By Wendy Liberatore Updated 12:02 pm EST, Wednesday, November 7, 2018
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In another contentious campaign, two charter questions – to amend the city charter and expand the city council – met with defeat Tuesday by a two-to-one margin.
The Saratoga County Board of Elections reported 64.4 percent voted “no” and 35.5 percent voted “yes” to Question 1 and 68.3 percent voted “no” and 31.6 percent voted “yes” for Question 2.
A total of 907 absentee ballots were returned to the Smaratoga County Board of Elections and have yet to be counted. Machine ballots topped 10,000.
“Obviously, this is a process. I respect the outcome, I respect the will of the people and the votes that were cast,” said Vincent DeLeonardis, the chair of the city’s Charter Review Commission. “It is unfortunate that information had to compete with disinformation. But it’s a process and the outcomes is what it is.”
The first referendum question sought approval to make a myriad modifications to the current charter while preserving the commission form of government. The second question, which could only be passed if the first question was approved, would have grown city council from its five current members to seven by adding two at-large seats.
Critics of the proposal said it was crafted by City Hall’s most powerful insiders (city council itself with their deputies) and that the mayor, who was not part of the charter review commission, will be weakened.
Among the critics were former Mayor Joanne Yepsen and many members of the 2016-17 Charter Review Commission who have migrated to the grassroots organization It’s Time Saratoga. The latter was pleased with the outcome.
“The citizens of Saratoga Springs have spoken,” said It’s Time Saratoga’s Mark Pingel. “The voters of Saratoga Springs recognized that the proposed changes would not improve the functioning of city government. It’s Time Saratoga is proud of whatever small part it contributed to bring about this outcome. Now it is time to get back to ensuring that the direction and leadership guiding Saratoga Springs will ensure this wonderful city remains a great place to live and work.”
Some of the changes included allowing the each of the four commissioners to give State of the City addresses along with the mayor, taking away the mayor’s land-use board appointments and making them subject to approval by city council, as well as moving the Recreation Department from the mayor purview to the commissioner of public works.
SUCCESS’ (Saratogians United to Continue the Charter Essential for Saratoga’s Success) Richard Sellers who stumped for the current charter changes was disappointed.
“The basic thing in doing literature drops and speaking with dozens of people is there was mass confusion,” Sellers said. “A very high percentage voted ‘no’ because they were not confident that it would retain the current form of government.”
The referendum follows last year’s charter vote, which would have scraped the commission form of government. That vote was defeated by 10 votes. Supporters of that charter are still fighting for a recount of the votes that totaled 8,906.
Despite the defeat, DeLeonardis said he was proud of the work the commission did.
“We had a relatively large outreach effort. We spread the word as much as we could,” DeLeonardis said. “Where we go from here, that’s up to the people and our elected officials.”