SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council held a lengthy and at-times heated discussion Tuesday night about whether to fund a Special Election in May or June as requested by the Charter Review Commission, to potentially change the way the city is governed.
Since its inception as a city in 1915, Saratoga Springs has operated under a Commission form of Government – that is, with four commissioners and one mayor each running separate departments and all having equal say. Mandated to review the City Charter every 10 years, the Charter Review Commission, a 15-person group appointed by members of the City Council, recommended bringing to voters a proposal that the city adopt a Council-Manager form of governing. Under such a plan, the council would be charged with hiring a professional city manager to carry out policies.
A measure to fund the Commission’s $46,000 administrative budget – which includes fees for legal consulting, sending informational mailers to residents and a clerk to transcribe meeting minutes – received unanimous council approval, but a $37,000 request to fund a Special Election in May or June was rejected by a 3-2 vote.
City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who voted to support funding the Special Election, said if the Charter Commission desired to hold a vote in May, then it was their right to do so. “I think we’ve got to let the voters decide. I don’t think it’s up to us - when it should be, or what they should put on the referendum,” Yepsen said. “I think it’s in our best interests to move this forward regardless of what we all think personally.”
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who vehemently opposed funding a Special Election, argued that the council’s actions are not politically motivated whereas the Charter Commission’s are, and received like-minded commentary from Accounts Commissioner John Franck. “To say this group has not advocated for a change in the form of government is blinking at reality,” Franck said. “They’ve been disparaging the current form of government, but telling about this new form of government. They’re not supposed to be doing this. They’re supposed to be educating.”
Franck, Madigan, and DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco rejected the funding request, and each stated the public would be better served – both in cost savings and by a larger voter turnout - should the referendum be held in November.
“I think it disenfranchises people. This is voter suppression, I don’t care what anybody says,“ said Scirocco.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, like Mayor Yepsen, voted in favor of funding the Special Election. He argued that the issue requires its own attention rather than it being added to this November’s Election Day slate, which will include all five council member seats up for vote.
“I think this is such an important issue and a vital part of looking at where our city is going that it needs to be decided upon separately, and in an environment not muddled by the political intrigue that often comes with our November elections and all the special interests that rise up,” Mathiesen said. Following the vote, Yepsen attempted to provide information about the ramifications of the council’s vote and what the next steps might be regarding the Charter Commission’s potential actions, but was not permitted to do so by other members of the council.
“This will come down to a lawsuit, I suspect, and the courts will decide what they’re going to do with this,” Franck said. “There may even be a lawsuit at the City Council level.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Galleries, museums and classic architecture. A cinema. Public parks. Taverns, restaurants and cafes. Together they are the elements that contribute to community vibrancy.
But, for the past half-century, one noticeably missing piece in this walkable city has been the lack of a year-round, mid-sized venue – an unfulfilled need since Saratoga’s 5,000-seat Convention Hall was destroyed by fire in 1966.
With an extensive renovation of Universal Preservation Hall set to get underway, that cultural vacancy is set to soon be filled. “This will be an acoustically perfect theater-in-the-round and will hold about 750 people,” said Teddy Foster, campaign director at UPH. “There will be a lot of music, Broadway cabaret and live theater.”
The current schedule of events will conclude in five weeks and a $5.5 million renovation of the historic building is slated to get underway in June. When UPH re-opens in the fall of 2018, it will house new heating and air conditioning systems, a kitchen, an elevator and new light and sound fixtures with acoustic treatments.
“It will have everything,” Foster said. The main room’s flexibility will allow for the relocation of seats as events dictate and a community room located on the building’s lower level will hold another 140 people. New entry doors will be set on the building’s Broadway facing-side to provide theater-goers close proximity to a 450-vehicle public parking garage on Woodlawn Avenue.
The Victorian Gothic structure on Washington Street was built in 1871 and served as a Methodist church and a gathering place. Teddy Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass and William Howard Taft to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg have each taken a turn atop the main stage during the building’s 146-year history. A century after its construction, the building began to fall into disrepair and the church sat empty for several years. In 2000, the city condemned the building and members of the community rallied to save the structure from demolition.
Today, the nonprofit group UPH owns the building and maintains a 21-person board of directors. A local Baptist congregation – which continues to host weekend services at the hall - owns the land on which the church sits. An initial wave of renovation work began in 2003 after $3 million was raised. The current Capital Campaign - The Road To Opening Night – is ongoing and has secured about 90 percent of the $5.6 million it seeks to raise, Foster says. A fundraiser will be held in May at Saratoga National.
