Tagged with " charter"
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.

Nov 13, 2017 - Journalism    3 Comments

Commissioners Misuse City Funds for Political Agenda

Counting all the valid votes in an election is a good thing, right? Of course it is.

That’s the rationale three commissioners on the Saratoga Springs City Council are giving for their decision to hire an election lawyer to oversee the process of counting absentee ballots in the hotly contested charter change vote.

In a special council meeting on Monday, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan defended the decision on the basis that proponents of the charter change are hiring a lawyer to oversee the process. Accounts Commissioner John Franck previously told the Times Union that he anticipates the attorney working on behalf of charter change advocates would try to get votes disqualified.

But using public funds for this purpose is essentially unheard of in New York. Election lawyers to oversee ballot counts are hired by candidates or issue activists, not by a local government.

“This is among the most categorically outrageous and inappropriate uses of public money I have ever seen and I work in Albany,” tweeted Ken Giardin, a policy analyst with the Empire Center for Policy, an independent think tank.

Advocates against charter change (including Madigan, Franck and Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco) could hire their own attorney using private funds.

So why are Frank and Madigan leading this charge? They need every paper ballot counted to overcome the 48-vote lead pro-charter change advocates had after Election Day. It has been reported that the returned absentee ballots (more than 510) lean Republican, which anecdotally should benefit opponents to the charter change.

Franck said on Monday that his opposition to the charter change was “immaterial,” but it’s hard to imagine he would take this position if his side was leading in the vote.

This was a guest post by David Lombardo, who has covered multiple absentee ballot counts as a reporter and oversaw the absentee ballot count for Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in 2014.

Mar 4, 2017 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

Is this the year to slay Saratoga Springs’ five-headed monster?

Saratoga Springs residents will vote in November whether to change the city’s form of government, a proposal that five-year council member Michele Madigan views with a skeptically raised eyebrow.

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.