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

Thursday, November 1

Charter Change

If you've read The Saratogian you likely know all about charter change. Next Tuesday, while the voters in the city decide whether to keep their incumbent president, senators, and member of the Assembly, they will also decide whether to hold on to their incumbent form of government.

I've put the call out on Twitter, Facebook and e-mailed a list of specific people who I think people would like to hear from about changing the city's government and I would like to hear from anyone and everyone about their opinions on charter change.

To get us started, here are two random quotes from people on both sides of the issue from a recent forum on the issue that wouldn't fit in my story.

Former Mayor Ken Klotz came out against the proposed change. He defended the current form of government and said it is routinely being mischaracterized by proponents for change.

“To pretend we have five people running around like chickens with their heads cut off is giving the wrong impression of how City Hall works,” Klotz said.

On the other hand, proponents for change (who often do characterize the government like that, if not in those terms) said the change will save taxpayers money.
“It’s hard to imagine if we had a more streamlined organization that we would not see some cost savings,” Saratoga Citizen Organizer Brent Wilkes said, but said initially the city would essentially break even. He said most of the actual savings would be dependent on decisions made by the city council.

Now thus far I've received a couple of responses to my request for comment. One is from Charles Wait, CEO and President of Adirondack Trust Co. Here's what he had to say:

"I do not support a change in the charter at thus time for the following reasons:

1. No strong case has been made in my opinion for change. The city is doing very well. Our unemployment is relatively low, our tax rate is very low compared to other cities, our population is increasing (an anomaly in upstate New York) and needed infrastructure projects (the recreation center and the new parking garage) are accomplished. 

2.  The cost of a city manager would be a significant addition to municipal overhead and the argument that he/she will bring efficiencies to the budget is largely conjecture lacking specifics.

3.  The city manager would owe his first allegiance to the city council and not to the voters.  In Bolton Landing the manager became ineffective when a divided council make it difficult for him to take action. 

4. The divided responsibilities of the current council acts as a check and balance on power with each council member able to offset to some degree the power if the others. A city manager would concentrate hat power. Problems that are under the direct responsibility of a department where an elected official is responsible tend to get fixed quickly. Problems that are under the responsibility if a civil servant tend to get lost in paperwork. 

5.  If an elected official doesn't do his job, the voters get a chance to fire him every two years. A civil servant would be difficult and expensive to fire as they will only work with a contract."
On the other side of the issue (no I didn't plan it that way, but it worked well) is former City Planner Geoff Bornemann, who wrote this letter to the editor:

"I support charter change because I worked in City Hall for 22 years.

With only a few exceptions, the management practices in the Mayor/Commissioners’ offices were inefficient and ineffective. The elected council members and their appointed deputies had little experience in managing personnel or implementing policy.  They frequently didn’t trust their own staff, were unable to motivate them or give clear direction. They often had little knowledge of the good things other communities were doing. Deputies sometimes spent more time 'campaigning' for their boss than they did managing their department.

The existing Commission form of government creates five independent departments with no mandate to work together. Too many times I witnessed lost opportunities when staff from one department wouldn’t be allowed to talk to or to attend meetings called by another department because their bosses were fighting with each other. The unwritten rule was do not criticize what was going on in someone else’s department, because then they will criticize you. There is a better chance of these short comings being corrected with a professionally trained city manager in charge of implementing city council policy.
The City would be more effectively run if the elected council members focused their energies on establishing policies rather than also having to implement them by running a department. Those are two entirely different skill sets. Few leaders have developed both those areas of expertise. I also believe that we would attract better council candidates if they only had to focus on setting policy and not run a department.

The proposed charter provides for 4 year terms instead of two years. Under the current two year term, the mantra in City Hall was always 'don’t do anything in an election year.' What results is no productivity for one half of a term of office.

From my perspective, our city’s past successes are more a result of private or non-profit sector actions than of government action. Our Commission form of government has not led this community – it has followed it. If we had a productive and well managed government, we could make far more progress and we would be out in front of issues.
I will be voting “yes” for charter reform because it offers a hope of better management."
This response is from Cynthia D. Hollowood, the general manager for the Holiday Inn on Broadway:
I LOVE MY CITY! I have enjoyed a 30+ year career in the hospitality business in the city that I call home. I met my husband here, we raised our children here and have invested in our home and our business in a thriving, forward thinking municipality that has won accolades and awards on a national and international level over the past 20 years.  The 50,000 guests that stay at the Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs annually frequently ask how our community is able to continue to grow and develop yet  maintain its historic charm and beauty. The response is simple- we have all the systems in place to both preserve and enhance this magical place. Without question, Brien and I will be voting “NO” on election day and if you love your community as we do, you will too.
We have financially supported the “SUCCESS” organization and we hope that Tuesday’s vote will put an end to this issue for many years to come.

