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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Tuesday, January 11

Charter fight rumbles on: "Stalling this in an absolute slap in the face." (UPDATE 2 p.m.)

2 p.m. - Just consulted my copy of the 2011 Adopted Budget; the new line A3051354 54720 shows actual spending by Accounts on professional services at $58,204 and a revised/projected amount of $68,044, so there is a little more wiggle room there for lawyers.

City Accounts Commissioner John Franck, who's decision not to certify a petition brought forth by charter reform group Saratoga Citizen to place a referendum on the 2010 ballot was overturned by state Supreme Court Judge Tom Nolan last week, said he will certify the petition based on the judge's order, as soon as it is officially delivered to his office.

"I have to certify based on the court order," Franck said Tuesday, with the expectation that the official documents will be identical to those provided by attorney's last Friday.

Franck said that he will meet with the city's legal counsel in this matter and Mayor Scott Johnson this week to decide whether or not to appeal the ruling, which he described as "new case law."

"I don't really know if it's worth it," he said of the costs associated with an appeal.

Franck said that the cost to the city of hiring Brown & Weinraub to vet the petition documents, on which his decision not to certify was based, was $21,000.

The city also hired Fitzgerald, Morris, Baker, Firth to handle the group's challenge to his decision. Both firms charged $200 per hour, and Franck said the total cost for both would likely end up being around $30,000.

Line A3051354 54720 of the 2010 Adopted Budget shows $40,000 budgeted for professional services in the Accounts Department.

Franck said he does not believe that Saratoga Citizen has a legal right to a special election (which he added is costly) because they did not request the measure be considered in a special election in their documentation. Based on his understanding of state Municipal Home Rule Law, the City Council will have 60 days from the day he certifies their petition to validate or reject the referendum. The group has already supplied the necessary overage of signatures to override a council rejection, but those signatures are also in court.

"I don't think we're going to see that," Franck said of a special election, noting that the measure would likely be on the citywide election ballot in November, meaning candidates may be running for offices that would not exist in the following years.

"The city taking yet another 60 days is insane," said Saratoga Citizen organizer Pat Kane on the phone this morning.

"What more do we have to do to get the will of the people recognized?" he said, adding that he advocates for putting the measure to a vote as soon as possible.

"I just can't understand what they don't understand about this petition process," he said of the council, "Stalling this in an absolute slap in the face."

Kane added that he has heard the figure of $20,000 referenced as the cost of a special election, and that the group is looking into the possibility of running the referendum as part of local school board elections in May.

Franck said the council will likely discuss the referendum at their Jan. 18 meeting, possibly in Executive Session with attorneys.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The charter changers need to pay for the cost of any special elections they impose on the general public. If they refuse then the vote can be held for the general election in November. After all, their major argument for charter change has been government costs.

January 11, 2011 at 3:21 PM 
Blogger Speaking-of-Saratoga said...

With both eyes on the future Councilman Franck is finally recommending a sound course of action... which may yet fall upon deaf ears at City Hall. If the Council calls for an Appeal, we citizens should demand nothing less than timely Certification of a near-perfect Petition (one single signature was invalidated, far short of the City's claim of 287).

My only dismay at this point is John Franck's disingenuous claim uttered in the shadow of what should have taught him a lesson in humility and silence. His embarrassing words are paraphrased by Patrick- "Saratoga Citizen has (no) legal right to a special election because they did not request the measure be considered in a special election in their documentation."

No request was made because the near-perfect Petition was submitted on a carefully-planned timeframe that allowed far more than enough time to place the Charter Change issue on the November ballot.

A Commissioner can't cry over spilled milk if he and four cronies hadn't hammered it across the kitchen floor with baseball bats.

-Kyle York
Government...For the People.

January 11, 2011 at 4:24 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Franck notes in this posting that he will meet with the mayor this week to decide if Judge Nolan's decision is to be appealed.

Perhaps Franck has forgotten that only the City Council can make that decision, not he and Johnson alone.

We trust that the other members will cut the City;'s loses and let this go forward.

January 11, 2011 at 5:45 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Government costs are getting steep.

The biggest costs are on-going legal expenses controlled by John Franck

The voters could have voted for FREE in November 2010 if this had been ruled on last summer as requested.

January 11, 2011 at 6:03 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick,

Thank you for attempting to detail the legal costs the City Council has authorized thus far in its attempt to disenfranchise nearly 2,000 City voters who petitioned for Charter reform.

Brown and Weinraub, according to Franck, have been paid $21,000 to date. The Council hired that Albany firm at the rate of $200/hour, so presumably 105 "billable" hours were spent coming up with the "grounds" for Franck to refuse to certify the original petition. That's a lot of time to concoct the now obviously transparent and incorrect legal arguments that Frank was all to eager to latch on to.

Are we to believe that Brown and Weinraub really spent that much time to to argue that the petition was not "fastened" together or that a handful of signitures were invalid.

A law clerk probably didi the leg work on the signatures by simply checking names against a list of enrolled lawyers. This is not law and it's an outrage that Franck and Johnson would spent our taxpayer money on this adventure.

