More than 100 people turned out on a wet Thursday night at the Tang Teaching Museum to listen to a discussion about city charter reform, and Skidmore assistant professor of Government Bob Turner says the night went quite well.
“The citizens of America would have been lucky to have a presidential debate as insightful, thoughtful and civil as the discussion we had tonight.”
Turner moderated one and a half hours of discussion between representatives of Saratoga Citizen, the group that developed the charter change amendment Saratoga residents will vote on this November, and members of SUCCESS, an organization formed to fight the charter change measure.
Jane Weihe, speaking for SUCCESS, told the crowd of students and residents that the vote isn’t about what form of government Saratogians want; it “isn’t about whether you like the city manager form of government or you like the commission form.” Rather, she says, “You are being asked whether you like a specific document.”
That sentiment was echoed by fellow SUCCESS member and former Saratoga mayor Ken Klotz. In the closing moments of the discussion he asked the crowd, “Is this the document you want to change to? I think there are all sorts of red flags.”
Patrick Kane of Saratoga Citizen meanwhile played down fears that a positive vote in November would mean drastic changes to the city’s government. “It’s not a change, it’s an evolution” he said several times during the discussion. Kane spearheaded the original charter change proposal.
Another concern expressed during the evening was that the new charter would place a great deal of power in the hands of the city manager, who would not be elected but rather appointed by the city council. Because of that structure, the city manager would not be directly accountable to the citizens.
Peter Martin, speaking for Saratoga Citizen, said only an executive position such as president or governor can execute laws, and that’s where the control resides. “A city manager cannot make a law go into effect,” he said. “That ability stays with the council and mayor.” And that means, he says, the council maintains final control of the city.
While the discussion didn’t seem to change too many minds, at least among those asking questions, Skidmore freshman Veronica O’Neill of Hawthorne New Jersey said she enjoyed the evening. “I got to see both sides of the argument.” She added that she learned a great deal. “I wanted to see democracy in action,” she said.
While O’Neill isn’t actually registered to vote in Saratoga, sophomore Andrew Lowy of Westchester is. He said he “didn’t know much about [Saratoga’s] form of government” until the discussion. He said it was “Beneficial for me as a student and Saratoga resident to attend.” But he says he hasn’t made up his mind yet as to which way he’ll be voting in November.
This event was not the last word on the issue. Saratoga Wire is co-sponsoring another information session on October 25th, from 7:30p to 9:30p at the Saratoga Springs High School.
Photo Credit: Hannah Sherman
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