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Charter Commission Scraps City Manager Option

The Plattsburgh Charter Commission has working for months to update and revise the city’s 113-year-old governing document.   Among the questions the group had planned to present to voters in November was whether to change to a government led by a city manager and council.  That idea has been dropped and voters will now review the terms and powers of the mayor and city council.

For months, the 12-member commission has been debating, discussing and formulating revisions to the city charter.  The Charter Commission originally planned to present ballot items before voters in November that included whether the charter should be changed at all and if it should be revised with a mayor-council government or with a city manager-council government. Another question asks approval to create staggered elections for city councilors and extend the mayor’s term to four years.

There has been considerable debate over whether the proposals were too confusing, and if form of government changes should be done at the same time language and code adjustments are made.
At the final meeting Wednesday evening to set ballot items for the November election, the Charter Commission dropped the city-manager option.  Luke Cyphers is Commission Chair.   “Basically this year, the November 2015 election, we’ll put a new updated charter with the current strong mayor form of governance on the ballot and a change in elected office terms.  The mayor’s term is going to go from three years to four and the city council terms will remain at three years and then be staggered.”

Cyphers and members of the commission emphasized that the concept of changing to a city manager has been delayed, not abandoned.   “The city manager issue was something we were told to study.  We know there’s some support for it and we think it deserves a vote.  We just couldn’t figure out how to put all that together in one ballot.  So by splitting it up next year they can debate whether they want to change the form of governance.”

Mayor James Calnon, who appointed the commission, has been concerned about the complexity of the ballot questions being considered. He is pleased with the commission‘s decision.   “The monumental importance of the decisions that are before us may be an awful lot to put on one ballot anyway. I will tell you that as soon as the election results are certified in 2015 I will introduce a local law to bring your city manager charter to the voters in the fall of ’16.”

While the focus of discussion was whether to scrap the city manager ballot initiative, some of the half-dozen city residents who attended expressed other concerns.  Ward 3 resident Joel Bogensberger opposes  a city manager. But he also doesn’t like some of the changes proposed under the mayor-council system.   “You’re missing some points in your strong mayor concept here. You’ve completely gutted what the Common Council does and given it all to the mayor.”

Ward 3’s Jerry Gagnier expressed concerns about a potential shift in powers outlined in the proposed charter.   “You really need to rethink this and see where the power is supposed to be. You’ve taken language out of the charter and made the mayor a strong mayor and made the Common Council, who we elect to represent us, unable to represent us.”

The Charter Commission must submit the final ballots to the Clinton County Board of Elections by August 25th.  It will then begin a series of public information sessions on the ballot proposals.

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