There’s enough chaos in the world thanks to the covid crisis that citizens can’t bear any more significant changes, at least until things settle down.
So while we’re sympathetic to the efforts in the city of Saratoga Springs to create a new system of government to replace one that many believe is unnecessarily expensive and unresponsive, now is not the time to undertake an endeavor that’s so monumental, potentially costly and uncertain as a wholesale change in the form of government.
For years, supporters of replacing the existing commission form of government with a more traditional arrangement have pecked away at opposition to get within 10 votes of a change three years ago.
The new form of government — featuring six geographically-based council members, an at-large mayor and a professional city manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city — would replace the commission form of government, a function-based system modeled after the emergency government set up after a hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, in 1901.
Spa City voters over the years haven’t exactly demonstrated that they’re clamoring for change. In several past elections with charter change on the ballot, they have consistently supported retaining their unusual form of government, saying the city’s financial health and overall success proves that what they have works.
Ripping up the existing form of government and transitioning to a new one will not be without problems.
There will no doubt be unanticipated expenses and delays, additional costs associated with hiring the new city manager and staff, additional bureaucratic headaches from setting up the new government and drawing new ward boundaries, political disagreements, special elections and overall confusion among government officials and citizens.
The change would also come at a time when public gatherings, where citizens could actively learn about and debate the changes, are limited by covid.
The city hasn’t even yet fully dealt with the budgetary and business fallout from the existing covid situation.
With all the additional stress to government operations and budgets, a major change in the management of the city, which would start next year, would be an unwelcome disruption that could very well make the city’s recovery more difficult.
Supporters of charter change may have seen the closeness of the last vote as an opportunity to finally cross the finish line. And changing the form of government might be the right decision at some point.
But as long as the impact of the covid crisis is still very much rippling throughout society and government, the timing simply isn’t right for doing something as drastic as this right now.