In 2015, UPH got an added boost when it became an affiliate of Proctors. The Schenectady based organization will lend their expertise in securing programming and coordinating ticket sales and marketing, in addition to other areas. Proctors was built in 1926 in downtown Schenectady and was one of a dozen vaudeville houses along the east coast of the country. A half-century later, it was among the last standing theaters of a deserted downtown landscape. Like UPH, it also was saved from the wrecking ball.
Last week Proctors’ creative director, Richard Lovrich, and its publicist, Michael Eck, staged a slide show presentation and discussion at UPH based on the release of their new coffee-table book, “Encore: Proctors at 90,” which depicts everything from the backstage application of character makeup for a production of “The Lion King,” to images capturing gracious remembrances of a theater visit by Sophia Loren. It is a narrative of renewal and rebirth, and a tale of a city and a theater taking turns saving each other, the authors say.
After undergoing a transformative restoration of its own, the historic theater today features everything from ZZ Top, this weekend, to the staging of “Hamilton,” during its 2018-19 season. Of UPH, Proctors CEO Phillip Morris says he envisions a welcoming place to gather and a cultural heart of the city.
After the Saratoga Springs venue reopens with its 45-foot-tall ceilings, bell tower and walnut and ash staircases that feed into the main hall, it is anticipated it will stage 200 or so annual events. “I like to say I imagine the hall as Saratoga’s living room,” Foster said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Four months into her new job, SPAC President Elizabeth Sobol says she is learning the Saratoga Performing Arts Center has a uniqueness all its own.
One factor is the location of the venue - nestled among 2,200 acres in the state park sitting on the cusp of a culturally vibrant city, she says. Another is the relationship forged with other performing arts organizations during the venue’s 50-year existence which continue to deliver everything from the whirring pirouette of the ballet dancer, to the delicate air strike of the conductor’s baton and the amplified clamor of an electric guitar.
“Having traveled all over the world, all over the United States, all over North America and having seen festivals of all kinds, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like this anywhere in the world,” says Sobol, a classically trained pianist. She relocated to Saratoga Springs from Miami Beach last fall and will mark her first season at SPAC this year.
“Thinking about the programming, I listened to community voices about what they wanted to see this summer.”
The spectrum of responses offered an array of varied opinions. “Part of my job has been listening to those voices and creating something cohesive that would speak to different aesthetic desires and visions,” Sobol says.
This year, the New York City Ballet will stage 18 ballets by six different choreographers during their residency, from July 5 to 15. The Philadelphia Orchestra season, from Aug. 2 to Aug. 19, will feature a balance between the new and the traditional and include one piece not performed at SPAC since the 1960s. And the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will return to the Spa Little Theater with six concerts, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 22. The schedule of performers and performance pieces will be publicly released Sunday.
“One thing I wanted to do was also create mini-festivals within a festival. It immerses you in a sound, a narrative and a concept. In dialogue with the Philadelphia Orchestra, we created a mini-Russian festival, a mini-American festival and a mini-French festival. So, if you look across all our programming – the New York City Ballet, the Chamber Music Society and the Philadelphia Orchestra - you’ll see some of the same themes arising.”
Sobol also noted a new series titled “SPAC on Stage” to target young, musical genre-crossing fans and featuring several hundred audience members seated onstage. “What we’re envisioning is an experience that is intimate and extremely visceral and will feature artists unique and different than anything else that has appeared on the SPAC stage."
With pop concert promoter Live Nation, Sobol says there is an ongoing dialogue to maintain the delicate balancing act of scheduling dates at the venue between the pop and classical worlds. A variety of pop concerts have already been announced: Dave Matthews (two solo shows in June, sans band), Train, Nickelback, Dead & Company, and classic rock bills such as Foreigner/Cheap Trick, Rod Stewart/Cyndi Lauper, and Chicago/Doobie Brothers, among them. Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be staged June 24-25 and will feature headliners Chaka Khan and the Gipsy Kings, returning artists Jean-Luc Ponty, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, a musical tribute to Ray Charles and more than one dozen other artists.
