In the months leading up to Election Day, Ron Kim and Julie Cuneo have been doing a lot of walking throughout Saratoga Springs.
"Saratoga, square footage-wise, is a large city, so we have different distinct neighborhoods," Kim said.
Kim and Cuneo are co-chairs of CommonSenseSaratoga, a group that is backing a proposal on the November ballot to change the city’s form of government and institute a system of six wards that would each be represented by a single member on the city council.
What You Need To Know
- The proposed charter change on the November ballot would institute a ward system for the first time in Saratoga's history
- Three years ago, a proposal to implement a new form of government in the city failed by just 10 votes
- Critics of the charter proposal believe Saratoga's rare commissioner form of government has worked well for the city
"You don’t have somebody to go to who is your local representative that is going to make sure that city services are delivered to that neighborhood. That’s why this is so important," said Kim, who served on the city council about a decade ago.
Geyser Crest on the city’s west side is a middle-class neighborhood that hasn’t had a resident serve on the council in years. James Boyd and his wife moved in about four years ago.
"Even just the small issues that neighbors talk about, I don’t think somebody that doesn’t live here would understand," Boyd said.
This latest effort marks the fourth time in 14 years Saratogians will vote on whether to do away with their long-standing commissioner form of government, in which the council is made up of a mayor and four commissioners who each oversee their own department. CommonSense believes that added responsibility unfairly limits the pool of interested candidates.
"This just discourages your average individual who’s interested in having a voice in their community," Cuneo said.
Richard Sellers and Dave Patterson are two longtime Saratogians who believe the ward system would be inferior to the commissioner form.
"It brings in very motivated people who really care about this city," said Sellers, a spokesperson for the group Saratoga Springs SUCCESS.
The commissioner style isn’t found in many other places, but Sellers and Patterson believe it’s been highly successful in the Spa City.
"Just think of these last three years. The city has really been doing great before the pandemic," Sellers said.
"There are 62 cities in New York State," said Patterson, who worked as a history and government teacher at Saratoga Springs High School for three decades. "Sixty-one of them would love to have the success that Saratoga is having, so I really think if it’s not broke, don’t fix it."
The new charter would also eliminate the commissioners and deputy commissioners, and bring in a city manager to oversee all of the city’s day-to-day operations.
"With a new form of government, I think what we’re really looking at is more accountability," Kim said.
"One person cannot do the work of nine people," Sellers said. "No super man or woman is able to manage all that."
Saratoga’s last charter change effort, in 2017, failed by a mere 10 votes. While the world is a much different place than it was three years ago, supporters and opponents say they’re both confident their side will prevail.
"This groundswell of people coming out, telling us they are against this year’s proposal, is far bigger than I’ve heard in previous elections," Sellers said.
"Every year, these margins of failure become smaller and smaller," Cuneo said. "We are pretty optimistic we will have this passed, and we will be able to move forward and meet the 21st century needs with a government that is up to the task."