City And City Center Agree To End Gun Shows

The City Council, in a special meeting on Friday, adopted a motion to revise its lease with the City Center to bar the selling of non antique guns and ammunition.  Antique guns are generally considered to be guns manufactured prior to 1899.  They are exempt from federal laws controlling the selling of guns such as the requirement for a background check. This is a link to Wikipedia on  antique guns (

I disagree with the decision by the Council.  Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former US Representative Gabby Giffords attended a gun show at the City Center in 2013.  Ms. Giffords was the victim of gun violence and suffered a bullet to her head.  She is an advocate of strengthening gun laws.  Both Giffords and Schneiderman praised David Petronis, the organizer, for running a responsible gun show and lauded it for the rigorous implementation of background checks.  One of the criticisms of gun shows has been that they have been used to circumvent such checks but that has not been a problem in the Saratoga Springs shows.

There is no difference between buying a gun at the City Center gun show and buying one at a gun store.  The city has at least one gun store.

I do not believe that the end of selling modern guns at a gun show will make the people of Saratoga Springs safer.  The people attending this event are responsible, active hunters and target shooters in our area who will now be penalized.

Still, I have complete sympathy for the Mayor’s desire to do something to curb the terrible killing that seems to happen with greater and greater frequency in our country even if it is only a symbolic action.  This is a complex issue and the vehemence of many on both sides has made seeking meaningful solutions extremely difficult.

I am impressed with the skill the Mayor showed in achieving the ban.  This has been an issue that has been a source of controversy for years in Saratoga Springs.  It took  Mayor Kelly less than three months to affect the change.

 I think I am not alone in welcoming the quiet way the mayor has gone about initiating change. 


Disappointing Editorial In Times Union Re Mayor’s Charter Review Commission

This editorial appeared in the March 8th edition of the Times Union Newspaper ( ):

After last year’s divisive battle over Saratoga Springs’ charter, it’s understandable that the new mayor would want to avoid a repeat of the fight.

The way Mayor Meg Kelly is now looking to tweak the existing charter, however, is not the way to do it.

The mayor has appointed a city charter review commission to go over the existing charter and propose improvements and efficiencies. The goal is to fine-tune the city’s existing commission form of government, not to do the kind of broader review that led to last year’s referendum on an entirely different city manager form of government. That proposal lost by 10 votes.

Much as advocates of that rejected charter might want another shot at it, Mayor Kelly is right to choose not to do that now. It’s not in the public interest to keep having a do-over of votes once citizens have spoken — as the mayor, who supported the charter proposal, recognized. There may be a time down the road to reconsider that idea, or some other form of government, but a constant state of uncertainty over the basic form of government is unhealthy for a community.

The mayor’s plan to instead review the commission form of government is not a bad idea in itself. It’s an opportunity to use the city’s experience to improve this rather uncommon structure. And it’s a chance for both sides of the charter debate to work together on an effort of mutual interest.

Or it would be, if the mayor hadn’t gone about it the way she has.

Mayor Kelly put together a ten-person commission made up entirely of city officials and employees — the city attorney, the commissioners of accounts, finance, public works and public safety, their deputies, and the deputy mayor.

The most glaring problem goes to the very concept of democracy and self-governance: The government itself would redraft the very blueprint that governs that government.

Moreover, nearly half the commission is made up of deputies who work for (that is, owe their livelihoods to) other panel members. It’s like giving two votes to several members. This would be like Congress and the president getting together to decide how to tweak the Constitution.

So this is not an objective or independent group, nor are the prospects good for it to be a deliberative one.

The mayor and the commission — whose members, unsurprisingly, are content with this arrangement — describe this as more of a technical fix, best left to those most familiar with day-to-day operation of government. They note that charter changes would be subject to a public referendum, so citizens will have the final say — on a revised charter that most likely will be unanimously endorsed by a commission full of conflicts of interest.

This is not about efficiency, but about something less tangible yet far more essential. As some wise people once wrote, “governments are instituted … deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That’s in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, of course. Creating, or in this case re-creating, the foundational charter of government is a right, a privilege and a responsibility of the people — the citizens of Saratoga Springs, not their government. The mayor should go back and do it right.

There is no doubt an argument to be made that it would be valuable  to appoint people beyond city hall to the proposed charter review commission.  There is also an argument to be made in support of Mayor Kelly’s decision, however.

