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Saratoga Springs Begins Charter Review Process

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen says from an outside perspective, the city is doing great.

“We have all these wonderful venues, our economic vitality is strong, our summer looks promising, and new businesses are opening all the time and people are investing in Saratoga Springs, and it’s on the right track for so many reasons. But there are improvements that we can make within City Hall, and how the city functions and does business,” said Yepsen.

To help find where improvements can be made, the city is beginning a charter review process. Currently, the Spa City is operating under a charter that was approved in 2001.

In 2006, an official city commission made attempts to update the charter. Ten years later, the city is required to review the charter once again.

On Tuesday, the 15-member Charter Review Commission held its first organizational meeting. 

The board currently includes 10 members appointed by the mayor, and four appointed by the city’s other commissioners.

Yepsen, who is looking for one more commission member, says she wants the commissioners to reach out to their neighbors.

“I think it’s really important that this commission do their homework, that they reach out to the public, that they include the public and find out exactly what our city is up for. How much change and how significant the change is going to be will depend greatly on what their research finds,” said Yepsen.

The mayor says she would like to see improvements in how various city hall departments interact with her office.

But another change is also on the minds of many, and that’s altering the city’s form of government.

Gordon Boyd is a commission member appointed by Mayor Yepsen.

“I really want to see a change in the form of government be put on the ballot so that the people of Saratoga Springs have a choice between the status quo or a significant change and modernization,” said Boyd.

Saratoga Springs’ commission-style of government is a rarity in New York. Under its current form, each of the five members on the city council is in charge of his or her own department and has an equal say in all legislative matters.

Attempts to change the format were made in 2006 and 2012. Both proposals were rejected at the ballot box.

Yepsen said there is much more to a city charter review than a change of government.

“That is not necessarily going to change. I think that the commissioners that are serving on this commission will have to evaluate that and look at the pros and cons, and look at the four types of structures that are allowable by state law for a city to function,” said Yepsen.

But even so, Boyd praised Yepsen for bringing in members to the charter review committee who have been on both sides of the government-change debate over the years.

“So we have a very diverse group of people on the commission, but with a lot of expertise in city government,” said Boyd.

Charter Review Commission meetings will be held on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at Saratoga Springs City Hall.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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