Responding to recent reports that President Donald Trump may severely cut or altogether eliminate cultural programs that receive federal funding such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Sobol says while concerned about potential cuts to NEA funding for the national well-being, it’s not something that will greatly affect SPAC. “We are being much more strategic about arts funding, but it’s not something that, if it goes away, it’s going to put us in a compromising position.”
*Note, an initial version of this story misstated the number of acres in the Saratoga Spa State Park. The correct number of acres is 2,200.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Extending the Greenbelt trail and combatting racism. Developing more affordable housing, diversifying the city’s economic portfolio and forging new collaborations with Nashville, Tennessee, and the Land of the Rising Sun are among the mayor’s goals for Saratoga Springs in 2017.
Approximately 250 city residents, business leaders, elected officials, and a handful of political hopefuls considering a future career in city government gathered on Monday night in the Sen. Joseph L. Bruno Meeting Room at the Saratoga Springs City Center, where Mayor Joanne Yepsen delivered the annual State of the City address.
“People are investing in Saratoga Springs and we cut 102 ribbons for new and expanded businesses in the city last year, a symbol of our stable and growing local economy,” said Yepsen, heralding 2016 accomplishments while pointing to a diversification of the city’s economic portfolio to continue to attract small businesses and future entrepreneurs. The mayor noted the appointment of Democrat Francine Vero as the first-ever woman city court judge in the city, while publicly thanking longtime Republican City Court Judge Jim Doern for his service – an appointment perceived as a slight among Doern supporters when announced last month.
Yepsen applauded the ongoing development of the Greenbelt Trail - a 23-mile multi-use trail that will connect city neighborhoods with the downtown district. The city was awarded $1.134 million in state funds – which it will match – as well as $932,000 in federal funding to complete the trail system that will run from the town of Milton border and adjoining an expanded Spa State Park trail system. She also advocated for promoting smart development that includes affordable workforce housing.
“Every day I hear that we are in danger of out-pricing ourselves, right out of our own city. We need to integrate more price points and housing options into our comprehensive development,” Yepsen said. An Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance specifying a percentage of all new development be targeted as “affordable housing” is currently on the table. “l do hope our City Council has the political will to make that ordinance law for the sake of thousands of residents and potential residents,” Yepsen said.
The mayor also noted a “distinctly disturbing problem” that “racism and intolerance may be on the rise here in our city,” according to a report issued by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. Yepsen cited anti-Semitic and racist messages discovered spray-painted on city streets and appearing on at least one local-targeted blog. Yepsen stressed the importance of education about the history of racist policies and the terrible impact it has on innocent people as one measure to combat hate speech, as well as announcing the creation of a Saratoga Springs Human Rights Commission to be charged with unifying positive efforts and providing education and advocacy resources. “We need to stay strong together, to treat each other with kindness and respect, to appreciate our differences, and to build a community where all people are important and treated equally,” Yepsen said. Five members will serve on the core founding group of the commission.
“We must always be inclusive and I think that’s something this community is known for; your acceptance of others in great diversity,” N.Y. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul remarked during her eight-minute introductory remarks.
It was a topic the mayor also addressed off-script from the stage. “Because of last weekend’s events in our nation, I want to just say something: Our constitutional rights are not Republican rights, they are not Democrat rights, they are the rights held by all Americans and we should honor them above all else,” Yepsen said. “The only rights that should matter to all of us are human rights, because how we treat our fellow human beings defines our community.”
In arts and cultural matters, Yepsen said she visited the Mayor and Arts Commission of Nashville, Tennessee, and is involved in discussions about a plan to establish an exchange program with the Music City. Nashville has a population of more than 600,000 and its legendary music venues include the Grand Ole Opry House, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Johnny Cash Museum. In October, The Metro Nashville Arts Commission announced its first funding of temporary public art and civic practice projects, following up on its strategic plan of “Crafting a Creative City,” which re-imagines public art as a tool for creative community investment, citizen engagement and neighborhood redevelopment. “Could Saratoga Springs be the New York State designated ‘City of the Arts?’ I think we can,” Yepsen said.
The Spa City which counts Chekhov, Russia as a “Sister City,” is also looking to expand its international partners. “I will be proposing, in the near future, new cultural development and sister cities so we can strengthen our relationships with other cultures and economies, and boost our international reputation and economic opportunities.” Yepsen said. “Japan has expressed some interest and that’s intriguing.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College will present its latest exhibition - Janine Antoni and Stephen Petronio: Entangle - beginning on Saturday.
