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:

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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

17 thoughts on “Former Mayor Ken Klotz Opposes Charter Change”

  1. I am a great fan of former Mayor Klotz. He is a very bright man who had a distinguished career at Skidmore and who served our City well both as Finance Commissioner and especially as Mayor. I am disappointed that Ken continues to support the Commission form of government while other former supporters of this heavily flawed system have now realized that the City should change course.

    Ken’s describes the legislators under the proposed charter as having nothing to do. I doubt that the thousands of city legislators across our nation would agree with that job description. And I doubt that the millions of residents of American cities would ever want to give up their ward representatives and instead revert to a local government with no one representing them as is the case in Saratoga Springs.

    The only REALLY bad idea would be to hold on to this conflicted, un-responsive, inefficient and expensive Commission government any longer.

    Chris Mathiesen

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    1. No, A REALLY, REALLY bad idea is asking for the taxpayers to write and sign a blank check, Chris, which has been, and continues to be, the fatal flaw in all these Charter Change schemes. Once again, I cannot understand why it is so unreasonable to request an itemized transition year, and a projected first-year budget showing all these wonderful savings and efficiencies that will be achieved. Instead, we hear a lot of poly-sci mumbo jumbo about ‘silos’ – when the only silo I’ve ever seen in the City is at Pitney Farm, sir.

      This may come as a surprise to some who have read my comments over the course of previous charter change defeats, but I am not a knee-jerk/NO vote ‘refusnik’ – I’m actually inclined to consider every Charter Change proposal as they come up, again and again. And now again.

      Each time, I have been disappointed with proposals that are long on theory and woefully short on budgetary specifics. This year’s lipstick-on-a-pig is ‘Wards.’ I ask you, if Wards were such a great idea, how come we didn’t hear word one about them last time you lost? Or the time before? Or…

      And BTW, wards are a terrible idea. Proven throughout history, and prone to corruption. Simply put, if a ward leader decides, for whatever reason, that he/she is going to cut me off and not deal with me, what recourse do I have, short of moving? The other ward leaders don’t want to know me – instead of alleged turf battles, we have little one-person ruled fiefdoms. Help! I’m stuck in the Inner East!

      And, one would think you would be proud to show off your numbers- these monumental savings and efficiencies; instead are we supposed to have blind faith that this group, none of whom to my knowledge have administered one single municipal budget, that “they alone can fix it’? Where did we hear that one before?

      Even if, say, you projected losses in your transition year while you get things in order, but the investment yields $X savings in year 2,3,4 – that at least would be something. Instead, we get ‘silo’ theory, not to mention whining about it being our Commission government’s fault every time something goes wrong, including that lightning struck City Hall, a COVID virus appeared, and racial strife is occurring. You’re all wasting my time – It’s quite simple: you want my vote, show me the budget, Commissioner!

      If you showed up on Shark Tank with a similar lack of projections for your start-up, you’d be given the Royal Boot, and rightfully so.

      I join you in your support of Mayor Ken’s individualistic thinking. Sorry for your disappointment that he declined to drink your Kool-aid.

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      1. Arthur,
        A ward leader who behaves in the manner that you describe would be replaced by the voters. You could run to replace him or her. VOTE FOR ARTHUR!

        Chris Mathiesen

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    2. Chris—“a local government with no one representing them as is the case in Saratoga Springs”?? Since all the residents in Saratoga Springs get to vote for all of the current office holders I would say that presently all five of our elected officials represent all of us. Under your proposal I would only get to vote for one person on the council and, oh yes, a mayor but one stripped of any meaningful responsibilities.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Fact Checker,

        I would say that the five elected officials under Commission government are serving as executives , not legislators. We have no separate legislative body of government to represent us, one of the numerous flaws of Commission government.

        Chris Mathiesen

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  2. Ha ha ha – thanks gents, for your votes of confidence. I have great respect for anyone that puts themselves out there in this toxic political environment, which is why I try to treat everyone who subjects themselves to it with respect, whether I agree with them or think they are full of crap.

