June 11, 2013

Editorial: City manager worth studying


---- — Changing the form of government under which the City of Plattsburgh operates from a strong mayor to a city manager is an idea at least worth exploring.

Longtime Plattsburgh businessman Neil Fesette is leading an effort to examine the concept of converting the city structure to a system where a professional manager runs the day-to-day operation instead of an elected mayor.

Under that scenario, the mayor would still be elected but would only oversee policy decisions by the council, perform ceremonial duties and provide leadership and ideas.

What spurred Fesette to action is the fact that in this year’s election, there will certainly be a new mayor — Donald Kasprzak is not running for election — and it’s possible there will be an entirely new City Common Council.

While an influx of people with fresh ideas is always healthy for a governmental body, experience is also comforting for a city of about 20,000 people with a $53 million budget and 300 employees.

In order to move to a different form of government, Plattsburgh’s 111-year-old City Charter has to be changed. To do that, a Charter Commission must be formed to study the issues. The commission, according to state law, must comprise between nine and 15 city residents appointed by the mayor.

The commission will make recommendations to the City Council, and if its members agree, they can move to put changes on the ballot for a public vote.

The process takes at least a year, so it will not affect this year’s elections. But with the complexities of government continuing to mount, we believe it is wise for the city to form the commission and at least look at the possibilities of installing a city-manager type of government.

Six brand new councilors could be on board when the next term starts Jan. 1, 2014, and to prevent that type of predicament in the future, we endorse a change that would stagger the terms of office for the City Council members.

Staggering terms so only three seats are up for election at a time would ensure that at least some experienced council members would return.

The Clinton County Legislature, with voter approval, opted to stagger terms for its 10 legislators starting with the 2011 election, in a move that so far appears to be working well.

We urge Mayor Kasprzak to appoint a City Charter Commission to explore the concept of a city manager. It would not cost the city money and it doesn’t obligate any change, but the timing is right to study that option.