Franck originally said he was not qualified to pass judgement on the merit of the petition and thus he need to hire outside counsel. Does he reilly ask us to believe that he is incapable of checking signatures against enrolled voters.

And where was Joe Scala, the city attorney. At $57,000 per year for a less than half time job is he unable to do anything.

My god, even Sutton could check names against enrollment lists.

It will be interesting to see whose political campaigns these law firms contribute to this fall. As for the taxpayers, we have been taken once again. This by a City Council that tells us that 2011 was the "toughest" budget year ever.

January 11, 2011 at 6:56 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original request on the petition states general election not special election.

January 11, 2011 at 7:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 p.m. - Just consulted my copy of the 2011 Adopted Budget; the new line A3051354 54720 shows actual spending by Accounts on professional services at $58,204 and a revised/projected amount of $68,044, so there is a little more wiggle room there for lawyers.

58,000 that would pay for 2 special elections!!!

January 11, 2011 at 8:22 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is plenty of time for a special election.
I have all the confidence in the world that the Charter Group will get this in place in plenty of time for a vote.

With the new paper ballots the expense of the election have dropped quite a bit.

But the cost of the special election is not what we should focus on here.

There is a NYS law
The Charter Group followed it

The City Council said no they did not

The Judge said YES they did

The laws are to be followed.

Just because you are an elected official does not mean that you are above the laws!

In fact you are there to uphold the law?

So what is it?

Deny the voting rights of the citizens of Saratoga Springs is not what you were elected to do.

YOU ALL should vote to uphold the judges decision and let the people have a special election. After all, they denied the Novemebr 2010 opportunity.

Do The Right Thing

January 12, 2011 at 10:05 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't realize 1,200 people represented THEE WILL OF THE PEOPLE IN SARATIOGA SPRINGS,this Saratoga Citizens is a self appointed group with THEIR selfish mandate,WHY DID THE CITIES OF TROY AND SCHENECTADY ABANDON THE CITY MANAGER FORM OF GOV"T IF IT IS SO GOOD,NOT waiting until NOV.would be insane,the more that is exposed about this groups' motives the quicker it will sink and PAT KANE knows that,that's why there's a big RUSH.

January 13, 2011 at 7:28 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe there are nearly 2300 sigantures submitted. And that is a large number of citizens...and the laws are clear.
The charter effort was done in a non-political manner, in public, and with the utmost of professionalism.
I went to charter change meetings..they were awesome. They have had nearly 25 public meetings, a comprehensive web site, an incrediblly talented group.

I have been to several city council meeting during the last year and they were NOT awesome.

Judge Nolan'd ruling puts the city council in a bright light for not such bright moves to block this effort.

Time for a change.

I wanted to vote on this last November, why should I have to wait.

Face Facts

January 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A special election can be denied because it was not requested. To do this in November would be catatrophic because candidates running for office would not even know what they are running for. Can you imagine trying to transition a goivernment with no experienced transition team. Two alternative - 2010 election or a charter committee formed by the mayor. As for the cost to the city this action was taken by Saratoga Citizen and the cost of well above $30,000 rests on their shoulders. The balance of the 2010 total can be well explained by several other legal matters that the Finance Dept. deals with on a yearly basis. The budgeted number has been almost the same for the last three years.

January 13, 2011 at 2:39 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not your facts, I signed your petition and was told it was for updating the current charter,come to find out it's to change the form of gov't,no thanks for you,I'm not the only signer who was mislead..Time to tell the truth.

January 13, 2011 at 3:03 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was in this column on August 5th 2010 LAST SUMMER.
Thursday, August 5

Franck on charter petition: "It's out of my hands"

Spoke with Accounts Comm. Franck today about what exactly is happening with the certification of the signatures delivered to the council July 20 by Saratoga Citizen.

He said Albany-based law firm Brown & Weinraub (which is being retained as counsel in the matter at a rate of $200 per hour) has five or six people going through the 1,280 signatures, analysis of which is about half-way completed.

Franck clarified for me the city's deadline to approve or reject the petition, and exactly what Brown & Weinraub are looking at. Basically, when these petitions have been approved in the past detractors sue the City Clerk, AKA Franck. He wants to absolve himself of liability before anyone can even think of filing suit, telling me he only saw the first page of signatures before they were taken by lawyers.

"I want to stay out of that whole process," he said.

"It's not just the signatures," he said, noting what he felt was a misnomer perpetrated at the Aug. 3 meeting when organizers asked the council to act then and there to approve the petition.

"It's the petition, the charter document and whether or not a financial study has to get done."

He referred to New York State Municipal Home Rule Law Sect. 37.11, which states:

11. No such petition for a proposed local law requiring the
expenditure of money shall be certified as sufficient by the city clerk
or become effective for the purposes of this section unless there shall
be submitted, as a part of such proposed local law, a plan to provide
moneys and revenues sufficient to meet such proposed expenditures. This
restriction shall not prevent the submission of a local law to adopt a
new charter or to reorganize the functions of city government, or a part
thereof, relying partly or solely on normal budgetary procedures to
provide the necessary moneys to meet the expenses of city government
under such reorganization, whether or not such reorganization includes
the creation of new offices, provided only that such reorganization
shall not require specific salaries or the expenditure of specific sums
of money not theretofore required.

