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North Country News

Charter Commission Meets With City Council

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WAMC/Pat Bradley
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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 it hasn’t been updated in decades and needs modernization.

Mayor James Calnon appointed a committee of 12 city residents in January to assess Plattsburgh’s more than 100-year-old charter and recommend changes to the document. They met with the mayor and city councilors Thursday evening.

In a free flowing discussion, city leaders and commission members talked about the research they are in the midst of and potential changes that could be considered.  Charter Commission Chair Luke Cyphers began by explaining how they’re structured.   “We’ve divided into three subcommittees to study various areas of potential charter revision. One of them is to study a major potential change which would be going to a council-manager form of government and seeing what the pros and cons are of that. Another one is to just look at the language of the existing charter and see what things have to come out, what has to be updated and brought out of the horse-and-buggy era. The third one is to look at potential issues with elections, things like term length. At this point so far we’ve just kind-of turned our committees  loose.”

City Councilor Mike Kelley started an extended discussion on how the charter could determine terms and term limits.   “How do we get people to vote?  People go out to vote for presidential elections. If that’s when the people show up, let’s make that the time that we put our leaders up for a vote also.”  
A commission member responded  “It is something  we are considering.”

Committee members used the meeting as a research session, seeking advice and input from councilors.  “We have five of you here. If you could be candid with me I’d appreciate it. If your term were four years, would you think it were too long or perhaps you wouldn’t run?”  
Ward Five Democrat Becky Kasper responded.  “You know it’s definitely not reducing it to two years because that I think is just an absolutely discouraging idea for anyone running.  You guys have so many factors - the relationship of whether to stagger and the length of the terms. And then whether you’d align them with federal elections. I think a four year term, that sounds like a nice number because it really takes a while to get settled. And given that we’re term limited  you’re diluting the ability of people to gain experience and then to carry that experience forward.”

The committee is contacting other communities of similar size to research their charters and election procedures and have found some that had not previously been considered locally.  “Whether we should ask about non-partisan elections where you don’t have a D or an R next to your name. You’re not affiliated on the ballot with a party.”  
Becky Kasper was a bit concerned.  “On the ballot. But when you knock on the door people are going to ask you.”
Luke Cypers didn’t think it would be a problem.  “Well they’ll suss it out.”
Commission member Kelly Donoghue was intrigued.  “Not a bad thought though.  Because every time when you go if you’re a staunch Democrat or if you’re a Republican you’re just going to look for the R and you click. So now all of a sudden when you see there’s no R or D or I or whatever that means do I know that person? Have I really understood what the person stands for? I like that.”

Cyphers was pleased with the results of the meeting.  “Our commission is really starting to get down into the nitty-gritty of potential charter revision.  At this point I think it was really helpful to hear from the elected officials what their potential charter revision views are. What their concerns are and see what they’re looking down the  road at.”

Public hearings are planned for mid-April and the commission plans to issue a report by mid-July with recommendations for charter revisions to go to voters and areas that can be changed through council action.

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