Professor Bob Turner Chairs Town Charter Commission
Last Tuesday, Professor Bob Turner of the Political Science Department organized a public meeting for discussion of the city charter. The meeting took place in The Tang as part of the “A More Perfect Union” exhibition. In addition to teaching classes at Skidmore, Turner is the Chairman of the commission to reform the Saratoga Springs charter.
Every ten years, Saratoga Springs assembles a commission of fifteen members who are nominated by the mayor or appointed by the city council. The commission then decides to either revise the current charter or recommend that the charter remains unchanged. Saratoga has a unique style of government in which the power is divided between the mayor and five commissioners that head different departments (finance, public works, public safety, accounts, and legal matters).
Proponents of the current form of government argue that the distribution of power allows for more citizen involvement with government affairs, while those for a more centralized form of government contend that the current system is inefficient. The last time the city voted on charter reform citizens opted to ignore commission suggestions to centralize power, which would have included a city manager and have the commission operate on a legislative level, voting to maintain the commissioner style of government. The current charter review committee has yet to make a decision on whether to revise or maintain the current form of government, an aspect that Professor Turner pointed out was unique from past commissions who were predisposed on a course of action prior to starting research.
The attendants of the charter public hearing were mainly elderly citizens. Highlights from the event featured the first speaker who condemned the hearing for taking place at the same time as a city hall meeting, disputes over the allotted time citizens were given to speak (one speaker declaring they “would tell their story anyway” despite going over time), and a citizen who performed a song in order to express their opinion on charter reform. Overall, the main concern for citizens and charter reform members alike is to ensure that Saratoga Springs is best able to face the challenges of the twenty-first century while providing a government framework that benefits the city.