saratogians: YOU DESERVE BETTER.
Ann Casey Bullock
Response: Ultimately, it is essential that the voters be provided with education and information enabling them to make an informed decision on the proposed updates and amendments to the City Charter. Voters are strongly encouraged to review the proposals on the City website and make their own determinations. However, “YOU DESERVE BETTER” than being misinformed by Mr. Turner and the other signatories to the letter.
Vincent J. DeLeonardis
2018 Charter Review Commission Chair
There will be two separate ballot questions regarding charter change on the back of the November 6 ballot this year.
Voters will be able to vote “yes” or “no” on Ballot Question #1 which reads:
“Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?”
This proposal is for changes to update and add efficiencies to the current commission form of government.
Voters will also be able to vote “yes” or “no” on Ballot Question #2 which reads:
“Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?”
This proposal would add two legislators to the council who would have no administrative responsibilities.
If the first proposition does not pass, the second automatically fails, even if it gets a majority of votes.
Here are some of the proposed charter amendments referred to by Ballot Question #1
- All deputies are required to have relevant experience and/or education for their position.
- The City Attorney, Human Resources, and Information Technology will no longer operate inside a particular department. Currently Human Resources and the City Attorney are part of the mayor’s office and IT operates within the Finance Department. These operations serve the entire council and will now operate independently instead of reporting to a particular council member. Some argue that this would cause confusion because they would be serving multiple bosses (the city council members). Department heads would be in charge of setting priorities for the overall needs of the city, however, and not be subject to the potential pressure to give priority to the needs of the department they were part of.
- The Recreation Department, which is currently in the mayor’s office, would be moved to the Department of Public Works. Public Works is responsible now for the maintenance of the city’s grounds and recreational facilities. Housing in the same department recreational programming and maintenance of the facilities they will use for these programs will allow for improved communication and coordination of services. Bob Turner, the chair of last year’s defunct charter commission, expressed opposition to moving the recreation program to the Public Works Department arguing that it would be a boon for patronage for the Commissioner of Public Works. This made no sense to me. Skip Scirocco, the current Public Works Commissioner, is a Republican. All the other members of the charter review commission are either Democrats or Independents. Why would they want to provide Mr. Scirocco with patronage? The change in my opinion was based on what would most benefit the city’s recreation programs.
- The Risk and Safety operation will move from the Department of Accounts to the newly independent city attorney’s office. This makes sense because many of the issues for Risk and Safety are legal matters and again this is a service used by all departments not just Accounts.
- The appointments to many of the city’s boards such as the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board will still be made by the mayor but they will now require the advice and consent of the city council. “Advice and consent” means that a majority of the city council will have to vote to approve the appointments. As readers of this blog will know, this is particularly important to this blogger. Currently the process of appointing land use board members is totally opaque. Usually the public finds out about an appointment after the fact when a new person appears at a board meeting. If this charter question is approved appointments will be vetted by the community and subject to public discussion. This blogger thinks that some particularly odious appointments in the past might have been blocked had the process been transparent. It is important to note that the previous charter commission also recommended this change.
- Other appointments such as those that would be made to the Rec Commission by the Commissioner of Public Works and those made to the Board of Assessmentt Review by the Commissioner of Accounts will now also be subject to the approval of a majority of council members.
- The text of the charter has been edited for purposes of consistency and readability. The text regarding functions like the budget have been moved to their own sections to make their responsibilities clearer. The format that describes the powers and responsibilities for each commissioner uses a uniform template to improve readability.
This would create two new members of the city council who would act as legislators without management responsibilities for any city operations. They would have the same power over city legislation as the current commissioners. One of the arguments made by the previous charter review commission was that many people were discouraged from running for office because of the time and expertise demanded to operate a city department. Readers of this blog may recall that I agreed that this was a valid point.
As someone who feels strongly that the greater the participation in government, the stronger our democracy, I think this proposal deserves support.
The adoption of Ballot Question #1 would have no financial impact on the city.
The adoption of Ballot Question #2 would require the additional moneys to pay for the salaries and benefits of the two new legislators. If adopted, the terms for the new legislators would begin in January of 2020. The salaries for these new legislators would be decided by the next city council if Proposition #2 is adopted. For purposes of projecting costs it was assumed they would be paid the same as the commissioners which is $14,500.00. The cost of the health benefits would range depending upon whether they chose the individual or family health package. Bearing that in mind, the cost of these positions would range from $31,218.00 to $81,846.00.
I urge readers of this blog to at least support Ballot Question #1.
Regardless of whether you support a change in government to a city manager or not and regardless of what may or may not happen in the future, it makes sense to take advantage of this opportunity to improve the organization and efficiency of the government we have at this moment.
Until and unless we change our form of government, the changes in Proposition #1 would improve the city’s operations and contains some of the proposals made by last year’s charter review commission without changing our current commission form of government.
It is important to note that the make up of this commission appointed by Mayor Kelly included Democrats, Republicans and an Independent. It was set up by a mayor who had supported last year’s proposal to move to a city manager form and was represented on the commission by her deputy. It also included Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin who had also supported a city manager. All the members of the commission are directly involved in the running of our city as elected officials or their hired deputies. There was every reason to expect conflict over a variety of issues. Yet the vote to put these changes before the public was unanimous. I believe the unanimous support represents the fact that these are practical changes that are needed.
A full red-lined text of the proposed charter as well as videos and minutes from all of the Charter Commission’s meetings are available on the city’s website at http://saratoga-springs.org/charter .There will be a public forum hosted by the Charter Review Commission at the Saratoga Springs Library on Tuesday, October 23 at 6:30 PM.