The Charter Advocates Last Hurrah Said It All

The rejection of the proposed charter by the voters of our city was the inevitable result of the deeply flawed leadership of those who crafted the charter and managed the campaign for its adoption.

In the final days before the election they posted a video on their face book page, It’s Time, Saratoga, that revealed more about themselves than the charter they hoped to pass. I will use the acronym of their website (ITS) to refer to them in this post.

The target of the video was Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and its message was that she is the local incarnation of President Donald Trump.

The video utilized footage from an earlier attack ad produced by her opponent during the 2015 campaign for the Commissioner of Finance position.

Like their websites, the ITS video shows a high level of technical skill reflecting the considerable amounts of money the advocates were able to raise in their effort.

The reader may well ask, what a meanspirited attack on Commissioner Madigan has to do with convincing the voters of the merits of their proposed charter?

The answer is “very little.” This video was a self indulgent expression of the visceral anger the ITS people have toward Commissioner Madigan. It was meant to hurt and humiliate, not to educate.

Commissioner Madigan is not the only public figure who has been a target of this group’s enmity, but it is safe to say she enjoys the status of being at the top of their list.

When you think about it, putting this video up on their website as their last appeal to the public to adopt the charter is kind of crazy. It unfortunately is, however, just a more extreme example of their general campaign tactics.

A Cult?

“CommonSenseSaratoga.com” is the flagship website of the campaign for charter change. Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote about the fact that this website was anonymous. They subsequently posted a list of the “founders”. Oddly the list has since been removed but I still have a copy:

  • Julie Cuneo and Ron Kim, Co-Chairs
  • Jeff Altamari*
  • Gordon Boyd*
  • Alexis Brown
  • Ann Bullock*
  • Sarah Burger (Chair of the city Democratic Committee)
  • 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.

As you can see many of these people were on the 2017 Charter Commission appointed by then Mayor Joanne Yepsen .

What is most striking is the fervor these people have for charter change. Now I think their charter is flawed, and I voted against it, but if it were passed I don’t think it would signal the collapse of Saratoga Springs.

If the reader visits the social media sites created to advocate for charter change, however, they will find a narrative that borders on hysteria. It portrays Saratoga Springs as though it were in the last days of Rome: gross financial mismanagement, votes for sale to political bosses, the city’s infrastructure on the verge of collapse, our water contaminated to the point of being a health risk.

What is really disturbing is that I think that at least some of them may really have believed all of this. It would explain their determination and their ruthlessness.

Frustrated that their warnings were not being heeded they became increasingly desperate to alert citizens to the perceived danger. Thus the video of Commissioner Madigan.

I have observed this in the past with other groups involved in social movements. They love the camaraderie. They love the excitement of the conflict. They feed off each other’s passions.

Any external criticism is dismissed as the efforts of heretics.

Internal discussion is constrained by the need for unity.

Their Own Charter A Victim Of Group Think

We still do not know who actually wrote the charter. I assume it was a subset of the group listed above.

Their own need for unity served to undermine the crafting of their charter.

What they should have done was to circulate the draft to the public to get feedback before finalizing it. This would have helped them avoid mistakes and prepare themselves with real arguments to defend the final version. Regrettably for them, they did not.

I would also note that the combative nature of their campaign was exacerbated by all the festering fights and intrigues these people have been involved in with the existing members of the Council and other public figures over the years. In my first draft of this post I tried to catalogue this history of animosity and conflict. It was a rabbit hole I decided not to climb into.

One thing is certain with a cult-like group like this, they will be back.

They would do well to heed the advice given in the Daily Gazette editorial (11/13/20): “It’s time for opponents of the commission form of government to honor the wishes of the majority of voters and stop putting charter change on the ballot.” https://dailygazette.com/2020/11/12/editorial-in-saratoga-springs-learn-to-work-within-the-current-system/?fbclid=IwAR0lN8mhWfn_8ZXM8vCwT0syxVna4MB5EP0hXJPgKV13DJV3Oip6g9QPRyM

7 thoughts on “The Charter Advocates Last Hurrah Said It All”

  1. Bravo! Both for your well developed POV, and the link to the gazette… I’d like to take things a step further.

    But first, let’s recap the box score of this cabal’s war upon our hearts and minds:
    Years: 14
    Attempts: 4
    Wins: 0
    Record: 0-4 – win %: 0.00%

    Now, if I were General Manager of a ballclub called, say, Saratoga Springs, would I be inclined to offer someone with this type of record a contract? Or would I wish them well, and ‘designate them for assignment?

    The answer is obvious. But the problem goes one step further – they keep showing up at spring training (election day) – demanding spots on the roster. In fact, shamelessly demanding to be the team’s Captain!

