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Plattsburgh Charter Commission Decides Items For November Ballot

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Pat Bradley/WAMC
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During a sparsely attended public meeting Monday evening, the Plattsburgh City Charter Commission decided what changes to the city’s governmental structure should be placed on the ballot in November.

Plattsburgh’s mayor has appointed a citizen’s commission to draft changes to the document that guides the governance of the city.  The intent is to have the revisions ready to be placed on the November ballot.

The charter commission has divided into three subcommittees.  One is revamping the antiquated language of the 113-year-old document.

The other two are investigating mayor/city council and city manager/city council forms of government.

Other than the 12 members of the commission and its attorney, there were three members of the media and one city councilor in the auditorium at Monday night’s work session and public meeting.  

At a public hearing in mid-May, Commission Chair Luke Cyphers said they might put some items on this year’s ballot and then take another year for the more intensive topics.   “There’s some sentiment on the commission not to just throw something out there.  I think we might look into, in some of these more contentious issues like form of governance, waiting ‘til 2016.”

But at Monday’s meeting, Cyphers told the commission that option is no longer possible.   “I went back and looked up the actual home rule law. The tenure of our appointment is two years or until the first election that we put a ballot proposal on.  So if we put something on the ballot in November we’re done.  We can’t really go half and half.  We can’t say let’s put this on the ballot and then postpone a decision on something else.”

The commission attorney confirmed that conclusion and the panel got down to work preparing to have all changes ready for this year’s ballot.  But at times the commissioners themselves appeared confused, such as during a discussion over staggered terms.   “If we vote on this they’re going to be combined?”  “The two ideas will be combined and we will present one election cycle proposal.”  “You can’t combine them.”

The commission had sent out a survey asking residents their opinions regarding potential forms of government for the city.  That led to questions about the results:  “I’m a little lost on that percentage.”  “I have  the same question I think Jim does with the 63 percent and the 13 percent of the total.”   “63 percent of the people said they like the government we have now. 13 percent…”  “Of that?”   “…also answered yes to having a city manager or don’t know.”  “Also in looking again at our unscientific poll that was quite ambiguous language in the first question.”

Following the meeting commissioners Rod Sherman and Kelly Donoghue felt progress had been made.  Sherman says there’s more clarity in the work they need to do.   “It’s clear in everybody’s mind exactly what the three proposals are that we want to put forward. They’ve now asked us to go back for a couple of them and clean things up and be more specific. Also people have got a better sense of what both subcommittees that put up the city manager and the subcommittee that’s putting up the clean language charter, I think they both have had clear direction on what they need to do to find the compromise that the rest of the commissioners will accept.”

As for the lack of public attendance, Donoghue hopes people are simply waiting for a more complete revision of the charter.    “Maybe some people aren’t here because it’s more of a session that they feel is a work in progress and we’re not necessarily there yet either. But hopefully as we get a product out there for the vote the public will be able to be here to let us know: should we move it forward or not?  We need to hear that. Really it’s our chance right as the public to get out there and express what they would like our city to do and where we should be moving forward. Because it can’t just be us.”

The Plattsburgh City Charter Commission will hold its next public forum on June 15th.

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