Anyone else with input is welcome to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at I'll put them on the blog as I receive them. Some we may run alongside our coverage this weekend and our endorsement of one side or the other, but those will have to be kept to about 100 words or less.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want one more reason too finally change this form of government?

We need a government with a true system of checks and balances. A recent case in point that is still not known to the public.

In September of last year the mayor received a Finding of Violation from the NYS Health Department. The notice determined that there existed "valid and sufficient" grounds that the City water supply was still inadequate and hat the City had failed to pursue development on an additional source.

The notice carried a fine of $25,000.

Almost a year later - and still kept hidden from public review and scrutiny - the DPW commissioner, on August 31, 2012, signed a Stipulation and Agreement with DOH and unilaterally and without required Council approval that committed the City to spend $100,000s.

Under Charter Law only the mayor can enter such agreements and then only by resolution of the Council.

In a government with a real system of checks and balances this type of abuse of authority, deception and secrecy - all at the expense of the community - could not take place.

November 1, 2012 at 6:05 PM 
Blogger Kyle York said...

I always respect President Wait and I pay close attention to his opinion. But absolutely NOTHING can take the place of real-world experience in the place we call "City Hall."

Geoff speaks with precision, with eloquence, and with no personal agenda. In all the places I've lived, I've never seen a form of government which is so embarrassing to witness, meeting after meeting.

For all the pundits who praise our Commissioner-Council, I can count on a single hand the number of citizens who attend meetings from start to finish.

We can do better.
Take it from Geoff, an insider.

November 1, 2012 at 10:04 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More connected people who don't support charter change. I wonder what they would say if they had 4 other bosses equal to them, who ran different departments with no one really in charge. I bet both the ADT and Holiday Inn would go out of business. They don't run their business like that, but its ok to run a government.

November 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@3:39 PM - have you actually read the current charter? Page C-13, Title 3, Item A: "The Mayor shall be chief executive officer and official representative of the City, and shall have and exercise powers conferred on that office by this Charter or laws of New York State or the United States."
The mayor is in charge. The only time he is not in charge is when the council is voting, then they are all equals. Other than that, he is in charge.
You Saratoga Citizen people either don't know anything about the current charter, or you are a bunch of liars. Most of the stuff I see and hear from you guys is wrong - we do not have 5 payrolls, 5 garages, 5 equals running the city. It does not work that way and you should be ashamed of yourselves for trying to change something before you figured out how it actually works.

November 2, 2012 at 7:35 PM 
Blogger Elliott Masie said...

Every day, Adirondack Trust Bank and Holiday Inn see and interact with current and future business owners and customers in our city.

The notes from Charles and Cindy are just a small sample of the view that this Radical Constitutional Change on the ballot is not necessary - and financially undefined (and uncertain).

The advocates of the Charter have said that the success of our town is not in the form of government but from the leadership of business and neighborhood groups. Here are two of leaders advocating that voters flip the ballot on Tuesday and vote NO!

Saratoga Works! Don't make this change!

November 2, 2012 at 10:14 PM 
Anonymous Elliott Masie said...

Every day, Adirondack Trust Bank and Holiday Inn see and interact with current and future business owners and customers in our city.

The notes from Charles and Cindy are just a small sample of the view that this Radical Constitutional Change on the ballot is not necessary - and financially undefined (and uncertain).

The advocates of the Charter have said that the success of our town is not in the form of government but from the leadership of business and neighborhood groups. Here are two of leaders advocating that voters flip the ballot on Tuesday and vote NO!

Saratoga Works! Don't make this change!

