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Charter Commission Holds Hearing On Potential Changes To Plattsburgh City Governance Structure

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Pat Bradley/WAMC
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The Plattsburgh City Charter Commission held a public hearing Monday evening, during which a number of ideas and concerns over the possibility of changing the city’s form of government were discussed.  As a result, the commission may take another year to present changes.

The Plattsburgh City Charter Commission has been tasked with updating and revising the more than 100-year-old document that guides the city government.  The 12 Commission members created three subcommittees to review changes in language, a mayor/council form of government and a council/manager form of government.

A survey was sent to city residents and public hearings are being held to determine the community’s preferred governance structure. On Monday evening, about two dozen very vocal voters showed up to express their ideas.  

“I’m James Armstrong. What makes the subcommittee on the strong mayor city council system believe that that’s the most effective way at running the city? What research have you looked into that suggests that is a more effective system than say a city manager system?”  Council member Rod Sherman replied:  “What we looked into were the past administrations of the city.”  Armstrong pressed:  “I still want to know if you’ve looked at any research that suggests that one model is more effective that the other?”  Sherman responded:  “There are 62 cities in the state of New York.  46 of them have strong mayor-councils.  Fifteen are ruled by city managers with a weaker mayor-council, if you will. And one which is actually governed by the county.”

“Stuart Voss Ward 3. I served on the 1990 City Charter Commission. Most of our counties around us have a city manager form of government. They have a legislative body and then they have either a kind-of administrative assistant like Clinton County does or a regular county manager which Essex has and which Franklin has and which Warren County has. So it isn’t like this is a brand new thing coming in here. For me the more that the power of the city can be distributed and not accumulated in the hands of one or a small group of people the better off the city’s going to be.”

“Hi, I’m Kimberly Davis Ward 3.  On the one hand I have seen city managers work in other areas. The problem I see is when you have one that isn’t effective that can have huge damage on the bottom line. There was a small town in Vermont recently that had to pay out $180,000 to buy out their manager.  I’m for a mayor as a partner with the council.  If we hired a city manager and then had an elected mayor what’s that going to cost?”

Another resident noted:  “If we imposed a city manager in the chain of governance in Plattsburgh you’re inserting a non-democratically elected official, usually subject to a very long-term contract, who has no role or responsibility directly to the taxpayers.  I find this a derogation of democratic principles that I think we need to be thinking about when we revise our city charter.”

Chair Luke Cyphers says citizen input is greatly helping the committee and their timeline to present the charter changes by November may need to be adjusted.   “To clean up the language in the existing charter we’re right on schedule.  Some of the more contentious issues we have another year technically if we wanted to.  The mayor had suggested we try to get everything we can onto the ballot in the November elections. But there’s some sentiment on the commission not to just throw something out there and I think we might look into, in some of these more contentious issues like form of governance, waiting till 2016.”

The next public hearing will be in June.

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