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An attempt to sway Saratoga Springs charter referendum?

An attempt to sway Saratoga Springs charter referendum?

'This is being facilitated by deep pockets with special interest money'
An attempt to sway Saratoga Springs charter referendum?
Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Accounts John Franck speaks during the news conference Thursday.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Three members of the Saratoga Springs City Council held a news conference Thursday to claim that special-interest investments have been made in an effort to influence the outcome of Tuesday's charter referendum.

The proposed new charter, which would replace the mayor-and-commissioners governmental system with an appointed city manager, has been a controversial issue among residents and government officials.

The three City Council members — Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco — said four sources of funding have contributed nearly all of the money to It's Time Saratoga, a non-partisan citizens advocacy group that is for the charter change.

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The four funding sources include Charter Review Commission members Gordon Boyd and Jeff Altamari, who contributed more than $9,000 for a citywide mailer; as well as Valhalla-based New York State City/County Management Association, which made a $2,500 contribution; and $15,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association.

"The charter change movement isn't a grassroots effort," Scirocco said. "This is being facilitated by deep pockets with special interest money."

Madigan said, "This D.C. and downstate money from county manager associations stand to gain by potentially having one of their own in office. They stand to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits as a result of this investment and that's what I believe voters need to be well aware of."

It's Time Saratoga member Patty Morrison said the International City/County Management Association is a nationally recognized government group that was formed to promote professional local government and prevent corrupt practices.

"We applied for a grant and were thrilled to receive it," she said.

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Morrison added that It's Time Saratoga is for the charter as it will promote term limits, accountability by ending entrenched candidates running unopposed, and end lifetime health care for part-time politicians. 

"We want to promote professionalism by separating legislative and executive powers and creating real checks and balances," she said. "The people making decisions about whose street gets paved or plowed first or whose building fees get waived should not be accepting campaign contributions."

Boyd and Altamari, members of the Charter Review Commission, a 15-member body of city government that was formed in 2016 to educate the public on the proposed charter, personally paid more than $9,000 to a digital printing company for an educational pamphlet that was delivered to registered voters in the city in early October.

The commissioners allege that Boyd and Altamari did not report the expense to the Board of Elections.

Boyd said the organization is not required to report anything to the Board of Elections, as it is not a political organization and that its members are reimbursed from the city for expenses.

"Jeff and I charged the commission mailing to our personal credit cards and have submitted a request to be reimbursed by the city," Boyd said. "It was the same procedure we filed when we held an open house at the City Center, which I charged to my personal credit card and was reimbursed by the city."

Boyd said the payment procedure was enacted as "a matter of convenience."

"Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo advised us along the way that this was a good procedure," Boyd said. "We approve our own expenses within the appropriated limits and we've barely used over half the money for outreach and education."

Boyd is also a member of It's Time Saratoga, which is required to report its expenses and donations to the Board of Elections.

"I volunteer and go door-to-door to campaign for the charter as it's my first amendment right to do," he said. "We didn't give up my first amendment rights when we joined the commission."

The commissioners' final allegation was that the Charter Review Commission advocated for a yes vote on its official Facebook page, which is in violation of Municipal Home Rule Law 36.

Bob Turner, chairman of the commission, said he has not seen Franck's allegation.

"It sounds to me like, once again, the commissioners in power and their friends are trying to influence the independence of the Charter Review Commission by suppressing voter information and education," he said. "The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission Facebook page was created by private citizens who seek to educate and inform their fellow Saratogians about the new charter."

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