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Charter Commission Holds Last Informational Session On Ballot Questions

Pat Bradley/WAMC
Plattsburgh City Charter Commission meets on June 22, 2015

Next week, voters in Plattsburgh will decide whether to approve changes to the document that guides the governance of the city.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was at the final public education session about the ballot items last night.
A Charter Commission was appointed by the mayor in January to scour the 113-year-old document and determine what, if any, changes were needed.

The 12-member citizen panel 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 all residents and public hearings were held early in the process to try to determine the community’s preferred governance structure.  Initial meetings garnered some interest, but as the summer wore on few if any people attended public meetings on the charter change efforts.  

The charter commission at first planned to place three items on the November ballot.  Voters would be asked to approve revising antiquated language and to stagger terms and extend the mayor’s term.  The third item was the most contentious and some felt too confusing.  It included three questions – whether the charter should be revised with a city manager-council, a mayor-council or maintain the status quo.  Eventually the commission pulled that option.

Now, only changes in language and staggered terms are on the ballot.  

At a sparsely attended meeting Wednesday evening, Lani Fairchild had numerous questions over the item that was dropped from the ballot: whether to change the city’s mayor to a city manager. It   resulted in responses from Commission Chair Luke Cyphers, Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon, and commission member Theresa Bennett.
Lani Fairchild: “So next year there’s going to be a vote on whether the city wants to go to a city manager?”
Luke Cyphers: “If this passes.”
Mayor James Calnon: “The commission really wants that question asked so yeah.  Whether this is up or down makes no difference.  I’m going to introduce it for the ballot for next year anyway.”
Theresa Bennett:  “I have to say that unanimously as a commission we would like to see that question asked. There was nothing like unanimity on the commission as to which direction it should go.”
Mayor Calnon hopes residents understand they will vote next week on the future of the city’s constitution.   “If you think about what’s on the ballot: should we modernize our charter so that it is easier to use, readily accessible to the layman and staggering terms again is a really simple concept.  But I think ones that will have a long lasting impact.  Remember 113 years ago somebody wrote this stuff up and we’re still using it. So the modifications we do today might be into the next century.”

Cyphers wishes more people had attended the commission’s meetings.  “On the other hand this is really boring stuff.  I’m not going to sugar coat it!   It’s really important stuff. And at times the debate over boring things can be very feisty. You know, you missed out public. I often ran into people who were aware of what we were doing and they weren’t showing up at meetings. We also had some really good participation when we went to service clubs with our presentation.  It’s basically let’s update the charter we have and clarify it.  It’s fairly clear on the ballot and a yes vote seems to me to be an obvious choice.  And then that’ll set the stage for next year when the city can choose its form of government.”

The charter change questions appear on the back of the ballot.  The Charter Commission officially dissolves next week.

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