One Saratoga was set up during the 2019 local election as a non-partisan group supporting a bi-partisan slate of candidates. They supported Meg Kelly (D), Michelle Madigan (D), and Robin Dalton (R). During that election the same people who are now advocating for charter change opposed these candidates and created websites with names similar to One Saratoga in order to ambush people seeking information on One Saratoga’s site.
I previously reported about the pro-charter advocates use of websites mimicking the charter opponents’ Success and Saratoga Works sites.
One Saratoga is not involved in the current conflict over charter change. Cynically, the pro-charter people have re-activated their fake One Saratoga Facebook pages to act as vehicles to promote the proposed charter. They are, in effect, hi-jacking One Saratoga once again.
Is this the ethical standard that people who allege themselves to be progressive now embrace? What does it say about these people that they would try to fool people into thinking that One Saratoga is pro-charter?
This is a brief video from Courtney DeLeonardis, who is the former chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee and the chair of One Saratoga, warning the public about what are in effect Trojan sites.
Saratoga Springs resident Barbara Lombardo, a longtime executive editor of the Saratogian, now teaches journalism at the University at Albany and writes at www.donewithdeadlines.com.
In the past Ms. Lombardo has supported charter change. On her blog today she has posted her opposition to the latest proposal that will appear on the November ballot. The following is a link to the post she has written explaining why she has changed her mind.
I am working on a long piece about the design problems with the role and duties of the mayor as proposed in the new charter to be voted on in November.
One of the problems I encountered was that there is no explanation as to how the authors of the charter came up with the figure of $65,000.00 for the salary for the mayor’s position.
I wrote to Ron Kim and Julie Cuneo who are the co-chairs of the Campaign Committee for Common Sense Saratoga. This is the group that was formed to advocate for the city manager charter.
Ron Kim promptly replied but even though I thought my question was quite clear (see below) he did not address it. In his reply he added an additional issue. He asserted that the proposed mayor will “oversee” the new city manager.
I emailed him again attempting to pose my question more clearly. When I did not receive a response, I wrote to them again and this time I received an email from Ron Kim in which he addressed my questions by stating simply that the answers are in the charter.
I have read the charter carefully but I can find no explanation there as to how the $65,000.00 salary was arrived at nor any indication that the mayor will be responsible for “overseeing” the city manager any more than the rest of the members of the proposed city council.
These are really basic questions and it is troubling that I am unable to receive an answer.
I invite those skeptical readers to go through the charter themselves.
From: Squarespace <email@example.com> Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 5:46 PM To: Ronald Kim Subject: Form Submission – Contact Form – Proposed salary for mayor
Name: John Kaufmann
Subject: Proposed salary for mayor
Message: How did the authors of the proposed charter decide on $65,000.00 for the salary?
From: Ronald Kim <> Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 6:46 PM To:kaufmann Cc: Julie Cuneo <> Subject: RE: Form Submission – Contact Form – Proposed salary for mayor
Thanks for the question. You can directly email me here if you like or also reach the Co-Chair, Julie Cuneo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Under the new Charter, the Mayor will both chair the City Council and oversee the City Manager, so the salary was selected as fair compensation for the significant leadership role he/she will play for the City.
Hope you and your family are well and safe.
From: John Kaufmann <> Date: September 22, 2020 at 9:11:46 PM EDT To: Ronald Kim <> Cc:juliecuneo Subject:Re: Form Submission – Contact Form – Proposed salary for mayor
Thank you for your prompt response but my question had to do with how your group decided on that particular amount. So for example why not $40,000.00? What was the logic behind that particular amount?
I can find nothing in the charter that empowers the mayor to “oversee” the city manager. Could you share with me where you see this authority in the charter?
[JK: Having not had a response I wrote again]
From:john.kaufmann> Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2020 8:28 PM To: Ronald Kim <>; Julie Cuneo <> Subject: Salary
This is a follow-up to my earlier email to you both regarding the proposed salary for the mayor of $65,000.00. I had asked how this number was arrived at?
