The Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to put the city’s charter in the hands of the public during a special election — which would be the city’s first — on May 30.
The charter changes would institute a new form of government, doing away with the current commission form.
“A city charter is a constitutional issue that should be insulated from the partisanship or politics of a general election,” said Bob Turner, the Skidmore College political science professor who chairs the 15-member group.
The vote, which followed more than six months of review, public input and dozens of interviews with city officials past and present, was 12-2, with Elio DelSette and Matt Jones voting no. Robert Kuczynski was absent.
During the special election, the public will vote on a new charter, which will include a new form of city government to replace the current commission form in which four elected commissioners oversee the government functions of public safety, public works, finance and accounts.
Alternatives being considered are strong mayor-council and city manager-council. The group has yet to decide on one, but plans to continue that discussion at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The commission form has been used for 100 years despite attempts to change it.
A new form of government, if approved by the voters, could take effect as soon as 2018. May 30 is the last Tuesday a special election can be held while allowing new candidates to run for City Council in 2017, said commission member Gordon Boyd.
“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,” he said.
Commission Vice Chairman Pat Kane noted that the city has never had a special election, with past efforts to amend the form of government done on Election Day. It would cost $37,000 and be run by the city’s Commissioner of Accounts office with support from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.
“We hope to really encourage people to get educated on what this is and make their voices heard, one way or another,” Kane said. “It’s a discussion we’ve had several times, but it’s always been clouded in the midst of general elections.”
Kane said the commission form is outdated — he’s leaning toward city-manager council as an alternative.
“What I’m hearing is a lot of people feel with a strong mayor, you’re putting too much power in one person’s hands, and I’d probably agree with that,” he said.
The November election is looking to be a heated one in Saratoga Springs, with the mayor’s seat and all four commissioners up for re-election, a judge race expected and two county supervisors on the ballot as well. Review commission member Minita Sanghvi said that without a special election, the referendum would also end up on the back of that ballot, “and many people don’t even look at the back of the ballot.”
“We wanted this to be something voters were thinking about,” she said. “It is the constitution of the city, and it deserves its day in the sun.”