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.