Press Release from Saratoga Springs Charter Commission

I received the following press release and materials from the Saratoga Springs Charter Commission:

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Charter Review Commission ironing out final details

Now in its ninth month, the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission discussed remaining structural elements to its proposed new charter that will go before voters on May 30.

“We are getting very close.  I know citizens want to see the final product as soon as possible,” said Bob Turner, Commission Chair. “While we have the main provisions of the charter, there are a number of important details we have to get right.”

The proposed charter has a seven-member city council and a city manager form of government. The Commission’s current goal is to instill a system of checks and balances and professional government in the document, which would dictate a new direction for government functions over the next decade.

The Commission went line by line through a model charter provided by its legal counsel, Bob Batson, Government Lawyer in Residence at Albany Law School. Commission members also carefully examined council-manager language in the Oneonta and Canandaigua charters in order to tailor responsibilities that best fit the Spa City’s needs.

“We want to use the best research available,” said Laura Chodos, Commission member. “Our decisions are also informed by what we heard in dozens interviews conducted since June. “Our goal is to minimize the politics of administration and partisan bickering,” said Beth Wurtmann, Commission member.

Major decisions made by the Commission this week include:

  • Approval of a preamble
  • Duties of the city manager
  • Appointment and responsibilities of the city attorney
  • Decision for seven-member council to be elected to ‘at-large’ seats

At its next meeting on February 23, 7pm, City Hall, the Commission will develop the role of the ‘dynamic mayor,’ in the proposed council-manager form of government, as well as recommendations for a beginning salary structure for manager, mayor and council.
There will be a public comment period, and citizens are encouraged to learn more about the Commission at www.saratogacharter.org.

Media Contacts: Beth Wurtmann (518)321-4607 and Minita Sanghvi (336) 210-3258 

Additional details of the Charter:

Duties of the city manager developed by the Commission in its proposed charter include:

  • Serves at the pleasure of the City Council and can be fired at any time by a majority vote of the city council.
  • Works for the city council and will attend all meetings; sees that the Council’s laws are implemented fairly, and provide staff support to mayor and council.
  • Serves as chief administrative officer of the city with the power to direct and supervise the administration of all departments, direct collective bargaining, and submit the budget to the city council.  He or she will also administer the annual performance evaluation review process, which currently doesn’t happen.
  • Provides long-term planning including assisting the council in developing long term goals for the city and a plan for economic development and fiscal planning.
  • Prepares and submit the annual budget and capital program to the city council and implement the final budget approved by the council

New preamble:  A preamble embodies the fundamental values and the philosophy on which the charter is based and the aims and objectives the polity is striving to achieve. Since 2001, preambles have become more important as a guide for constitutional interpretation.  The proposed preamble is closely modeled after the US Constitution.  “We, the People of the City of Saratoga Springs, in order to secure the benefits of efficient self-government and to promote our common welfare, do ordain and establish this charter for the government of our City, pursuant to authority granted by the Constitution and laws of the State of New York.”

Revised language on the County Supervisor:  Under the current charter, county supervisors are required to attend city council meetings.  Interviews with the 2001 charter review committee revealed this provision was adopted in part because of a feud between then city council members and the county supervisors over water and sewer rates.  Current county supervisors Matt Veitch and Peter Martin suggested removing the language on compulsory attendance.  The new language reads, “Supervisors may attend meetings of the Council and may report to and seek advice from the Council on matters affecting City residents and taxpayers that are coming before the County Board of Supervisors.”  The Commission also drafted language that prohibits individuals from serving as a County Supervisor and City Council member simultaneously.

Revised date for capital budget submission: To the second Monday in July.  Under the current charter, the Mayor submits the capital budget on September 15 and the Finance Commissioner submits the comprehensive budget in early October.  Commissioner Michele Madigan had suggested in June that the budget timeline is too compressed and provides scant time to review and work the capital budget into the Comprehensive Budget. The Charter Review Commission also discussed the importance of giving the City Council a strong internal audit function.  An internal audit acts like the state comptroller or federal General Accountability Office to detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mistakes.

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