Sep 28, 2020 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Protect your vote in Saratoga Springs: Reject charter change

I’ve long criticized Saratoga Springs’ form of government in which elected council members oversee specific aspects of City Hall, creating silos of administration. But the charter change now on the ballot would replace that shortcoming with one far worse – a ward system that would drastically reduce every city resident’s representation on the City Council and make elected officials less accountable.

I’m voting no.

The claim that residents would gain better representation with wards is false and grossly misleading.

The ward system minimizes our individual clout as voters. It eliminates council members’ accountability to all but the sixth of the city that elects them. We would get to vote for a mayor and only one of six council members, with no promise that even that one candidate – let alone the other five – would feel compelled to address the concerns of our particular neighborhood. 

I looked at a map of the election districts to see how areas were lumped together in the proposed charter (in Article XI, section C) to form six wards. Here are three examples:

Ward Three stretches from the city neighborhoods around the Caroline Street School to the sprawling estates in the Beacon Hill Drive area off Meadowbrook Road and the rural developments north of Route 29 toward Wilton.

Ward Four would combine the South Side (everything south of Lincoln Avenue, including Jefferson Terrace) with all the Saratoga Lake and Lake Lonely developments, more than three miles and a world away.

Ward Six puts together the downtown West Side (including the Beekman Street arts district) with the more suburban housing around Buff Road.

You get the idea. Check out the map yourself. 

Bottom line: Every citizen should be able to vote for all of the City Council members.

There are other reasons to reject this charter change. Promised cost savings are dubious as is the timing of the ballot proposal, with people unable to assemble to discuss the pros and cons, not to mention the city budget hole caused by the pandemic. And the idea of a city manager appointed to oversee all city operations makes sense — but not accompanied by the unnecessary creation of a full-time mayor as proposed.

I could get behind a new charter with an appointed city manager beholden to a City Council whose members answer to all Saratoga Springs voters.

This charter change would radically reduce our voice. Vote no.

2 Comments

  • Agreed. Like you, I also am pro-charter, but not pro-insanity. Wards also tend to give more power to organized groups over individuals. I’ve said this to them (pro-charter folk) over and over again: the main objective is separation of legislation and administrative, which can be accomplished without ‘burning down the house’, but they just keep refusing to work with opponents for a bipartisan resolution to the problem.

    It should also be noted here that without a solid cost estimate, it would be insane to attempt this given the current situations we are dealing with as well.

    • Regarding wards:
      In theory, someone “sitting at the table” for your neighborhood in a paid capacity ($12,000/year under this proposal) should deliver results. In practice, that is not always the case – especially when they have seven other people with competing interests at the same table. Here is some evidence to consider:

      My grandparents immigrated to this country and settled in the city of Albany. They were poor immigrants and they had a Ward Representative. Along with over 7,000 other residents and 3,300 households, their house was razed and everyone in the neighborhood had to move due to eminent domain. Huck Finn’s Warehouse now stands where their home and neighborhood stood. Their Ward Representative did not help them. This evidence is not anecdotal, it is empirical: 7,000 residents and 3,300 households in Albany alone (https://inclusivehistorian.com/urban-renewal/).

      Here is a map of Albany’s 15 wards dating back to the 1800’s: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3804a.wd000517/?r=0.438,0.376,0.531,0.271,0

      Having someone “sitting at the table” for your ward does not mean that they will get anything done under the structure that this proposal dictates. Under this new proposal, individuals will only get to vote for two people – their Ward Representative and the Mayor. If this proposal passes, your Ward Representative needs to fight with 6 other people on the City Council (including the Mayor) and the unelected City Manager in order to get anything done for your specific neighborhood. The ward system sets up a negative power dynamic, suppresses the power of an individual’s vote, neglects the best interests of the city as a whole, and increases bureaucratic layers in both theory and practice.

      Of the 932 towns in New York – many of which have a higher population of the City of Saratoga Springs – 167 are eligible to use a ward system to elect council members, (whereby town board members represent a particular area (or “ward”) of a town), and only 13 have chosen to do so. The voters of Amherst, Bethlehem, Brookhaven, Clay, Colonie, Hamburg, Huntington, Malta, New Castle, Ramapo and more have all rejected wards (http://www.townofbethlehem.org/DocumentCenter/View/3844/Governance-Options-Study-Committee-Final-Report?bidId=).

      And if you think that organized groups wouldn’t try to deceive voters and gang up on other wards, look at what is happening right now with certain groups creating fake Facebook accounts to deceive and misinform the Saratoga Voter instead of being transparent about the facts of the proposal.

      Here is another fact, for those of you that have not had a chance to look over the proposal yet:

      Along with the unelected City Manager, did you know that the City Assessor would not need to live in our city either under this new proposal?

      Please visit http://www.saratogaworks.org to learn more about what you are voting on this coming Election Day.

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