Pretty dense, I know. Basically the lawyers are figuring out if the petition itself requires a financial study.

"I don't know whether or not they need financials," Franck said, calling the section "confusing". Lawyers are currently going through case law to find out if the group needs a financial statement or study.

"I'm going to go with whatever their recommendations are," Franck said, noting (as he does often) that he is an accountant, not a lawyer.

He has until August 19, 30 days after they brought the signatures forward, to certify the petition. He said he will likely need the entire 30 days, or close to it, based on the pace of the attorneys reviewing the proposal.

On Aug. 19, he will report to the council on what action to take. If he does not certify, Saratoga Citizen has five days to take him to court. If he does certify, the council has 60 days to approve or reject the referendum.

If they do not approve, Saratoga Citizen can present the additional signatures needed to override a council vote, at which point Franck has 20 days to have them certified. If the council sleeps on it for their 60 days allowed and rejects the proposal, election day will have come and gone by the time lawyers get a crack at the next round of signatures.

Franck said that his understanding of the law was that the group would be able to call for a special election if the referendum is left off the November ballot.

"At the end of the day its whatever the people want," he said.

It seems as though the people are going to have to speak up a little louder if they want to see this proposal make it to the ballot in time for November.

January 13, 2011 at 4:35 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the commentator that stated the misrepresentation this was misstated all over the city. The bar closings at 2A.M. issue was used on the west side. Bring on the presentation, bring on the financial plan and debate and bring on the vote. As you see commentary after commentary repeated the same facts you would think you were dealing with robots or people under hypnosis. When it hits the ballot in 2010 than we can vote it up or down. Until than there are several major priorities the city faces and the valuable time should be spent finding solutions involving the public who rarely shows up for meetings and the council.

January 14, 2011 at 3:02 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, to the person who said "Not your facts, I signed your petition and was told it was for updating the current charter" I think you are now making up stories. The reason the petition carriers turned in perfect petitions was because we had several 'training sessions' so everyone would not make mistakes. We also were asked to fo;;ow the opening presentation honestly with the final phrase, ' you may or may not be in favor of changing the form of government but signing the petition would put it on the ballot so you could vote yes or no. Now everyone carried a copy of the proposed charter to show the people specifics if they wanted and 2 fact sheets about the differences between the forms of government and how our government would work. Saying someone mislead you is crazy or you just didn't hear and didn't care what you were signing.

January 15, 2011 at 12:30 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the 15th at 12:30am I posted to this blog. I would like to correct and add a few things. The word I used fo;;ow should be 'follow'. And in the part where we carried the proposed charter and 2 pieces of information, I left out the part that a copy of the 2 pieces of information were offered to every person we spoke to for them to keep and read exactly what the proposal and the differences between the forms of government and how our government would work.

January 15, 2011 at 12:29 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told it was to update the current charter,the word the gentlemen used was to TWEAK the charter we have now, you like to use the words crazy and insane alot,it's possible the man circulating the petition was only following instructions,he said it was to TWEAK the current GOV"T,I know what I heard. I even contacted a person to complain.

January 15, 2011 at 12:34 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an outsider and to watch agroup that is "focus forward"? They sure do alot of reexplaining and back peddling,"jitter stepping forward" might be more fitting,just a positive suggestion.

January 15, 2011 at 12:51 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone would use the word tweak and when offered the information sheets did you accept or deny them. You may have heard only what you wanted to hear. Also to the last poster, the reason Saratoga Citizen has to 'reexplain'
is that many people like the person who is thinks we were out tweaking have to have to have information repeated because they didn't get it the first time or are asking for clarification. I would rather have something this important 'reexplained' than to have someone complain because of lack of information. The reason for a special election is because the City delayed the issue so it wouldn't be on the 2010 ballot is crucial. If the proposal wins in a Spring special election, we can have candidates that will run in November for the new positions. The election winners would not take their seats until 2012.
"Franck said that his understanding of the law was that the group would be able to call for a special election if the referendum is left off the November ballot."(quote from an article in the Saratogian)


The reason this group is self appointed is bbecause it is a grassroots movement. Every city citizen was invited to become part of this movement or come to the informational meetings held over the last 3 years. Every month in this newspaper there was an invitation to attend the monthly meeting that takes place every 2nd Thursday of the month at the Saratoga Library. Staying on the sidelines and complaining about it now, well shame on you. I respect the fact that you may be opposed and that is your right. However there are many that are for the proposition and you should respect their right. The way to settle an issue is by voting. Isn't that the democratic way?

January 16, 2011 at 12:51 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This needs to go to the ballot as soon as it is possible.
Another reason this should stay citizen based is that they will get done.
And it will not be a political battle.

The city gov should stay focused on solving some of the other issues that have plagued them for so long.

City Union Contracts
Parking
Health Care programs
Recreation issues
Taxes
Finance
Public safety issues
Fleet control

The mood in city hall is horrible.

Lets get going and complete this groups work.

January 19, 2011 at 1:53 PM 

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