Group pushes ‘no’ vote on Spa char­ter ref­er­en­dum

But claim that lit­tle pub­lic in­put sought is dis­puted by city lawyer

Albany Times Union - - CAPITAL REGION - By Wendy Lib­er­a­tore

A group of eight mem­bers of the 2017 Char­ter Re­view Com­mis­sion have re­united to urge vot­ers to re­ject the pro­posed changes to the city’s cur­rent char­ter be­cause the re­vi­sions were de­vised without pub­lic in­put.

“We strongly urge a no vote on this year’s pro­posed changes to the Saratoga Springs’ char­ter,” the group wrote in a let­ter to vot­ers. “The pro­posed char­ter was devel­oped with lit­tle in­put from the pub­lic, weak­ens the po­si­tion of mayor, and does not sep­a­rate leg­isla­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties from ad­min­is­ter­ing laws. The cit­i­zens of Saratoga Springs de­serve bet­ter govern­ment than this. The pro­posed char­ter is an in­side job de­signed to serve the in­ter­ests of city coun­cil mem­bers who wrote it at the ex­pense of the cit­i­zens.”

The let­ter, call­ing the char­ter changes “an in­side a job,” was signed by the group’s for­mer chair Bob Turner and Jeff Al­ta­mari, Gor­don Boyd, Ann Casey Bul­lock, Laura Cho­dos, Pat Kane, Minita Sanghvi and Beth Wurt­mann.

On Nov. 6, Sarato­gians will have a chance to weigh in on the char­ter again with two ref­er­en­dum ques­tions. The first will ask for ap­proval for the re­vi­sions to the cur­rent char­ter that were rec­om­mended by the city’s four elected com­mis­sion­ers, their deputies and the city’s at­tor­ney Vin­cent Deleonardis.

The sec­ond ques­tion will seek ap­proval to add two at-large mem­bers to the City Coun­cil, ex­pand­ing the gov­ern­ing body to seven. Ques­tion 2 will au­to­mat­i­cally fail if Ques­tion 1 is not ap­proved.

“We wanted to get the word out about the char­ter vote be­cause it’s not the same as last year’s,” Boyd said. “The (2108) char­ter com­mis­sion op­er­ated un­der the radar. Peo­ple were not pay­ing full at­ten­tion and it’s im­por­tant for them to know that it’s not the same char­ter. It’s dif­fer­ent and worse.”

In ad­di­tion to no pub­lic

in­put, the group ob­jects to many of the changes pro­posed by the 2018 Char­ter Re­view Com­mis­sion. They in­clude the city coun­cil mem­bers hav­ing the abil­ity to set their own salaries, no salary lim­its, no fi­nan­cial sav­ings, a weak­en­ing of the mayor by strip­ping away some ap­point­ments, the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works’ takeover of the Recre­ation Pro­gram and the two ad­di­tional coun­cil mem­bers hav­ing no ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers like their coun­ter­parts.

The group also is dis­turbed by the sep­a­ra­tion of the city at­tor­ney, the di­rec­tor of risk and safety, the hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor and the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy di­rec­tor from an elected com­mis­sioner. If the changes are ap­proved, these ti­tles will now an­swer to the City Coun­cil as a whole.

“Hav­ing five or seven bosses means no one is re­spon­si­ble,” the let­ter reads. “When de­ci­sions are needed, only dys­func­tion will en­sue given this struc­ture. Ci­ti­zen ac­cess to these ser­vices will be lim­ited with no elected of­fi­cial to turn to for help.”

Deleonardis, who chairs the 2018 com­mis­sion,

said the let­ter was un­for­tu­nate.

“Their claim that the pro­posed up­dates and amend­ments were ‘devel­oped with lit­tle in­put from the pub­lic’ is false,” Deleonardis said. “To date, the com­mis­sion has held twenty meet­ings, in­clud­ing two work­shops and two pub­lic fo­rums; sub­mit­ted and re­ceived re­sponses to ques­tion­naires from for­mer Coun­cil mem­bers and deputies, as well as des­ig­nated city em­ploy­ees; con­ducted in­ter­views with nu­mer­ous in­di­vid­u­als rel­e­vant to our re­view; and re­ceived ex­ten­sive pub­lic com­ment and in­put at meet­ings, pub­lic fo­rums, through writ­ten sub­mis­sions, and in re­sponse to both an in­for­mal and for­mal sur­vey, the lat­ter of which gen­er­ated re­sponses from 250 city res­i­dents.”

He also said the claims that elected of­fi­cials can boost their salaries unchecked is “ridicu­lous” and de­nies that var­i­ous city em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing him­self, will have “no bosses.”

The group stands by its let­ter.

“A yes vote is a vote for un­lim­ited city coun­cil salaries, lack of man­age­ment ac­count­abil­ity, more pa­tron­age and self­deal­ing in city govern­ment,” the let­ter reads. “Vote no.”

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