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Commission Gathers Input On Saratoga Charter Reform

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard

A new charter review commission is gathering input on the Saratoga Springs City Charter. The group formed earlier this year is comprised of city administrators and is seeking ways to improve the current system of government. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard has an update.

The 2018 Charter Review Commission met Wednesday evening to gather ideas from the public on how to improve city government. Saratoga Springs City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis told the audience that so far no changes have been voted on by the commission.

“As we progress toward a more in-depth review and look toward making some votes as a body on some of the particular issues that have been addressed, we are looking for public input,” said DeLeonardis.

Some items up for discussion are the roles of city commissioners, their deputies, their appointees, as well as salaries, terms, term limits and more.

Former Mayor Ken Klotz, a Democrat who served from 2000 to 2003, warned against changes that would weaken the mayor’s role or reverse policies made in previous charter reform efforts.  

“That thrust of strengthening the position of the mayor in a weak-mayor form of government is going to be reversed, that that really is a pendulum string and a change of philosophy that is not really in the spirit of the 2001 charter,” said Klotz.

Margie Van Meter, a past charter commission member, suggested having the mayor and perhaps another individual serve on the County Board of Supervisors. Currently, the city has two county supervisors that attend city council meetings but do not vote.

“And so if our mayor was a supervisor, that mayor would have a lot more authority on the Board of Supervisors,” said Van Meter.

City resident Bonnie Sellers cautioned against putting city commissioners on the county board.

“There are a lot of reasons why, and one of them is the unattended consequence is the additional role could confuse the public,” said Sellers.

Barb Thomas, a former member of the 2016-2017 charter commission, said improvements should be made to hold city administrators accountable to the public.

She said specific requirements should be made for full-time deputy commissioners “that cannot be waved.”

“So that they’re not just, you know, friends of, political supporters of, people who ran the campaigns of…so that they really are true professionals that could really administer a department.”

Resident Joe Dalton cautioned against setting certain education requirements for administrators.

“Education and degrees is not the standard by which the deputies are solely hired,” said Dalton.

Dalton hopes a new charter would include a residency requirement for city employees.

Even as the latest effort continues, a charter reform advocate from last November is continuing his legal fight.

Bob Turner was chair of the charter review commission that recommended a new charter, which failed by 10 votes.

The Saratoga County Board of Elections recently turned down another FOIL request by Turner, who is seeking the electronic scans of the ballots counted in the charter change vote.

Turner points to the outcome of a case in Essex County in which a judge ruled that ballot scans are considered public information.

He says the BOE, in its denial of his request, pointed out that the case may be appealed.

“So the Essex Court case may be appealed the New York State Court of Appeals. In the meantime, I plan to meet with an attorney to explore all my options,” said Turner.

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