Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee Response to the State of the City Address, January 2013

Issuing a response to a state of the city, state or union address is a longstanding tradition at local and federal levels, and maintains the diversity of voices among the American people. The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee is pleased to provide this response to Mayor Scott Johnson’s 2013 State of the City address. Throughout 2012, Saratoga Springs continued to shine as the City in the Country. Our City remains a great place to live, work and play, not because of accident or happenstance, but because of the hard work and dedication of our residents, businesspeople, and city servants. Saratoga Springs had many successes in the past year, some of which were recounted by Mayor Scott Johnson in his recent State of the City address: increased retail sales, increased hotel occupancy, increased attendance and handle at the Saratoga Race Course, new residential, academic and commercial construction, increased bookings at the City Center and awards and recognition for our City and its schools. The City Council members, elected by the citizens of Saratoga Springs, worked hard to fulfill their duty to adopt laws for the welfare of all of our City’s inhabitants. We applaud the successes that they and many of our City’s servants participated in. Some of those successes are easily measurable: the City Council reduced our City real estate tax rate while increasing City services (although, we are disappointed that the Mayor voted against both the budget and the fire department’s provision of emergency medical services.) The City Council prudently set aside additional funds for retirement reserves and increased our and tax stabilization (rejecting the Mayor’s proposal to spend a portion of those funds on a parking lot in a residential neighborhood). The reduced tax rate is particularly impressive in light of the Council’s prudent decision to set aside significant contingency funds for unaddressed labor contracts. Other successes are just as meaningful, but harder to measure. Through the combined efforts of the City Council and downtown business owners, bartenders, waiters, waitresses, private security guards and City Police are now working together for safer streets. In a non-partisan manner, the Council paid due respect to the families who suffered tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut with a resolution concerning semi-automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. We are disappointed that the Mayor chose to use the State of the City address to create discord and to promote two highly political initiatives instead of outlining a strong agenda and new initiatives for our City. The Mayor announced his intention to appoint a Charter Review Commission with a very specific charge. Despite the defeat only six years ago of a proposal to change our commission form of government to a strong mayor form, the Mayor now appears to have pre-determined that his commission will develop a charter that will diminish the powers of the other Commissioners and take the budget making power

away from the Commissioner of Finance. We suspect that the Mayor’s powers would be commensurately increased. Equally troubling is the Mayor’s proposal concerning the City’s Comprehensive Plan. According to the City Charter, the Comprehensive Plan Committee is supposed to develop a roadmap for the future development of Saratoga Springs. It is most important that the members of the Committee be drawn from a cross section of the community, representing a wide variety of interests. The Mayor has proposed that he shall name 11 members to this Commission, and all other council members may recommend a total of four members (one each), but will not commit to actually appointing those individuals recommended by the Commissioners. This proposal flies in the face of State law which grants to the city’s legislative body (that is, the City Council), the authority to appoint the members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee. It is unclear to us how the Mayor’s proposal would keep partisan politics out of City governance, but it is consistent with the partisan approach this mayor has taken throughout his time in office. For example, our City Charter empowers the mayor to appoint members to three boards with exceptionally strong powers: the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the City Center Board. In five years, the Republican Mayor has yet to appoint a single Democrat to any of these boards. The challenges of this coming year are many, and the Mayor addressed several of them. There are many other challenges and opportunities not detailed in his State of the City Address. We believe that our elected city officials can help the citizens of Saratoga meet these challenges and take advantage of opportunities if they openly and comprehensively discuss the needs and goals of all of our citizens. They were elected to represent the interests of all of Saratoga’s citizens, not just a few special interests. At times, zealous representation of constituents may cause disagreements among Council members. These disagreements should not be misconstrued as divisive politics, but rather, they are a vital tool of democracy. We applaud the hard work, dedication and open dialogue demonstrated by our City Council during this last year and urge them to continue helping Saratoga Springs to achieve its greatest potential through continued open governance and representation of all of the City’s diverse interests in 2013.

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