    However, if you must draft me, please do so for the post of People’s Emperor. It suits my temperament better. To exhibit my unique qualifications for this position, let me make some preliminary rulings (to be codified in granite once I ascend to the throne):

    – I find that Chris’ suggestion that it is just a matter of voting people out, when they abuse their power as Ward Leader, Commissioner, Supervisor, or other office, shows a surprising naïveté about how savvy politicians can build up their power bases and entrench themselves. Mayor Klotz was correct in asserting that neighborhood groups or associations, due to their inclusive nature, are much better suited for the purpose of making sure neighborhood’s concerns are heard. Therefore, your People’s Emperor declares that the Ward scenario will be bestowed a one-way ticket to the trash heap. We are only doing what Charter Changers will do once their latest scheme is defeated. So ruled.

    – Now, onto the more serious transgression. Your Emperor is not amused at all that Chris, in his comments, completely ignored the budget issue. In fact, your Emperor is highly displeased that his comments do not even contain the word ‘budget’ in them!

    Perhaps he believes that the Emperor, and his people, will forget about the issue if does not speak to it. Perhaps he thinks that, like feeble, unqualified leaders in a pandemic, it shall ‘magically disappear.’ I assure you that is not the case. Therefore, I am ruling that any Charter Change proposal in the future contain a proposed budget for both the transition year, and the first year that a new governing structure is in effect, at the time of filing of a proposition on the people’s election ballot, or it shall be thrown out for the very truthful reason that it is incomplete.

    As Emperor, I am using my absolute power to back-date this ruling to January 1, 2020 – meaning: your budget for this election is WAY overdue. The People’s Emperor highly suggests that Chris cease attempting to throw diversionary chaff, and that he and the members of the Charter Changers get to work. In other words, prove it. In still other words, put up or go away!

    Your Emperor, on behalf of his people, declares that our City Government is not a Tinkertoy that is provided for your amusement. Tik-Tok, folks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arthur,

      I have no reason to ignore the issue of City finances especially since, under Commission government, the annual budgets are formulated by the Commissioner of Finance with input from the other four Council members and then voted on by those same individuals. Conflict of interests? In nearly all other municipalities, the budgets are put forth by the executive branch and approved by the legislators who represent the citizens, a much more democratic and transparent approach.

      In terms of the costs associated with the transition from one form of government to another, there are hundreds of examples to copy since nearly every city with a history on Commission government has successfully made similar transitions.

      Unfortunately for these suggesting that we keep trudging along as we have over the past 105 years, there are few examples of cities successfully continuing to do so. In fact, if Commission government is so superior, why weren’t all 105 years successful. At times during this period, Saratoga Springs was so corrupt that outside agencies had to intervene on more than one occasion. Would corruption have been less likely with a more democratic form of government?

      Chris Mathiesen

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      1. OK Chris, you are trying in good faith to speak to an issue, but completely misunderstanding me. So, let’s try once more:
        – I am not talking about the current budget under the Commission form; I know how it is put together, and who votes on it, etc.
        – You and the charter change advocates are proposing a NEW governmental structure for the City. You have detailed the COMPONENTS of the structure (e.g.: City Manager, Wards) but are completely silent about what the transition to this new structure will COST, as well as what it would cost to operate it in it’s first year. If there are literally, in your words “hundreds of examples” to choose from, why the reluctance to use the best of them to put together YOUR budget? All I’m hearing is “trust us” coming out of the Charter Changers’ mouths. Why? We are both well aware that there are quite a few Council-Manager municipalities that are in much worse shape than Saratoga Springs. I am sure you all would prefer to get a blank check, but as far as my vote is concerned, you are not getting one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris—2 things:
    I don’t understand your comment “the five elected officials…. are serving as executives, not legislators”. Under our commission form they serve as both executives and legislators as of course you know from your years of experience voting on the Council.

