The city under its current form is fiscally sound, she points out. Taxes are reasonable. Competent and caring people work together and get things done.
But in a recently published piece, she too cavalierly dismisses City Hall’s greatest weakness: No one is in charge.
Saratoga Springs’ rare form of government consists of five part-time council members, each of whom, including the mayor, is elected as head of specific segments of city operations. They are both legislators and administrators.
They often work cooperatively. And plenty of times, they don’t. I’ve seen both firsthand and up close, beginning with my stint as City Hall reporter for The Saratogian in the late 1970s and through my years as editor of the paper.
If, say, the council members in charge of public works and public safety don’t get along, they don’t share information and projects that overlap their jurisdictions languish. The mayor has the same single vote as the other four council members, who are “commissioners” of this and that, and cannot order any of them to get something done. There is no full-time manager overseeing and responsible for City Hall’s daily and long-term operations.
Madigan discounts the description of the City Council as five “silos.” She notes that as the commissioner in charge of the city budget, she deals with all the departments. But successes she rightly points to were realized in spite of, not because of, the system.
I wrote my share of editorials over the years decrying the five-headed monster that is the City Council. But when push came to shove, I shied away from urging voters to dump a system fraught with inefficiencies in favor of new form with its own shortcomings.
The City Charter wisely calls for the mayor to appoint a commission to periodically review the government and recommend changes than ranging from piecemeal tweaks to major overhauls. As with past commissions, volunteers have devoted many hours looking into how City Hall could be both affordable and efficient. As with most past commissions, this one is confident that replacing the current form of government will best serve Saratoga Springs for years to come.
Could this be the year to take the risk and make the leap?
I’m not sure, not yet. The commission had hoped the charter change vote would take place in May, but I’m glad the City Council wouldn’t fund a special election. Madigan and I agree: The upcoming weeks and months will give people time to study and weigh the options and make an informed decision when going to the polls in November.