Blogger Comes Out On Charter Change: They Do Not Have A Plan B

[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.

Former Mayor Ken Klotz Opposes Charter Change

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.

Kenneth Klotz

Mayor, City of Saratoga Springs, 2000-2003

Pro Charter Advocates List Leadership

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
  • Jeff Altamari*
  • Gordon Boyd*
  • Alexis Brown
  • Ann Bullock*
  • Sarah Burger
  • Ellen Egger-Aimone
  • Pat Kane*
  • Bahram Keramati*
  • Bill McTygue
  • Mark Pingel
  • Bob Turner*
  • Beth Wurtmann*
  • Joanne Yepsen

*Indicates citizens who served on the 2017 Charter Commission.

So Who Are the Leaders of the Pro-Charter Change Campaign?

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).

The current homepage for Common Sense Saratoga

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.

Silly and Dubious Games From The Leadership of the Group Proposing Changing The City Charter

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:

I Should Never Have Recommended The Skidmore Survey

The Skidmore Survey Is Gone

A Skidmore College Professor Defends The Survey That Wasn’t A Survey

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.

Fake Facebook Page From 2017 campaign

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 the name Saratoga Works 2020

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)

This one uses Saratogaworks

Here is a third one that combines the lower case “w” in works and the year 2020. It is apparently still under construction.

Third fake page which is 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.


This stuff is really not very serious. Most people seeking information for the real site will find it. This is a link to the real website for Saratoga Works

This is a link to the Facebook page for Saratoga Works.

Whatever minor mischief they may successfully create will be offset by the further erosion of their credibility.

Saratoga County Losing AirBnB Tax Income. Why?

According to the Times Union, Washington County has reached an agreement with AirBnB on taxing their rentals.

According to the TU, AirBnB has agreements with thirty counties in New York State to provide them with taxes for rentals.

“The company also collects room taxes on behalf of Fulton, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties, locally, but not Saratoga and Albany counties.”

This is just another example of the on-going ineptitude of Saratoga County government.

Darryl Mount Vigil And March: An Event That Reflected Well On Our City

On August 31, 2020, “All of Us” organized an event to call for an investigation into the death of Darryl Mount.

With the exception of one unpleasant incident, I came away impressed again about what a great city we live in.

My personal assessment of the crowd was that it was generally quite young and touchingly sincere in their desire to create a more just society. Following a series of speeches, the group moved along the sidewalks in an orderly procession along High Rock Avenue to Lake Avenue and then up to the steps of City Hall where they again gathered for more speeches.

From there they broke into two groups and formed two lines on either side of Broadway for seven minutes of silence. They then gathered again at Putnam Place Alley which was in the general area where Mount was injured. Following that they broke up and quietly dispersed.

As impressed as I was by the tone and manner of the demonstration, I was also impressed by the handling of the event by the city’s police. As far as I could tell there was only one uniformed police officer at High Rock Park. He was simply dressed in his regular uniform. I think it reflected the wisdom that a show of force was not only unnecessary but would potentially create tension. I spoke briefly to the officer who, while vigilant, appeared relaxed. The message this conveyed to me was that safety was again the primary concern of Chief Crooks.

I did observe one unfortunate incident at the original gathering in High Rock Park which was unrepresentative of the crowd. A person who runs a website called Fulton County News was videoing the event. He has been doing an excellent job covering other Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue events in the Capital District. I have relied heavily on his videos for my reports in the past.

The full video of most of the evening can be viewed on his website. At the top of this post is an excerpt documenting the incident (see above). The reporter was observing the events initially from across the street from High Rock Park. His commentary was actually quite positive as he seemed to share my positive assessment of the gathering. When he attempted to cross the street and enter the park he was confronted by a young white person who seemed to be acting as some kind of security. The young man was extremely hostile. He told the videographer/reporter in the crudest manner that he was not wanted and blocked his way.

The reporter withdrew. Someone pointed out to the reporter that the park is a public place. It was pointed out to the reporter that the police officer was just up the street and suggested he cross there. As the reporter approached the officer the same young man came over and attempted to block the reporter again and was gratuitously rude to the police officer. I was reminded that we were not in Kenosha by the way the policeman handled himself as the video shows. He refused to be baited by the young man and showed great composure and dignity.

In the meantime a young Black woman who was clearly also part of security intervened forcing the young white person to back off. I had chatted with her pleasantly earlier in the evening. Rather than looking for trouble she was clearly trying to make sure trouble didn’t happen.

There are always going to be belligerent types at these events but between the police officer and the young woman they made sure the event wasn’t marred.

We live in a wonderful city that both cares about social justice and about insuring the safety of the community during some challenging times.

Petition To Remove Saratoga County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Others

The libertarian Party sent out the press release below:

                                                            For Immediate Release

Libertarians Launch Petition Calling for County Supervisors to Terminate County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Co Conspirators.

Libertarian Party of Saratoga County seeks to deliver 1000 signatures by Oct 1st.

Ballston Spa— For Immediate Release Today, the Libertarian Party of Saratoga County announced that is has launched a petition calling on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to terminate County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, Director of Human Resources Marcy McNamara and County Attorney Stephen Dorsey.  The political party hopes to deliver 1000 signatures from county residents to the board by October 1st.

“Residents around the county are outraged by the blatant corruption and coverup stemming from the pay raise scandal by Saratoga County Leaders;” said Rob Arrigo Chairman of the Saratoga County Libertarian Party.  “A mess this big cannot be swept under the rug.  The Board of Supervisors must act to restore faith in our county government,” said Arrigo.

An external investigation into the County’s decision to hand out 50% pay raises to essential employees, management staff and elected officials, revealed that County Administrator Hellwig, HR Director McNamara and County Attorney Dorsey lied to the Board of Supervisors, unlawfully raised pay, potentially opened the county up for legal liability and worked to cover up their misdeeds.

The petition, titled “Hold Them Accountable,” can be found on their website: http://www.lpnysaratoga.org/petition-detail?petitionId=1003

Revisiting The Darryl Mount Story [Link Fixed]

In 2018, prompted by an article written by Barbara Lombardo for the Times Union about the Darryl Mount incident, I reviewed the discovery documents amassed by the attorneys for the Mount family. They revealed a breakdown of oversight by the city’s Department of Public Safety in general, and the city’s Chief of Police, Greg Veitch in particular.

Chief Veitch’s unfortunate email of September 2, 2013, compromised the integrity of the investigation and contributed to the calls for a proper investigation.

Chris Mathiesen was the Commissioner of Public Safety at the time. I consider Chris Mathiesen to be a friend and a person of great integrity. Nevertheless, he and I profoundly disagree about the handling of the “investigation.” The link to my story includes an email exchange between the two of us which I think reveals just how problematic the investigation was.

It may never be known how Darryl Mount was fatally injured. The tragedy is that the opportunity to properly investigate his death was squandered leaving a festering wound in our city.