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