To begin with, the TU editors made a stunning error.  In their criticism of the Mayor’s proposal to have City Council members sit on the charter review commission they wrote, “This would be like Congress and the president getting together to decide how to tweak the Constitution.”  Well, actually although the President is not involved, Congress does decide how to tweak the Constitution and, by the way, the New  York State Legislature is similarly involved in making changes to the NY State constitution.

In the case of New York State, the Legislature drafts and passes  amendments which then have to be approved by the voters.

The procedure for amending the US Constitution is laid out in Article V of that document. First either two thirds of the states or two thirds of Congress propose an amendment.  Then three fourths of the states are required to ratify the  proposed amendment.  Congress determines how the states will do this.  All the amendments to the US Constitution so far have been drafted by  Congress.  It is troubling that the TU editors would not know this and make such a basic mistake.

It strikes me that the plan the Mayor is proposing is very similar to the methods used to amend both the US and NY State constitutions.  In her proposal there will also be two steps with the City Council members and their staffs drafting the changes. For the proposed changes to go into effect, however,  the public will have to ratify them in a November vote.

The editorial also seems to view government as some disembodied entity existing apart from the people.  But the Council members of this charter review commission were democratically elected by the people of this city to represent them and make decisions.  I think that grants them the status to take on this responsibility.  There is something that verges on hysteria in the TU’s assumptions of self dealing.

I think the Mayor should be commended for going out of her way to share the responsibility with all the members of the Council.  Contrast this with the previous charter commission where eleven of the fifteen members were selected by one member of the Council, the Mayor.  I do not think it was coincidental that that charter review commission adopted the then Mayor’s goal of changing to a city manager form of government.

I think that people of goodwill can differ on how to form a charter review commission.  I think it is unfortunate that the Times Union was unnecessarily harsh in their differences with the Mayor’s decision.




Interesting Drama Over Mayor’s Charter Review Commission During Public Comment Period Of City Council

Here are two videos from the city website showing the public comment period from the March 6 City Council meeting.  The comments from the public were all concerning the decision by Mayor Kelly to establish her own charter review commission.

 I have a certain sympathy for the frustration of the people supporting the charter that was defeated.  Many worked very hard in support of the city manager form of government.

 Having said that, the videos reflect the anger and conflict that dominated this last year over the issue.  As someone who has endured many struggles over many years, a sense of historical perspective and of proportion seems in order.  The Mayor’s initiative means the that those seeking to totally change the city’s form of government will have to wait till 2019 to put their proposal on the ballot again. This delay  of not quite two years seems like a blink to me.  The city is flourishing and there is no crisis.  I know that their narrative during the campaign was one of urgency to address what they saw as a crippled government.  This tendency to raise even modest issues (and I would say that changing our form of government pales before more serious crises in the world)  to heated levels rivaling going to war cripples our ability to argue civilly with each other.

 I must say that watching the Council in this video is a welcome sight compared to what is going on in Washington.

 My guess is that the Mayor decided that the city would benefit from a year or so without the craziness that created a poisonous environment in our city during this past year.  I give her great credit for having the poise and self confidence to not respond to the pointed attacks on her made by members of the public during the comment period. 

This is a video of the statements by the public:

This is a video of the Council members’ responses:

Mayor Appoints Members of Charter Review Commission.

Mayor Meg Kelly appointed a ten member charter review commission at the March 6 city council meeting.   The commission will be chaired by City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis.

Members include: Deputy Commissioner of Finance Michael Sharp, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety John Daley, Deputy Mayor Lisa Shields, Deputy Commissioner of Accounts Marie Masterson, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Joseph O’Neill, Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.

The mayor set out their mission “…To find efficiencies and organizational improvements to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs.”

Mayor Kelly indicated she anticipated the revisions would be submitted to the public as a referendum in November’s election.

The mayor was sharply criticized by nine of the speakers during the public comment period.

John Franck defended the mayor, asserting “What the mayor is doing is courageous and I believe it is the right thing to do.”

Commissioner Skip Scirocco similarly defended Mayor Kelly. “It took a lot of guts to put it on there and I am sure she took a lot of hits for it, but that’s part of being in politics.”

In a prepared statement Commissioner Michele Madigan wrote:

“Mayor Kelly showed tremendous leadership in allowing for another Mayoral Charter Commission, this time with a *charge and scope* to review and update our current City Charter which operates under the Commission form of government. The charge also states that this is to be placed on the ballot / referendum this November 2018. It’s been 17 years since it’s last successful update, and this Charter needs a through review and update. We cannot afford to wait any longer for this review. Mayor Kelly campaigned on supporting the last Mayoral Charter Commission in which they proposed a change to a city manager form of government. She also stated very clearly that if that initiative failed (and it did fail – make no mistake) that she would lead an effort to update our current charter. She is fulfilling this promise to the people and the Council and has the lead the way forward with her charge and Commission.”