    Also you reference corruption in Saratoga’s past and ask “Would corruption have been less likely with a more democratic form of government?” First I would question your claim that other government forms are more democratic than our commission form but that’s a topic for another time. Let’s focus now on your corruption comment. There is ample evidence that there are plenty of examples of corruption under all forms of government. How about the famous (or infamous) era of corruption in New York City under Boss Tweed and the ward system? Then there’s the city of Long Beach, NY, suing their former city manager and former chief legal counsel and acting city manager this summer for “their roles in a payout scheme that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Shall I go on?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In deference to Chris, I agree that the Commission form of government has some serious problems. I agree there may be a better form. That said, the one proposed here and the one prior are NOT the right ones and this is NOT the right time. Add to my concerns about the ward from of government here in Saratoga Springs (Arthur pretty much addressed what I am thinking), I have an even greater concern over the less than transparent presentation by this group of people. The fact that they had to be shamed into even listing those involved (Thank you, John) and are repeatedly unforthcoming with actual costs is just the beginning. The fact that this is the same group with several members who have been very outspoken against more than one member of the current council (both professionally and personally) by charging unfounded ethical complaints, giving one-sided media presentations, etc. and INMHO have an ulterior motive for their proposal.

    If there is to be a charter change let it be one that takes into consideration the thoughts of more than this rather small group of myopic people. Let it be done in the light of day. Let it be done with the transparency that this group says is needed but chooses not to practice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t object to coming up with a new form of government to replace the commission system, but this isn’t it. The city manager plan seems to me based on the idea that government should run as if it were a business, with the manager having the power to hire and fire people at will. We now find ourselves in the fourth year of such an experiment in the Trump Administration, and we can see how terribly it has worked. The new charter would simply give too much power to a single person not responsible directly to the voters, and that should violate any small-d democrat’s sense of what a democracy should be. The charter commission claims, a bit disingenuously, that the new system would create division of powers and checks and balances. If so, why make the mayor a voting member of the city council? If a controversial candidate for one of the land use boards divided the other members of the council, 3-3, the mayor would have the deciding vote on approval of the mayor’s own nominee. That hardly seems to me a check or a balance.

    If we are to change the city government, let’s make it a strong mayor-council system, with genuine separation of powers & checks and balances.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you, Mayor Klotz, for always striving to do what is good for each other and everyone else.

    Those that seek peace and pursue it can easily identify the immense shortcomings of the ward system.

    There is nothing that prevents a majority of the wards from ganging up on another, leaving them disenfranchised and rendering all voters in the ward powerless.

    This proposed structure is not only divisive, but it significantly diminishes and suppresses the power of an individual’s vote.

    Right now, you can vote for 100% (5/5) of those governing us and running our city. Under this new proposal, you can only vote for 25% (2/8).

    Of the 8 people at the table that would govern us in this new proposal, an individual voter would only be able to vote for their assigned ward representative and the mayor.

    Increasing layers of bureaucracy and undermining the power of an individual’s vote are factors that everyone should consider, but paramount should be the the fact that this proposal sows seeds of division, not peace.

    We can all work towards a more peaceful world. Voting NO on this particular charter proposal will ensure that Saratoga does not become divided into 6 wards with competing interests.

    I hope that peace and love whisper in your hearts as you consider these points. Vote NO on this particular version of charter change in November.

    Educate yourself and read the proposal here:https://saratogaworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Annotated-2020-Charter-Change-Proposal-4.pdf

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    1. I very much appreciate all the comments on this board about this issue. I think the Commission form of government is more evolved than the ward/parish system. As emphasized by Connie, every citizen gets to vote for every elected official in our city. It is not a bad thing for someone to run with the capability and competency of running an administrative division. The powers are separated by function. Remember, the Roman Republic’s Senators served as executives, and during the American Revolution we ran the Country without an executive. We had provisional State governments, the Continental Congress of 50 people, and the Army authorized by Congress.

      The Commission government in Saratoga is also a mirror of the Iroquois Grand Council, which should not be changed as it has worked for the Iroquois for over 1000 years. The mural in our Council Chamber is almost like a ‘Stargate’

      Liked by 3 people

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