This exhibition presents three works that combine action, video, and installation. “Rope Dance,” “On the Table,” and “Honey Baby,” explore a range of ongoing multidisciplinary collaborations, which Antoni and Petronio began more than three years ago, setting out to blur the lines between artist, dancer, choreographer, and audience. Each offering has one element in common — a wooden floor — that frames different activities understood through the body.
“Rope Dance”, an interactive experience created by legendary movement artist Anna Halprin, with Antoni and Petronio, will run Jan. 28 to March 19.
“On the Table” - during which the gallery serves as set and dining room and features a tablecloth woven out of 200 neckties – will be on exhibit April 6 - 30. The artists will be on campus to visit with classes and participate in the first dinner from April 3 - 7. Between dinners, the installation will be offered to the community as a tool for dialogue.
“Honey Baby” - billed as an immersive experience created by Antoni and Petronio to confound the notion of the body’s relation to gravity – will be on exhibit May 13 to July 16.
Janine Antoni was born in Freeport, Bahamas, in 1964. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at numerous institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
Stephen Petronio was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was the first male dancer of the Trisha Brown Dance Company. A leading contemporary dance-maker, Petronio has built a body of work with some of the most talented and provocative artists in the world, including composers Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Diamanda Galás. Founded in 1984, Stephen Petronio Company has performed in 26 countries. In December, The Stephen Petronio Company bought a 175-acre property in the Catskill Mountains, according to the New York Times. Called Crows Nest, the $1.3 million property, near Cairo, includes about 9,000 square feet of residential and studio space and will house the Petronio Company and the Petronio Residency Initiative, which is to begin in summer 2018.
“With Crows Nest, I’m hoping to leave the world an intimate place where dance can be made, where history happens, and where the dance community can feel at home,” Petronio said in a statement. Janine Antoni & Stephen Petronio: Entangle, is organized by Dayton Director Ian Berry, in collaboration with the artists. Antoni and Petronio will be in residence at Skidmore College as the 2016-17 McCormack Endowed Visiting Artist-Scholars from March 1 - 4 and April 3 - 7 to engage with students, faculty, and the public. Public talks will be held 5:30 p.m. March 2, and 7 p.m. April 6, both at the Tang Teaching Museum, located on the campus of Skidmore College. For more information, visit: More information at http://tang.skidmore.edu.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A week-long effort by Shelters of Saratoga is currently underway to create a real-time, by-name registry of the homeless population in Saratoga Springs.
The data gathered from surveys, which are voluntary, will provide the community knowledge of the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and the work that needs to be done to end homelessness in Saratoga Springs, organizers say.
“Registry Week” has taken place in 186 other US communities. This is the first time it is being conducted in Saratoga Springs.
Coordinators say the surveys will help agencies connect people to the services they most need, and that the by-name list will provide insight as to specific vulnerabilities for each person, enabling agencies to provide specified care for each person. Meantime, the Code Blue emergency shelter – which is under the auspices of Shelters of Saratoga – has been operating at near full-capacity this winter. Adhering to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that shelters service the homeless when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit has increased Code Blue’s hours of operation.
“It’s been a challenge,” noted shelter director Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant.
In its two full years of operation, the shelter - previously located at the Salvation Army building on Woodlawn Avenue - was open 85 and 88 nights, respectively, in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Code Blue had averaged 35 nightly guests during the two years and was open a combined total of five times during the daylight hours. This winter season, through Jan. 18, the relocated shelter on Caroline Street has already been open 62 nights and 12 days, and has housed an average of 41 guests – 10 to 12 of which are women. “That (women guests) is a big jump this year,” said Murphy-Parant.
It is anticipated the data gathered from the surveys this week will be compiled in the spring and that a second “registry week” survey will be conducted locally during the warm-season months.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wednesday’s “Special” City Council meeting lived up to its noteworthy title: so special it was that it never took place.
The meeting was called to discuss funding for the May 30 special election when voters will be asked to decide whether to maintain the status quo of the city’s century-old commission form of governing, or change to a council-manager form.