Your blogger is in NYC.

Apparently the public in comment period turned into quite a scrum.  I may post video highlights when I return.

Mayor Initiates New Charter Review Commission

Mayor Meg Kelly is establishing a Mayoral Charter Review Commission.  It is the first item on her agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.  A reliable source tells me that the City Council will craft changes to the existing charter themselves.

This will be a stunning setback to the supporters of the previous failed charter.  According to state law, a mayoral charter commission trumps all other such initiatives.  So no other charter proposal can be considered in next November’s election.  This makes sense when you think of the legal entanglement that passing two charters at the same time would precipitate.

 The details should come out at tomorrow’s Council meeting.


Saratoga County Supervisors Oppose State Plan To Make It Easier To Vote

According to the Gazette newspaper Governor Mario Cuomo is proposing to expand opportunities to register and vote.

From the Gazette: “Cuomo’s proposal would require every county in New York to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day, implement an automatic voter registration system at the DMV and allow New York residents to register and vote on the same day.”

At their regular monthly meeting the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted  21 to  2  to oppose Cuomo’s proposal.  The dissenting votes came from Saratoga  Springs Supervisors Tara Gaston  and Matt Veitch.  I have to give Matt Veitch, who is a Republican,  credit for breaking with his fellow Republicans on this vote.  It’s something that rarely happens.  Tara Gaston is one of only two Democrats on the Board.  The only other Democrat on the Board of Supervisors, Thomas Richardson of Mechanicville, voted with the Republican majority.

Here is an email I received from Tara Gaston regarding the vote:


The item voted on regarding early voting was a part of the Board’s 2018 Legislative Agenda, which the Board uses for state/local advocacy as you know. Item #3 of the agenda pushes back against early voting and automatic voter registration. I moved for the item to be removed from the legislative agenda but the motion failed, with only Supervisor Veitch seconding and voting with me. Supervisor Veitch and I then voted against the Agenda as a whole. We were the only two to do so. I hope this helps.

Supervisor Tara N. Gaston

The February 28 edition of the Saratogian quotes the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Ed Kinowsku, as stating that “the county is not against early voting.”  Kinowski goes on to assert that no one “knows exactly yet what the full proposal is and its impact on the county.”  If that is the case, it would seem premature for our county to take a position on the issue either for or against.

The Saratogian article quotes Roger Schiera, the county Republican Commissioner of Elections as characterizing the proposal as an “administrative nightmare” which would increase the county’s vulnerability to people voting at more than one location.  He warned that the electronic polling books required to prevent this fraud would cost “at least $500,000.00”

Interestingly, in the Times Union article on this meeting, Wendy Liberatore reported that Mr. Scheira estimated that the cost to implement all of the the governor’s proposal could be $800,000.00 to $1,000,000.00.  In the Gazette he is quoted as asserting that the electronic polling books alone would cost between $800,000.00 to $1,000,000.00.  According to the Times Union story, Mr. Schiera was unable to provide any analysis supporting his numbers when asked for the information by Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston.

I called Bill Fruci who is the Democratic Commissioner of Elections.  He told me that while he has great respect for his colleague,  Mr. Scheira, he is unclear how he arrived at the cost in terms of the required electronic polling books.  Mr. Fruci believes that the county could efficiently implement the three sites and the other requirements at a reasonable cost, especially in light of making voting easier for the people of Saratoga County.

The Saratogian has an article on the controversy and vote as well

Wendy Liberatore’s article was fun as it provided extensive coverage of the people who turned out to oppose the supervisor action.  Here is her piece

As a side bar to this story, I was struck by a statement made by Barbara Thomas at the meeting.  Ms. Thomas has held leadership positions in the League of Women Voters for decades.  Ms. Thomas’ career was with the local chapter of Planned Parenthood consistent with her advocacy on behalf of women’s rights.

In the Gazette article, Ms. Thomas proclaimed that it is important that everyone has the opportunity to take part in elections.

I am reminded that Ms. Thomas, who served on the now defunct Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission, not only advocated that the vote on her group’s proposed charter change be held in May following the Memorial Day weekend holiday but asserted that more people would turn out for this special election than  would if it were held as part of the general election.

It is regrettable that Ms. Thomas did not demonstrate the same commitment to inclusiveness when she campaigned for charter change.