I am also unclear where in the charter the proposed mayor is made responsible for overseeing the city manager as referenced in Mr. Kim’s email..
I expect you both are quite busy with the campaign for your charter but I would be grateful if you could share with me answers on these items. If nothing else, I would be grateful if you could simply acknowledge receiving this inquiry and I will not bother you further.
From: Ronald Kim <> Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2020 8:33 PM To:john.kaufmann; Julie Cuneo <> Subject: RE: Salary
We are very busy, so I think the best way to answer your questions is to refer you directly to the Charter Proposal. That really gives all the answers you are looking for. Attached is a copy.
[JK: This is part one of a series of posts on the city manager charter proposal]
For those who know me it will come as no surprise that I am not enamored with the commission form of government. Unfortunately, the proposed new charter is sufficiently flawed that I cannot support it.
The Worst Possible Timing
The timing could not be worse for the advocates of charter change. The city is operating during a pandemic. We are in what appears to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We are facing a $7,000,000.00 budget short fall for 2021 and, unless the Federal government comes to the rescue of municipalities across the United States, severe problems will only continue in 2022 when this charter would take effect.
Uncharted Waters In Both Cost And Structure
The cost and staffing for this new city manager design are more than unclear. The literature and public pronouncements by its advocates are actually contradictory.
On their website they have published a skeletal break down of alleged cost savings that are based on the elimination of all of the Commissioners and their Deputies along with the Deputy Mayor. All of their duties would be replaced by a single city manager. In his public remarks, the co-chair of the group advocating for the new government, Ron Kim, has reaffirmed that the work of all nine of the administrative positions will be absorbed by a single city manager.
[JK: This is a video from the last campaign for a city manager government in 2017. John Franck shreds their financial estimates based on similar calculations.]
This fits into a narrative put forward by the charter change advocates. They contend that the full time Deputies are basically the beneficiaries of patronage and perform little in the way of productive work. It is instructive that while the 2017 Charter Commission that came up with the city manager structure interviewed many, many city hall employees and elected officials, both past and present, they conspicuously did not talk to any Deputies.
As for the Mayor, who currently has a number of managerial responsibilities including overseeing the Building and Planning Departments, the proposed charter is quite specific that her administrative duties will be eliminated so the city manager would have to pick up her duties as well.
It seems axiomatic that the advocates would have wanted to know whether any of the duties performed by the Deputies and Commissioners involved essential work and if so how much time was required to perform it. Unfortunately, they apparently did not see the need to look into this. There is also the unfortunate possibility that they knew that the Deputies did perform essential duties and preferred to maintain a self imposed ignorance.
On its face it seems awfully ambitious to have one person, the city manager, absorb all of these duties.
This brings us to the actual proposed charter. The charter calls for the formation of a “Transitional Task Force.”
The Task Force shall prepare a detailed work plan addressing, at a minimum, the following transition issues:
re-allocation of the specific duties of each commissioner and deputy commissioner to new or existing positions;…
…recommendation to the City Council of amounts necessary to adequately fund reasonably foreseeable new positions in the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2022; and estimation of any other expenses necessary to include in the 2022 fiscal year budget to fund a smooth transition to the new charter.
Proposed Charter 8.09 Transition to the New Charter
Now I think that this provision of the charter is prudent. It actually acknowledges that the Deputies may have performed duties that will have to be absorbed by the new form of government. It does, however, seem inconsistent with the optimistic cost savings promised in the advocates’ current campaign materials. It appears to acknowledge that a prudent and careful formulation of the new government may require the hiring of additional staff.
Of equal concern to me as the cost of additional staff is the very thorny problem of what exactly the elements of this new government will look like. I have considerable experience as both the executive of a non-governmental agency and as a consultant to not-for-profit organizations. Even with that background or because of that background, I would find it very intimidating to serve on a task force meant to craft the staffing for a new Saratoga Springs government under a city manager.
