Saratoga County

Group pushes change in Saratoga Springs gov’t

Government change advocates plan to ask voters in November whether they want to change to the cou


Government change advocates plan to ask voters in November whether they want to change to the council-manager form of government.

The Saratoga Citizen, a nonpartisan group that has been meeting for 15 months, announced this week that it has recommended the council-manager form of government over other types.

A council-manager government features a five-, seven- or nine-member legislative City Council and a hired professional manager who runs the departments.

The group’s next meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. Future meetings will be opened up more to the public. The group’s Web site is

Critics say the city’s current commission form of government, in which each City Council member runs a separate department, is inefficient and outdated. Most cities of comparable size use the council-manager form of government, and some use the strong mayor form, said Patrick Kane, a Republican who leads the group and has been active with other volunteer commissions in the city.

Of all of the cities in New York state, only three still use the commission form of government, in which elected part-time commissioners oversee a department run by a full-time deputy. The five commissioners in Saratoga Springs are both administrative heads and legislators.

Kane said the group is announcing its choice of the council-manager form of government now in order to give people time to learn about the options and iron out details so voters can make an informed choice on the ballot referendum in November.

For example, things like term limits and whether council members would be elected in wards or at large would be up for discussion and tailored to the city’s needs.

If the change of government passes in November, the city would have another year to spell out details before electing city officials in November 2011. Those officials would take office in January 2012.

In order to get the referendum question on the ballot, the group will need to collect roughly 1,500 signatures, representing about 10 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election.

In 2006, a group of government change advocates recommended the city change to the aldermen-mayor type of government, but that got voted down at the polls. Critics felt the effort was rushed and politically motivated.

“Good or bad, what’s in the past is in the past,” Kane said. “This is really about getting out and focusing ourselves forward.”

He believes the city is ready for a change this time: “You hear loud and clear from people how they feel during some of these public meetings.”

The group so far is leaning toward having a directly elected mayor and either four, six or eight additional council members. The mayor would preside over the City Council, as he or she does under the current system, and be a spokesman for the city.

“We feel that the City Council should have a face to the community, which is that elected mayor, but we feel that the size of the city warrants a professional manager,” Kane said.

A city manager likely would make a six-figure salary, but the city would save some money by not having five deputies making $66,000 each, as it currently does.

“It’s a career path. It’s like hiring an engineer or a doctor,” Kane said.

City Council members would have no departmental responsibilities like they do now. Currently, commissioners and the mayor are part-time jobs, but in reality many treat the job as full-time because they run a department.

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