Campaign, Silent Victory
charter revisions pass after little public debate
After flying under the campaign radar, Albany’s four charter
revision proposals were approved without fanfare by city voters
during last week’s election.
The propositions were drafted by a charter-review commission
established by Mayor Jerry Jennings and generated little public
debate, unlike a separate citizen-led reform effort by the
Albany Civic Agenda that took place during 2005. Although
the citizen-proposed revisions never made it to the ballot,
many Albany residents were aware of that effort—even if they
were unfamiliar with the specific proposals—because of the
controversy it provoked.
This election cycle, charter-reform debate was virtually nonexistent.
think a lot of people went into the polls on Tuesday not really
knowing or expecting to see the propositions there and not
really having a big familiarity with them prior to going in,”
said Richard Conti, Ward 6 Albany councilman and a member
of the charter-review commission.
Judge Larry Rosen, chairman of the charter-review committee,
expressed a different sentiment. He said the public was adequately
educated about the revisions.
Although the commission did not send a citywide mailing because
of the cost, Rosen said there were plenty of ways for voters
to access information about the propositions. In addition
to operating a Web site—albanycity charter.org—the commission
sent fliers detailing the propositions to the city’s libraries,
distributed information to each of the neighborhood associations,
and offered to speak at neighborhood association meetings.
Three associations requested this service, Rosen said.
who was interested was [informed],” Rosen said. “I think if
you look at the vote for Propositions 1, 3 and 4, and the
vote for Proposition number 2, you’ll see that [almost 2,000]
people who voted for all the three propositions voted against
2, which leads me to believe that people who cared enough
about the issue were able to distinguish between the propositions.
Otherwise, how would you explain that?”
In 2005, Rosen publicly opposed the ACA-proposed reforms.
When the Common Council considered whether to put the ACA’s
revisions up for election even after signatures on the group’s
petitions were declared invalid, Rosen spoke up during the
public-comment period of the meeting. “We need more time to
educate the public,” he argued, shortly before the council
voted to deny ballot access [“No More Power to You,” Newsfront,
Sept. 15, 2005].
One year later, Conti wasn’t confident that residents were
aware of the commission’s propositions prior to entering the
think in terms of the public discussion of this topic, it
really fell flat,” Conti said. As explanations, he noted the
lack of any organized opposition and the failure of the media
to cover the issue widely during campaign season.
Although members of ACA did not organize to oppose the commission-produced
revisions, some individuals chose to vote against the propositions
to protest the way they felt the city steamrolled the citizen-led
voted against passage of each of the propositions,” said Paul
Bray, a member of ACA, “not so much on the individual merits
or lack of merits, but what they represented as a process.”
charter revisions that came out were definitely an improvement,”
said Jim Tierney, also an ACA member, who voted in favor of
the revisions. “I respect wholeheartedly the people who have
continuing concerns about whether this was enough, but at
the same time I do have to congratulate Larry Rosen for marshalling
improvements to the city charter through the commission. While
there are certainly other things that anybody would want to
see happen, I think that this is an improvement, and you have
to take improvements whenever you can.”
The first two ballot propositions responded to the same issues
identified as problematic by the citizen-led proposals.
Proposition 1 will bolster the check-and-balance power of
the Common Council by requiring that mayoral appointments
of nonelected city department heads be subject to the advice
and consent of the council. The revision affects existing
positions, including heads of the departments of water, general
services and the police, to name a few.
The ACA measure also suggested mayoral appointments be subject
to the advice and consent of the council, but included additional
positions and also required officers be reconfirmed at the
beginning of each mayoral term rather than only at the time
of the appointment.
Proposition 2 was the most contentious of the four reforms.
It changes the composition of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment,
which authorizes expenditures of city tax dollars and transfers
money in the budget. Under the current charter, the board
is composed of the mayor, comptroller, council president and
two city employees appointed by the mayor.
Critics of this composition argue that allowing the mayor
to appoint two members undermines the board’s independence
in financial decision making.
Proposition 2 addresses this issue by replacing the two employees
with the city treasurer, who’s an elected official, and the
corporation counsel, who’s appointed by the mayor but now
will be subject to the advice and consent of the council.
The ACA proposal attempted to solve the same problem but by
different means: replacing the two mayor-appointed employees
with two council members as appointed by the Common Council.
civic agenda proposal was probably marginally better in that
it at least provided a level of council representation, but
in both cases it didn’t go to the real issue,” Conti said.
He said the real problem with the current construction of
the Board of Estimate and Apportionment is that the board
has the ability to revise the budget after it is adopted by
the Common Council without conferring with the city’s policymakers.
to the budget that are policy-related really need to come
back to the council for approval and consideration because
it’s the council, in the beginning, that adopted the budget,”
Conti said. “I think the issue’s not going away. I think the
next step is that we need to discuss the policy issue. Hopefully
we’ll be able to put something on the table soon that will
generate public discussion on what’s appropriate.”
Proposition 3 requires the mayor, comptroller and treasurer
to designate a deputy who would perform their duties during
an absence or inability to perform. Proposition 4 requires
the Common Council to establish and periodically review a
policy for determining appropriate levels of city debt.
