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North Country News

Plattsburgh Charter Commission Presents Draft Reports On Charter Changes

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WAMC/Pat Bradley
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The city of Plattsburgh Charter Commission held a public meeting Monday evening to present draft reports on potential changes to the document that guides city government.

There were more charter commissioners than city residents at this first public forum to discuss draft subcommittee reports on charter changes.
The commission met for the first time in January and immediately split into three subcommittees. One will amend language such as antiquated phrases and pronouns. A second is reviewing the current mayor-council system, and a third is assessing the possibility of switching to a council-city manager style of government.
Lynda Garrand chairs the language committee.  “The charter as it stands today is so outdated that it really needs a complete rewrite. The final phase, which we’ll be continuing to work on, is to go over each line basically, line-by-line, so that we understand it and make sure that it fits the city as it operates today.”

The committee looking into a mayor-council system determined it is the most effective and the best option for the city, according to chair Bill Drew.   “It is the most effective form of governance in our view. We also found ways to try and strengthen this form of governance that we currently have and make it even more effective.”

But the group studying a possible council-manager form of government prefers that system, according to subcommittee chair Luke Cyphers.  “We think there’s a lot of efficiencies that the city can  benefit from going to a full time manager. We spoke with many cities who have had a council-manager form. Pretty much everybody we spoke with found advantages in it. The main ones being continuity of policies.”

So how will the commission rectify presenting conflicting governance systems? Cyphers says these are preliminary reports. He adds that any final decision will be up to the voters.   “I think that’s fine that we disagree. That’s part of the process.  What is going to happen over the next couple of months is we’ll discuss these issues, discuss the differences in outlook and opinion and try to come to some resolutions. I think where we can’t refine a perfect compromise or common ground that’s okay too because we’ll be able to put these things before the voters if we think that’s what we should do. Ultimately they’re the final arbiter. The main mission that we have is to give them clear, defined choices.”

Members of the public who did attend the meeting say they need information, in some cases basic information, on the charter itself.
Ward 3 resident Joan Janson wanted more information on the forms of government the commission is reviewing.    “Like everybody else in the city when my utility bill came there was a survey in it. It asked me whether I favored the strong mayor or a city manager form of government. To tell you the truth I don’t know! I don’t really know the pros and cons of either one. I wanted to come to this meeting because I wanted to hear what the commission had to say in terms of what their findings were. I’m not prepared to make a decision at this point in time. But the information that I obtained, I think once I get a chance to read through it, will be helpful and it also has references that I can check myself.”

Neil Fessette owns a business and property in the city. He is closely watching possible changes to the form of government.   “Back when the last election started I had a huge fear, frankly, that we would elect somebody that is not qualified to run what I consider to be, and I think most would consider to be, a very, very big business.  That’s why personally I side on going the city manager route. It eliminates the possibility of the taxpayers inability to in effect hire, or in this case elect, a mayor who is actually qualified to run a big business.”

Several more public meetings are planned before final reports are presented to the city council and put before the voters in November.

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