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Plattsburgh Commission To Review And Recommend Changes To City Charter

WAMC/Pat Bradley

Like many other cities in our region, Plattsburgh is taking a long look at how the city runs. A committee of city residents will assess Plattsburgh’s Charter and recommend changes to the more than 100-year-old document. They met for the first time Monday night.

The Plattsburgh City Charter is a 94-page document originally drafted in 1902 that determines the boundaries of the city and its governmental structure. But the charter has not been updated in decades and needs modernization.
Mayor James Calnon has appointed 12 city residents to scour the charter and recommend changes.  “On the one hand there are some changes to the charter that I think need to be done just to modernize it.  Those are the kinds of things that a city council can do. But there has always been, every four or five years or sometimes every ten years, discussions about form of government. We’ve had a couple of conversations already in 2014 at the council table about terms of office and those kinds of things. And so it’s time to take a look at them.  We’ve asked these people to really take a look at the whole thing. We’re going to give them some of the things that all of us on the council think are important. We’ll be asking our city department heads to chip in. Certainly folks in the community will have ample opportunity to tell people what they want. Some of the recommendations will probably go back to the council for simple changes.  The big issues will go to referendum, we hope, in the fall.”

Monday evening was an organizational meeting to clarify legal questions and determine subcommittee work. Commission Chair Luke Cyphers says the idea of revising the charter is fairly daunting.  “There are references to the village of Plattsburgh, which no longer exists. It’s been a living document for more than a hundered years and we want to make sure that it’s updated and brought into this century. What I think the whole the whole committee is going to enjoy about the process is while it’s really important, it’s going to be kind-of fun. It’s not every day or every year that you get a chance to look at your whole form of government and see if it might need some alterations or some tweaking or just some editing.”

Cyphers notes that one of the major questions the commission will determine is whether Plattsburgh would be better served by changing from a mayor-council to city manager and council form of government.  “There are a lot of municipalities our size that use a city manager. Right now, speaking for myself and I think for the rest of the committee, we have a really open mind about this issue and we’re just going to now start to gather some facts and try to figure out what the best option is to put before the voters.”

Retired math teacher Rod Sherman of Ward 4 quickly volunteered to be on the committee researching form of government.  “We need to make that decision first. Do we stay with the way we have now, a strong mayor and common council or do we work with a city manager? That’s a key question to answer.  I think it’s our responsibility as a committee to really research that out and have the dialogue with the public at some point through our forums and let the public tell us which way they want to go. And then spend our time working with whichever form of whichever charter we need to do. Whether it’s going to be the city manager or a charter with a strong mayor-common council.”

Ward 3 resident Kelly Donoghue is excited to be a part of potential change and transformation.  “We all have a constitutional bylaw. For us as a city it’s the charter. Being able to look at how we govern and where we move forward is really, I think, a huge challenge. But it’s also an exciting time for the city of Plattsburgh and the citizens and I’m glad I’m a  part of that.”

Plattsburgh City Charter Commission

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