Following eight months of committee meetings, community surveys and interviews conducted with city employees, the Charter Review Commission - a 15-member group independent of the council - recommended a special election be held on May 30. The group estimates total budget expenses to be about $46,000, in addition to approximately $37,000 in costs associated with a special election. There has been growing disagreement among council members debating the timing and costs of holding a special vote in May, versus placing the issue on an extension of the standard November ballot, which is when all five council seats will also be up for vote. Those in favor of the May date say adding a Charter vote to an already busy city election season would muddle matters. City Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner Chris Mathiesen were the two lone members attending Wednesday’s meeting, leaving the board one member short of a quorum, and forcing the 17 people and two council members in attendance to leave City Hall without discussing the matter.
Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco issued a statement following the cancellation of the meeting to say after “it had been indicated that both Commissioner Madigan and Commissioner Franck would not be in attendance,” he also would not be attending. “I feel it only fair that when voting on an important issue that impacts all city residents, and our future as a city, that all members of the council are in attendance.”
Commissioner Michele Madigan said in a statement, that after learning Commissioner John Franck “would not be attending the meeting for professional reasons,” she contacted the mayor’s office to ask the meeting be cancelled because she wanted all five members of the City Council to be present to discuss and vote on the budget amendments from the Charter Review Commission. Some in attendance remarked after the cancelled meeting that council members opposed to a change in the form of governing were using delay tactics.
The City Council has until February 20 to approve the request to fund the Commission’s expenses as well as the special election; if it fails to do so, it is believed the mayor has the ability to approve the amount of funding sought to defray expenses for the Commission’s budget and for the special election.
Under the council-manager form of government, the city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and long-term considerations such as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council would be charged with hiring a highly trained non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery. Managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council. Among the Commission’s other recommendations are: increasing the number of council members from five to seven and terms of service from two years to four years putting a system in place to ensure members come from all corners of the city, and giving council members confirmation power over all mayoral appointments to city boards and judicial appointments. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council is Feb. 7.
SARATOGA SPRINGS —Drawing inspiration from everyone from Bob Dylan to Raymond Chandler, Tom Waits has merged song and monologue into a distorted vaudevillian kaleidoscope for the past 40 years.
This weekend, Michael Eck hosts an evening of Waits’ songs performed by Capital District artists. Show headliner Sean Rowe - known internationally for his powerful original songs and raw baritone voice – will be joined by blues man Mark Tolstrup, literary word-slinger Thomas Dimopoulos, and Elrod, Motherjudge, McWatters - a powerhouse trio assembled specifically for The Heart of Saturday Night. Also performing is Girl Blue - the latest breakout from Albany’s fertile new music scene – who will stage her Caffè Lena debut in advance of her show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom.
Host Michael Eck will join in with the beautiful maladies, singing between acts. Waits’ gruff voice imagery and roots rock catalog has inspired generations of musicians.
The Waits bio: “By turns tender and poignant, to strange and twisted, his songs tend to explore the dark underbelly of society as he gives his uniquely human voice to adventurers both romantic and mercenary, drifters, con artists and those forgotten characters on the fringe and in the fray.”
The Heart of Saturday Night: Songs of Tom Waits will be staged 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at Caffè Lena. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime. Desserts, light fare, FTO coffee, beer & wine will be offered. General Admission is $20, café members: $18, and student/ child: $10. Call 518-583-0022, or go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2724524
Uber in Saratoga Springs Future?
A proposed resolution of the City Council in support of legislation to permit ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate locally has been tabled, after it became evident the resolution would not, at this time, have unanimous council support. Commissioners Chris Mathiesen and Michele Madigan expressed concerns about the quality of service that would be provided, and what the long-term effects might be for cab companies currently operating in the city. “I’ve heard a lot of rah-rah stuff about how this will be great for upstate, but I haven’t heard any specifics,” Mathiesen said. Regardless of whether the City Council eventually adopts a resolution, the ultimate decision about whether rideshare companies would be allowed to operate upstate will be made by the state legislature.
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land
The City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved authorizing the mayor to take steps in executing a property acquisition for the Geyser Road bicyclepedestrian trail. Up to $80,000 has been appropriated for the purposes of the city to acquire a portion of a handful of different parcels through the power of eminent domain. The two-mile trail runs from the town of Milton/ Saratoga Springs city line, to Route 50. An initial feasibility study regarding the trail was conducted in 2009, and the first public meeting in 2013. Construction is slated to begin this spring, and conclude by the end of the calendar year. One area resident and an attorney representing the Saratoga Spring Water company – both of whom would be affected by the acquisition – respectively raised questions with the council about maintenance and upkeep of the trail, and potential safety issues regarding the development of the trail and delivery truck traffic. By law, the city is required to provide just compensation to the owner(s) of the private property to be taken. Written statements from the public regarding the acquisition will be accepted by Jan. 31, by emailing: Bradley Birge, city administrator of planning & economic development at: bbirge@saratoga-springs-org. Documentation will be returned to the City Council within 90 days for a final decision.