November 2, 2012 at 10:15 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, the Letters to the Editor show the divide regarding Charter Change. You must remember that The Commission Form of Government was created so that businessmen could bypass the normal path of getting things done by their local government to rebuild a devastated City. While this form was adopted by many cities in the US in a few short years (as business did control much of the cities and it's workers at the turn of the century) it was a quick rise and the boon fell like a lead balloon. It wasn't that long after the rise of the Commissioner form that it was only used by 25% of cities 29 years after it's enactment and in only a handful today, with only 5 cities with a population over 26,000. The Saratogian should be able to see a pattern from its letters that the business sector does not want this form to change. You might ask yourself why? Tom Roohan, Charles Wait, Elliott Masie, the Holiday Inn, some former elected officials, etc., because most of these businesses get something from this form of government. Check out what bank all City deposits go to, what City Realtor is benefiting from large growth in partnership with a local developer, some Chamber businesses that do not want a professional government where they may not be able to insert pressure in certain departments. I think that Geoff as a 22 year City Planner, an "inside" employee that dealt with this government form every day is a better gauge of what goes on better than Charlie Wait does, not to be rude but Mr. Wait please stick to banking.
Voters should remember the recent past to see the ineffective nature of the 5 Headed Dragon that the Saratogian Editorial Board itself called it in 1991. The Rec Center - built with the promise that it would pay for itself immediately, however the expenses grow larger every year. $110,000 in 2010, $168,00 in 2011 and $222, 836 so far in 2012. Revenue from rents $19,000 in 2010, $93,000 in 2011 and $123,000 so far in 2012 (figure’s by the transparency section of the website). The taxpayers are footing the deficit and the pattern will probably not change in the future. The thought process by our mayor when planning the facility is another example of mismanagement just because he doesn't know better. He wanted a facility that would welcome out of area teams for tournaments, but 2 things are lacking, even for our local people using the facility (1). No Parking and (2). No showers. Have you ever played a basketball game, not taken a shower then get on a bus for a trip back home?
We had to check with the building inspector at the time on why he wouldn't sign off on a safety issue and was then let go. The reason we got was that improper sheet rock was used that could pose a danger (it was later corrected, after investigation of a citizen group); the Mayor opened the Center and allowed its use for months without the proper CO (which the City got after investigation of a citizen group. Then the 2 year and counting treatment of the Mayor's Office that no employee can give out any public information, the employee tells a citizen asking for PUBLIC information that they have to file a FOIL request. The City did not obtain a building permit for work to begin on the Parking Garage this year and only gave itself one 4 months after the work was started, again after questioning why by a (you got it) a group of citizens and another building inspector is fired because he would not sign off on a request by the Deputy Mayor.
This is only a sample of what goes on in City Hall and I would believe and respect Geoff Bomemann's statements regarding the operations of City Hall over those of Tom Roohan, Charles Wait, Elliott Masie or the Holiday Inn.

November 2, 2012 at 11:34 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not connected and I'll vote NO because I want to vote for the people who will run the day to day and by the way they are in charge and if they don't do the job 3:39PM they're voted out....your way would be to BUY them out,sorry your way maakes NO cents,,,,I'll be voting NO often,you might like Newburgh NY,they have someone in charge there..they also had a 70% tax increase but then again that's just one of the many JOYS of having a city manager.

November 3, 2012 at 7:29 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see who the Saratogian Editorial Board will endorse this weekend. Will it stand up to the educational materials presented over the last 4 years or the misinformation spread in the last 2 months by the opposition group? Does the paper bend to the businesses that advertse with them or do they make up their own minds? It will also be very interesting to see what trickery the Mayor will come up with in the 11th hour to sway voters. Yes it will be interesting.

November 3, 2012 at 10:33 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:34PM,I think everybody agrees with you Pat on one've waged a grudge campaighn against Mayor Johnson for the last six years,hopefully this will end I'm sure it will!

November 4, 2012 at 10:52 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as the economics of the rec center, these enormous loses people cite seem to have much more to do with the accounting, then the actual dollars. If you look at many of the city programs now using the Rec Center (City Sports leagues, Camp Saradac) you will see that while the expenses at the Rec Center have started going up, the operating costs of these programs have gone down. That's because these programs are now operating out of the Rec Center. While it might not make sense for the city to bill these programs, so they can simply write a check to themselves, it might be good to start having these programs take ownership of the expenses they create.

Another issue is that the Rec Center now houses all the city rec operations. If you work in that building, you, your desk, your computer and everything else, is now an expense of the Rec Center, even if you are working on the soccer program, the ice rink, or any of the other programs that DON'T take place under that roof.

The Rec Center isn't the problem here, we simply need to explain the books a bit better.

November 5, 2012 at 7:57 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@anon 7:35...that just tells me you have NO clue on how our government operates.

November 6, 2012 at 1:49 PM 

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