I am particularly worried that the proponents of this new form of government seem over-confident in their ability to successfully carry out this very challenging task.
The Thorny Business Of Hiring An Executive
I am sure those with experience in hiring in general share my experience. While over time I made some excellent choices, I had my share of painful mistakes. Only the very foolish or inexperienced approach hiring without worry.
In 2017 the advocates for a city manager government frequently pointed to Watertown, New York’s city manager government as an example of success. In their previous campaign, they brought the then city manager to Saratoga Springs to promote their campaign at least twice. In fact, that city manager abruptly left her position just two months before her contract was up. Watertown is now on its fourth city manager in three years. Their current city manager is in an interim position, and they are now searching for yet another candidate. They are hoping to have their latest city manager on board by January 1.
This is not to say that were we to adopt the new charter, that we would fair as badly as Watertown. On the other hand Watertown is by far not the only example of a city manager being hired who hasn’t worked out. It seems imprudent to assume that we would be immune to similar problems.
The problem is that there is no plan B. The advocates simply assume they will find the right candidate and things will proceed painlessly.
Were we embarking on a new government under other circumstances this would be less worrisome. Only a year ago we had an excellent surplus and an exemplary bond rating. The latitude for error then was considerable.
Putting aside my other reservations about the proposed charter, it seems beyond obvious that this is not the time to try out a new form of government.
I received the following statement from Ken Klotz regarding the charter change proposal that will appear on the ballot in November in Saratoga Springs.
A note on Ken’s background: Ken served as Mayor of Saratoga Springs from 2000-2003. He also served as Commissioner of Finance from 1996-7 and served as the chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee in the 1990’s. Ken worked at Skidmore from 1985 to 2007 as a member of the academic staff for the college’s adult degree program, the University Without Walls; was coordinator of the Inmate Education Program from 1985-1992; and worked as an academic advisor from 1985-2007. In addition, what few people may know about Ken is that as a Yale student he was involved in an early civil rights organizing campaign in Mississippi in 1963. The effort he was involved with, during which he was assaulted and arrested, lead to the Freedom Summer campaign in 1964, a voter registration drive aimed at increasing the number of Black voters in Mississippi that was met with violent resistance from the Ku Klux Klan and others.
Here is his statement:
This fall we are facing yet another charter change initiative.
You’ve got to admire the sheer determination of the charter change people. They are determined to get a different charter, of any sort, if only it rids them of the detested commission form of government.
Many of them are friends of mine, and people I respect. Indeed people like Gordon Boyd, Pat Kane, and Bob Turner would make excellent council members under the current charter, and I wish they would choose to work within the system.
I’m not going to rehash the old arguments about pros and cons of different forms of city government. We’ve been through that many times. But I’d like to address the new wrinkle in the charter change proposal, the introduction of a ward system.
Where did this idea come from? I think I’ve figured it out.
If a city manager is hired, elected members of the council would have nothing to do—their old jobs would be taken from them by someone unfamiliar with Saratoga Springs but armed with the three semesters of graduate school training in city management that supposedly make them uniquely qualified to run the City of Saratoga Springs. But what do we do then with these elected officials who now have nothing to do?
Under the commission form of government all Council members are elected at large and represent the entire city. Various neighborhood associations, some more active than others, represent particularly parts of the city and lobby on behalf of their neighborhoods.
With the city manager in place, and with council members now representing only parts of the city, the council can be kept busy with neighborhood squabbles, leaving the city manager free to run the city without interference, as he sees fit.
(And I use the pronoun “he” advisedly because almost all of them are men. Though in the past charter change advocates have made the argument that charter change was essential in order to bring more women into government! You won’t hear that one this time around now that the majority of council members are women.)
It’s a brilliant solution to this built-in new problem. But it’s also condescending, cynical, manipulative, and disrespectful of city residents. The new wrinkle of a ward system is a REALLY bad idea, and makes this the worst charter change proposal we have ever seen by far. The voters can and should reject it—yet again.
