Mechanicville weighs changing its form of government

A downtown street
FILE - Downtown Mechanicville in 2011.
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MECHANICVILLE — A second meeting to hear from Mechanicville residents on whether the municipality should keep its commission style of government has been pushed to March 23.

Under the current system, residents elect the commissioner of the Public Works, Public Safety, Finance and Accounts departments; those four people function together with the mayor as the City Council.

Mechanicville and Saratoga Springs are the only cities in New York state that still use that form of government.

A nine-person committee studying the issue will recommend to the City Council in May whether it should hold a referendum to change the city’s form of government. The committee has been researching alternatives since the beginning of 2022, said Mark Seber, the chairman of the committee, who is also the commissioner of accounts. 

Seber, who has been an elected official in the city for a total of 12 years, said he can’t recall the city previously considering such a change. 

The committee, which has met eight times together, as well as with city employees, past officials and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, wants input from residents. Seber said the committee held its first public information meeting on March 1 and received multiple questions about costs to changing government style, employee impact and command structure. 

Because of the questions, the committee decided the second meeting would be pushed from March 13 to March 23. A third meeting will be scheduled in April. 

Once the meetings are finished, the committee will recommend whether the City Council should set a referendum so people can vote on whether they want the change. 

“Ultimately the voters are going to decide whether they want the change, if that’s the recommendation of the committee,” Seber said. 

He said the committee is down to three option: 

  1. Keep the commissioner style of government but with changes to the city charter. 
  2. Institute a government led by an elected mayor and City Council rather than commissioners. 
  3. Have elected City Council members appoint a city administrator. 

Seber said his feeling as chairman of the committee is that they want change, but to what kind will be decided as a group. 

Personally, Seber said, he wants to end the commissioner style of government. He said he doesn’t believe it is efficient. 

“You basically have five different governments running simultaneously. Obviously, you try to work together, but no one has any say over any of the departments,” he said.

Seber said if the committee decides to keep the commissioner form of government, there have been discussions about ratifying the charter to have a more defined human resources element in City Hall. 

He said as the commissioner of accounts, he deals with the benefits aspects of human resources. 

“When there is a real issue I don’t see myself as being qualified in certain areas to really deal with certain things, but not only that, I have no influence over another commissioner. So, if the complaint is about another commissioner, I can certainly reach out to the commissioner and I have, and have a discussion about whatever the matter might be or the concern might be, but I can’t tell he or she what to do or not to do. 

Saratoga Springs has held multiple referendums over the years to vote on whether to change its style of government, each failing. The closest vote came in 2017 when there was a 10-vote margin. Mayor Ron Kim said while he’s frustrated at times with the way things operate under that form of government, the city has many other issues to tackle at the moment. 

“We have so many other challenges right now and our resources are stretched thin, it’s not something I’d be interested in looking at in the near term,” Kim said.

Categories: News, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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