    They hope by doing so, you will not only ignore their record of futility, but also ignore the misplaced energy needed, and real dollar costs to taxpayers that they have caused, by not understanding that they were sent to the showers long ago…

    There is nothing to indicate that they won’t try to make the team again next election day – why wouldn’t they? Who’s gonna stop them?

    I say YOU are! And, here’s how…

    {{{{End of Part 1. To be continued…))))

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John, I was not part of the leadership of Common Sense Saratoga. The inclusion of my name on the website was corrected some time ago. Thank you.

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  3. John, I was not part of the leadership of Common Sense Saratoga. The list was corrected on their website some time ago. Please revise your postings to reflect this accurately. Thank you.

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  4. Part 2: Solidifying Safeguards
    “It’s time for opponents of the commission form of government to honor the wishes of the majority of voters and stop putting charter change on the ballot.” – Daily Gazette Editorial 11/12/2020

    “I think right now, people need a break,” said Democratic Chair Sarah Burger who advocated for charter change. “There is charter fatigue. … It’s time to refocus our attention…” –Times-Union 11/15/2020

    Thank you, everyone, for your patience. When I wrote the above comment (“Part 1” on Nov. 13,) I realized that if I were to advocate a course of action by the electorate I wanted to make sure I had thought everything through, and not just shoot from the hip in the euphoria of having seen, once again, a defeat for a group of citizens who attempted to treat our governing structure as a play-toy for their amusement.

    But it is clear that we must solidify our system against future challenges. Despite the faith in people’s good intentions expressed in the Gazette editorial; I do not share them, and neither should you.

    The quote from Ms. Burger in the TU, if accurate (you never know with WL) is certainly a step in the right direction, but she took great pains to say that she is not part of “…the leadership of Common Sense Saratoga” and I must agree. She certainly has a full plate of issues to deal with herself.

    And what has the acknowledged leadership of CSS had to say? Before this year’s absentee voter count, one of their co-chairs, a Ms. Cuneo, was quoted (again, with appropriate TU/WL caveats) that if the charter referendum failed, that they would try again, because “…it really is the best system.…” do you need to be hit on the head, electorate, to divine her intentions?

    Combine that with the brilliance of co-chair Kim, he of the famous “Fail-o-meter,” who has, among his many talents, exhibited a wonderful sense of obliviousness combined with a complete lack of ability to count noses. “I think we are going to pull it out…” he said, before the absentee count – only to see their margin of defeat widen. Nice. That’s some hall-of-fame Fail-O-Meter thinking! You think he’s going to listen to the Gazette?

    And let’s not even waste our breath contemplating the possibilities of the “old coercive cronies” (you know who you are) who have been there from the beginning, through fake surveys, fake “official” exit pollers, and this year fake Facebook pages. Their scorecard? 4 losses – 4 spankings large and small – a veritable dynasty of defeat! Now tell me: You expect them to see the light all of a sudden?

    I am encouraged that Saratoga Works’ Ms. Woytowich has indicated that they are researching the possibility of changing the law to have Charter-related propositions require a “super-majority” of say, 60% or more. This effort should certainly be supported, but I think we should explore other avenues as well.

    Remember your schooling: We learned in reading Mark Twain’s “Old Yeller” that the best time to shoot a hydrophobic dog is when it is up the block, not in our living rooms. Therefore, I propose that in addition to advocating a “supermajority,” which after all, would still subject ourselves to yet another campaign season of disinformation, we endeavor to tighten up things on the front end, by gathering signatures for two propositions ourselves for the 2021 election, to wit:

    1) All charter-related proposals shall have an immediate doubling of the signatures required to get on the ballot. Obviously, it is too easy for them to get on the ballot and create havoc under the current rules. For those who say that this is anti-democratic (lower case ‘d’,) I would say that this would be a more accurate barometer of whether the electorate is likely to support their next scheme, and the advocates might actually have to be honestly forthcoming about the actual details, budget, etc. in order to gain additional support. Non charter-related issues shall be unaffected.

    2) Filing fees: What a perfect opportunity for change advocates to show that they are motivated not by a narrow, power-grabbing agenda – but rather by the purest of concerns about our great City! All filing fees shall be earmarked to be applied to our current budget’s shortfall, or to a special reserve fund for future deficits if none exist (we should be so lucky). For the purposes of this discussion I propose a filing fee of an additional $250, 000 for all future charter-related propositions (this is NOT a typo.) Non charter-related propositions would not be subject to this.

    What a great way to show that they truly care what happens to us!
    And, I am 100% sure that the leaders of this movement would be thrilled to put their money where their hydrophobic mouths are!

    I hereby volunteer to immediately begin gathering signatures for these two propositions. We need to be proactive in saving these people from themselves, or at least get something for indulging their ill-advised scenarios again.

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  5. Please note the Old Yeller was actually written by Fred Gipson, not Mark Twain. I regret having too many files open. Mea Culpa. I stand resolutely behind every other word.

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