Today’s Saratogian opinion page recommended voting “No” on the Charter Reform proposal that will be on Tuesday’s ballot. The reform proposal would replace today’s “Commission” form of government with a “City Manager” form. Each version has a five-member part-time City Council, with the Mayor being but one member of the Council. Under the current system, the other four Council members are Commissioners of city departments who then appoint a full-time deputy who actually runs the department. Under the Charter Reform, the Council appoints a City Manager who is the chief executive of the city, appointing department heads and making other personnel decisions.
Here is what The Saratogian had to say about the current government structure:
- Current City Council is a “five-headed monster with no one person in charge of overall city operations;”
- Current Council members are in charge of their own areas of government, but “because there is no requirement that their staffs work with one another, they often don’t;”
- The $65,000 per year deputies appointed by current Commissioners “are sometimes a waste of taxpayer money;”
- The current structure is “undeniably fraught with weaknesses.”
Well, if that is what they say about a system The Saratogian hopes stays in place, what are the shortcomings of the Reform proposal?
- The proposed Council “could end up being less responsive to the public;”
- In addition to “possibly” being less responsive, there is “no guarantee that they would be effective big-picture policy makers;”
- While those responsible for choosing a transition team for the new government are the members of the current City Council, and reform advocates have put forward an undisputed estimate of minimal costs, that “does not preclude the possibility of sticker shock;”
- Even though the proponents of the change had “numerous well-publicized public meetings” where “[a]nyone could have participated,” they nonetheless “should have applied the concept of extreme collaboration” and brought in “leaders from the business community.”
(All emphases are mine.) If I may summarize, the Saratogian seems to be saying they would support a reform where those with an opportunity to be involved but chose not to do so, were begged to take part, and then produced a product for a democratically elected government that guaranteed good results.
So, given that the current government, both structurally and operationally, has serious weaknesses according to The Saratogian, what would The Saratogian do? First, we should pay attention to “Mayor Scott Johnson’s impending creation of a Charter Review Commission … that could prepare a vote for November 2013.” Even though the Mayor, according to The Saratogian, “has been regrettably slow in getting off the dime on this,” it’s a “palatable alternative to the proposal at hand.” Then, the folks running for the Council under the current system “could” stress their citywide objectives rather than “being pigeonholed as the representative” for the department to which they are being elected. Finally, the public, with help from The Saratogian, should be more demanding about hiring capable people and insisting that Council members work with one another. (Again, all emphases are mine.)
The Saratogian‘s editorial opposing the Charter Reform takes up an entire page in Sunday’s paper. It does not say a single positive thing about either the current structure of government or the officials elected to run it. Not one good thing about the current structure they advocate retaining, but several positive changes that would result from the Charter Reform, including placing someone in charge, eliminating duplicative functions, and allowing the City Council to function as a body with responsibility for the entire city. The negatives about the proposed Charter reform? It’s not guaranteed to be better.
While they assign themselves a major role in ensuring a better government for Saratoga Springs, The Saratogian has failed their first test.