Though she supported a change to the city’s system of government on the campaign trail last year, Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly has announced the formation of a new commission to examine the Spa City’s charter. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports any changes would not alter the city’s unique governing structure.
After absentee ballots were counted in November, a Saratoga Springs ballot measure to change the city’s governing structure from its commission style to a council-manager form failed by just 10 votes. The most recent votes to change the charter to a establish a new system have failed in 2017, 2012, and 2006.
Though former members of the city’s previous Charter Review Commission are still seeking copies of the ballots from the November count, hoping to reverse the vote’s outcome, the city’s new mayor is pushing ahead with another charter commission.
Democrat Meg Kelly spoke at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“Although it was a very close vote, the proposed charter did not pass in November. However, I believed then and I strongly believe that now that we need to make changes to become more responsive and efficient as a city for our residents, businesses, and visitors,” said Kelly.
The new 10-member commission is made of the commissioners on the city council, excluding the mayor, their deputies, and the city attorney. They’ve been tasked with updating the existing governing document, last updated in 2001.
“This group is the people that work inside City Hall and they know the commission form of government and they know where the deficiencies are. And I feel they will look at this charter thoroughly and they will get this updated into the 21st Century,” said Kelly.
Under the city’s unique commission-style form of government, each department head also serves as a legislator on the five-member city council.
The new process to examine the existing form of government drew criticism from charter-change supporters in the audience.
Barbara Thomas, a former Charter Review Commission member, spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County.
“We support a government for the cities in Saratoga County that separate the administrative functions from the legislative functions,” said Thomas.
Barbara Trypaluk, also a supporter of charter change, aimed criticism directly at Mayor Kelly, who supported charter reform on the campaign trail.
“To form a commission that is just going to keep this form of government is a slap in the voters’ faces,” said Trypaluk.
The city commissioners who opposed the charter change last year spoke in favor of tweaking the existing document. Democratic Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan…
“We can’t afford to wait another four or five years to look at what we have today and start making some changes. This form of government does need some updating. That is what we’re planning to do,” said Madigan.
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, also a Democrat, took swipes at the last charter commission while calling for updates to the current document.
“The last time that this form of government was updated was in a real, true open committee where they looked at all options, spoke to the people first versus telling the people what they wanted, and it came back very clear that the people wanted the commission form of government. They didn’t want staggered terms. They didn’t want four-year – trust me, nobody at this table would argue they wouldn’t want a four-year term – but it’s not what the people wanted because they asked the people first. They went through, they did lots of updates. It was 17 years ago. So, yes, this charter does need some updates,” said Franck.
Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, a Republican, echoed the sentiment often heard from those opposed to charter change by pointing to the city’s economic boom in recent years.
“If you don’t like this form of government, you don’t like this form of government,” said Scirocco. “But look at what’s going on around you. When you look at the city and the way the city is and we’re the envy of the county – probably the envy of the state – I mean, we’re looking good on every single aspect. How can anyone out there say we’re not doing good?”
Some members of the former charter commission have sought additional information from the Saratoga County Board of Elections on November’s charter vote. That request was rejected by a judge.
Newly-elected Democratic Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin, a former county supervisor, defended the BOE.
“I wasn’t rooting for the way the election came out, but I do think our Board of Elections has done a very good job of making sure our making sure our election results do reflect those votes that were cast,” said Martin.
Saratoga Springs’ newest Charter Review Commission is tasked with bringing recommendations up for a vote in November.