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Plattsburgh Common Council discusses ways to move to a city manager form of government

Members of the Plattsburgh Common Council discuss the potential of transitioning to a city manager form of government
Pat Bradley
Members of the Plattsburgh Common Council discuss the potential of transitioning to a city manager form of government

An advisory committee has been meeting since January to look into the possibility of Plattsburgh, New York changing to a city manager form of government. On Monday the city Common Council held a special meeting to discuss the concept and whether a formal charter commission should be formed to look into it.

In December Mayor Chris Rosenquest, a Democrat, appointed a five-member advisory committee to assess the possibility and make recommendations regarding the possibility of the city changing to a city council/city manager form of government.

At Monday’s council meeting, Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth Gibbs stressed that a formal Charter Commission should be formed.

“Right now you’re an advisory committee. You’re not subject to open meetings law and your meetings are not in full view of the public and the discussions you’re having to change the city government are not done in public. The public isn’t aware of it. They’re not engaged. They can’t watch you. They can’t give you feedback,” Gibbs said. “My suggestion is if you form a charter commission the meetings are advertised. They are public. They can see what you’re talking about, what changes you would like to make. They have an opportunity for feedback. It becomes a community wide engagement and that becomes the guiding principles of how to change the government. That’s missing.”

Councilors also discussed whether there was enough time to educate the public and place a question to change the form of government on this year’s ballot. Ward 2 Democrat Jacob Avery said many of his constituents are unaware the city is considering such a change.

“I walked around today, most of the week actually, talking to neighbors and ‘What? This is happening?’ And I understand there’s an element of ignorance. I fully recognize that. But we’ve not done our due diligence of saying this is even on the table,” Avery noted. “And just a simple hey are you okay with a city manager? What is a city manager? There’s an education campaign and we just haven’t done that. We’re at July 1st right now and we’ve got to educate the community on what this is if we want this to pass.”

Advisory committee member Kim Hartshorn, a professor of theatre at SUNY Plattsburgh, told councilors a delay is not warranted because what they are doing mirrors the work of the 2015 Charter Commission that included recommendations to change to a city manager form of government.

“The previous commission created most of the document that we’ve been talking about. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we went with an advisory committee this time as it’s more of an amendment to an existing commission process,” Hartshorn told councilors. “But let’s take positive steps. Let’s not just put it off until, you know, if we put it off until next year when there’s a mayor in place then we’ll want to put it off until the next mayoral election. And it’ll keep getting pushed down the road, which isn’t going to help the city.”

Gibbs pushed back, prompting questions from first-term Ward 5 Democrat David Monette.

“I want to see a city manager go through, but I want to see it done right,” Gibbs said. “And I...”

“So what’s your solution and what do you want to do?” asked Monette.

“I would like to see a charter commission formed,” replied Gibbs. “That charter commission would have to make recommendations for it to be changed next administration. You can’t change the incoming mayor’s job when that person was running, thinking they were going to be a full-time mayor.”

“Well, how come when this was formed way back when you didn’t say that?” pressed Monette.

“We weren’t involved in this,” noted Gibbs.

“But you knew that the process was beginning,” Monette noted. “What didn’t we say at that point that we wanted to have a charter commission?”

“Why is it on us?” asked Gibbs.

Following the meeting Mayor Rosenquest said the most important move is to get a professional manager for the city.

“At the end of the day if the mechanism to get this forward to the voter is a charter commission we’ll go in that direction. This is infinitely important to the city of Plattsburgh to get a professional manager in the seat to run the organization as the CEO and split the duties of the mayor out as political as they are,” said Rosenquest.

Rosenquest is stepping down after one term.

The council now plans to craft a local law to create a charter commission and seek interested residents to serve on it.

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