Appointment to Board
Mayor Yepsen appointed Amy Smith, owner of the Saratoga Arms hotel, to the Downtown Special Assessment District Board. Smith’s appointment is through July 2018 and will complete the term of Colleen Holmes, who resigned due to family health reasons. Board members typically serve four-year terms. Additional members of the Downtown Special Assessment District Board include: chairman Harvey Fox, Mariann Barker, Mike Ingersoll, Dean Kolligian, Toby Milde, Ray Morris, Tom Roohan and Rod Sutton.
A new date and time has been set for the mayor’s State of the City Address. The event will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The Zoning Board of Appeals will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 at City Hall. The Charter Review Commission will host meetings at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24 and Thursday, Jan. 26 at City Hall. The Planning Board will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — If all goes according to plan, city residents will vote in a special election on May 30 that may alter the way Saratoga Springs has been governed since its incorporation as a city in 1915.
Plans call for a ballot providing voters with two options: keep the current City Charter and the commission form of governing as is, or revise the charter with a new form of governing. That proposed new form - the council-manager form of government, was approved by a 14-0 vote by the Commission late Thursday.
The Commission has staged meetings and conducted interviews and surveys during the past seven months. Among its recommendations are increasing the number of council members from five to seven, their terms from two years to four years, and putting a system in place to ensure members come from all corners of the city.
“There’s no magic number, but we felt seven was the right number and it’s also the average number of members in councils across the country,” Charter Review Commission chairman Bob Turner told the City Council on Tuesday. Additionally, the proposed four-year terms – similar to approximately 70 percent of city governments in America - would reduce the frequency of fundraising and campaigning, Turner said.
The commission’s lengthiest discussion concerned the merits of neighborhood districts versus at-large elections. Under the current system, commissioners are elected in city-wide elections. Under a neighborhood district system, council members are elected from a neighborhood or smaller geographic area. Candidates would have to live in the district they represent. Neighborhood districts would make a positive contribution to the electoral and governance process of the city, according to the commission. Neighborhood districts would also make it easier for new candidates to run for office since they would only have to reach out to approximately 4,500 voters instead of 18,000. Commission studies indicate that the vast majority of City Council candidates during the past 15 years have come from a small cluster on the central east side of the city, and argue that neighborhood districts would ensure more geographic representation in City Council affairs.
The Commission also supported giving the City Council confirmation power over all mayoral appointments to city boards and judicial appointments pending state law.
The May 30 date is the last Tuesday that a special election can be held while also allowing new candidates to choose to run for the City Council in 2017, based on whether the charter referendum succeeds or fails.
“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” said commission member Gordon Boyd, in a statement.
What is the Council-Manager Form of Government?
Under the council-manager form of government, the city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council hires a highly trained non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery. Managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council.
The council-manager form is the most popular structure of local government in the United States. Among cities with a 25,000-49,999 population, 63 percent of cities have a council manager structure, 31 percent have mayor council, and 1% has the commission form of government. Currently, Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville are the only cities in New York that have the commission form of government, according to the Commission.
Pat Kane, vice-chairman of the 15-member citizen board, said he anticipates total costs to be about $46,000 - $20,000 for legal drafting costs, $20,000 for community information outreach, and about $6,000 in clerical support expense. Additionally, a special election would cost $37,000. There has been push-back among some current council members regarding the timing and the expense of a special election. Specifically, Commissioner John Franck contends that residents will be less likely to make the effort to vote in a special election than they would be in a more traditionally timed vote in November. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen countered that in November all five current council seats will be up for re-election and that adding a charter review vote would only serve to complicate matters and not allow the issue the appropriate focus it deserves.
The council has until late February to approve the request to fund the Commission’s expenses as well as the special election; if it fails to do so, it is believed the mayor has the ability to approve the amount of funding sought. Representatives of the Charter Commission met with members of the city finance department Wednesday, and it is anticipated the council will discuss the funding requests in the near future. The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Feb. 7, although a “special” council meeting to specifically discuss the matter may be called for prior to that date.