Hufftington Post claims to have an internal
memo from Fox News authored by the network’s
vice president of news. The memo consoles newspeople
that Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation is not “the
end of the world.” The memo continues: “The War
on Terror continues without interruption. . .
. Let’s be on the lookout for any statements from
the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at
the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress.”
Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) used his “Joementum”
to rally back from a defeat in the Democratic
primary to reclaim his Senate seat last week.
This week, Lieberman reminded folks that although
he will caucus with the Democrats because they
have allowed him to retain his seniority, he is
a Lieberpendent and wants to be known as an Independent
Democrat. However, he told The Boston Globe
that he would not rule out a switch to the Republican
Party if they offered him a committee chairmanship,
and that he was being made to feel “uncomfortable”
by Democrats. “They played by the traditional
partisan political playbook. And I can’t say I
enjoyed it, but we’re all grown-ups,” said Lieberman
of his fellow Senate Democrats.
Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was elected as Senate Minority
Leader on Wednesday. Four years ago, Lott lost
his job as majority leader after he asserted that
the United States would have avoided “all these
problems” if Strom Thurmond had been elected President
in 1948. Thurmond supported segregation during
his presidential run.
to Crossgates Mall store managers: Don’t shoo
away the chubby guys holding the chug-a-lug containers
of Mountain Dew who have been sleeping outside
your store for a couple of nights now. All they
want is the new PlayStation 3—the newest addition
to the next-generation videogame wars. Sure, the
console will cost $600 or so, with games retailing
at about $60 a shot, but these guys need their
fix. You might want to make friends with them
ASAP because Nintendo’s new console the, Wii,
is due out anytime now.
some, cutting Schenectady’s affirmative-action office means
the city is taking a step backward
Schenectady Councilman Joseph Allen was the only council member
absent from the Oct. 27 vote to approve Mayor Brian Stratton’s
2007 budget. He was also the only council member who would
have voted against the $68.7 million spending plan.
Allen said he would not have voted in favor of the proposed
budget for two reasons: because he disagreed with the decision
to transfer the city’s affirmative action office to the county
government, and because the plan axed funding for a director
of parks and recreation.
wasn’t there at the time [of the vote], but I sent a letter
to Mark Blanchfield, who’s president of the council,” Allen
said. “I couldn’t vote for it because of these particular
The approved 2007 budget cut funding for the city’s park and
recreation director, a position that was held by Bill Sever
until he retired this summer. Since his departure, his duties
have been distributed among several other city employees,
have all these people pinch- hitting, and they don’t have
the expertise,” he said. “It’s not the same. You need a park
and recreation director.”
While Allen would like to see the position restored, he was
more passionate about the decision to merge the city’s affirmative-action
office with the county’s department.
has been a drastic change in the number of minorities moving
into the city and the county of Schenectady during the last
15, 20 years,” Allen said. “There has been a tremendous increase
in minorities, and yet the demographics of people employed
by the county and the city haven’t showed that.”
Until recently, Schenectady em ployed one individual to serve
as the city’s affirmative-action director, whose job description
included ensuring that the city was in compliance with requirements
relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act, affirmative
action, and equal-opportunity employment. The position was
funded by a $50,000 block grant from the federal government,
said Allen, who has been critical of the city’s affirmative
action efforts throughout his 10-year tenure as councilman.
had a number of [affirmative-action directors], and they haven’t
gotten very much support from the administration in Schenectady
over the years,” Allen said. “They never have. There was very
little secretarial support, very little support from the administration—meaning
the executive director or the mayor—and very little support
from the city council.”
Stratton did not return calls for comment.
Under the new plan, the city will merge its affirmative-action
office with the county’s department in what Schenectady County
Manager Kathleen Rooney called an “intergovernmental project.”
Schenectady County’s affirmative-action department currently
is supported by county funds and employs one part-time affirmative-action
officer. The county is in the process of hiring a full-time
affirmative action manager, who will work with the affirmative
action officer to manage the program for both the city and
county. As part of the contractual relationship between the
city and county, the city of Schenectady will provide the
county with funds to support the department.
this new budget, they’ve wiped out [the affirmative action]
position and sent it over to the county, and the county’s
record is more abysmal than ours,” Allen said. “I don’t know
where they got the idea that the county was going to do any
better unless they were just saying, ‘We don’t want to deal
with it so we’ll let the county deal with it.’ And the county,
for some reason, has agreed to take on this challenge, and
I don’t know if they have a clue what this position entails.”
Unlike the city’s affirmative-action office, the county’s
department is young, having operated since only about 2005,
according to Rooney.
Allen questioned whether this young program would be capable
of properly supporting the goals of affirmative action and
equal opportunity, especially since the county’s minority
employment numbers already are below that of the city of Schenectady.
just surprised that the federal government hasn’t hammered
the city and county of Schenectady because of their lack of
affirmative action and equal opportunity,” he said. “It makes
me wonder how they can get away with it.”
loose ends this week-