League of Women Voters Endorses Proposed City Charter
On Thursday Sept. 21, the League of Women Voters held a Public Forum on the proposed City Charter, which would serve as the Constitution of Saratoga Springs. This had been a contentious political issue since last spring when the Charter Review Commission, which is appointed every ten years under the New York State Law, voted to revise the city charter. Earlier this month, the League came out in support of the charter and decided to hold a forum to explain their reasoning for this decision.
Pattie Garrett, a member of the League’s Presidential Steering Committee, opened the forum explaining what the League of Women Voters does, saying their purpose is to, “lend voice to issues that matter at the local, state, and national level”. Subsequently, she introduced the panelists and the three Charter Committee members.
The members, Gordon Boyd, Skidmore Management and Business Professor Minita Sanghvi, and Barb Thomas explained the mission of the Charter Review Commission, how the proposed charter differed from the current one, and the benefits that would result from the enactment of the current charter.
Points highlighted by the panelist had to do with the potential for increased participation under the new charter, the cost saving benefits of the new charter, and improved efficiency under the new charter. Participation, financials, and efficiency have been chief concerns in the debate surrounding the proposed city charter. With respect to participation, opponents have argued that political participation in Saratoga is higher than other cities so it should not be changed. However, polls conducted by the Committee found that by creating a city council people would be more likely to participate in office than the current commission positions created. They may additionally foster better representation of women in government. Out of the population polled only approximately 14% of the women and 33% of men said they had the respective skills to serve in the commission style of government. However, when asked if they had the respective skills to serve in a council style government, those numbers more than doubled to 79% and 86%. Whereas in the first report the gap between women and men participation was approximately 20%, that shrunk significantly under the council style government to only 6%.
The council members also presented their financial findings, concluding that by eliminating the four commissioners and their benefits in addition to the five deputies, the new charter would save $391,000 annually.
The council members proceeded to share their findings on the efficiency of the current government, citing data of a poll they gave to 75 current city employees. 38% of respondents had worked in the city government for over 16 years and 50% said that they worked with different departments daily. When asked if employees felt that the commission style of government provides effective management the majority, 71.8% disagreed.
The majority, 68% also disagreed when asked if the current government prevented wasteful spending. Referencing that most people that worked within the government who were surveyed did not believe the government ran efficiently, the Commission questioned as to why Saratoga Springs should waste more of citizens’ tax money on a system that is not working. The survey then asked participants if they believed City Hall would be better with a professional city manager; 65.3% strongly agreed.
Because the opposition to charter reform declined to participate in the panel, only the proponents of change presented their reasoning.