The advocates for charter change have posted their leadership’s names on their website. I may be being immodest, but I think my earlier post about lack of transparency may have prompted them.
Interestingly, this same thing happened in 2019. They didn’t include the leadership names on their website then either, and after my blog pointed this out, they posted them. I don’t think there is anything sinister in all of this. It is more of a reflection of their general sloppiness. In spite of their calls for transparency, they seem to be cavalier about their own actions.
This is from their website:
CommonSenseSaratoga’s Campaign Committee
Julie Cuneo and Ron Kim, Co-Chairs
*Indicates citizens who served on the 2017 Charter Commission.
A question I have is who are the leaders of this year’s campaign to change the city’s form of government to a city manager/ward system?
The 2019 Charter Change Campaign
In 2019 when the advocates of the city manager form of government began to campaign to get their proposal for charter change on the ballot once again, they put up an anonymous website. The website included articles that made questionable claims. There was an option to contact the site. I used this option to ask who the people behind the site were. I received no response.
I did a post on my blog about this. Soon after the post appeared they amended the website to include a list of people they identified as the site’s founders. Skidmore professor Bob Turner’s name was included even though he had stated just a few days earlier that he had nothing to do with the site. This is a link to that story.
The New Campaign
This year the charter change supporters who want a city manager/ward system have two web pages and two Facebook pages using the names Common Sense Saratoga and It’s Time Saratoga. The It’s Time page appears to be a carryover from 2017.
I just checked the website called Common Sense Saratoga. This was the site that was anonymous in 2019 and only under pressure put up five names as the site’s founders. Those names are now gone again, and it is again an anonymous site. In fact that website doesn’t even have an ABOUT option where such names would normally appear (There is a delicious irony that their homepage has the words “Accountability” and “Transparency” in bold type).
There is a Facebook page that uses the same title as the website. In this case, it has an About page but there are no names on it.
Facebook now requires that a Facebook page have an owner. The owner is Libby Post, an Albany political consultant.
Try to follow me on this. There is a Political Action Committee called “It’s Time Saratoga.” This is the name of both the other website and the other Facebook Page. According to the New York State Board of Elections this year this PAC has paid Ms. Post’s Albany political consulting firm $3,000.00. The Board of Elections report also shows that Gordon Boyd donated $10,000.00 to this PAC and Jeff Altamari has contributed $3,000.00 to it. That represents $13,000.00 of the $14,300.00 raised so far. I think it is a safe assumption that these two men are among the leaders of the campaign to change the charter. Still it would be helpful to know who the rest of the people are.
Below is the About page for the It’s Time Saratoga Facebook page (No names).
Below is the About Page for the It’s Time Saratoga webpage (No names)
The Organization Saratoga Works Is Opposed to the City Manager Form of Government. Their Website States Very Clearly Who The Leadership of Their Group Is
Contrast the lack of information on the people behind the charter change websites with the Saratoga Works website which is maintained by the opponents of the city manager/wards charter proposal. [JK: Full disclosure-I am married to Jane Weihe]
The difference says it all about what it means to be straight with the community.
Those who followed this blog back during the 2017 campaign to change the city’s charter to a city manager form will remember the many dubious actions its advocates employed. The most egregious was a fake survey engineered by the Skidmore Political Science Department which I chronicled in:
During that same campaign they created a fake Facebook page. The group opposing the proposed charter called itself Saratoga Springs Success. So the pro charter leadership put up one called Success Saratoga Springs.
This year the opponents to charter change set up a group called Saratoga Works.
So the leadership of the pro charter group decided to go all in and set up multiple sites to divert people looking for information from Saratoga Works.
Here are the ones I have found so far.
This one uses Saratogaworks (by using the lower case for the “w”in works they were able to use the same name as the real Facebook page)
Here is a third one that combines the lower case “w” in works and the year 2020. It is apparently still under construction.
Two of the sites were created by Dillon Moran. Mr. Moran ran unsuccessfully against Skip Scirocco for Commissioner of Public Works and is a member of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee.