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My Turn

July 20, 2009

My Turn: City charter needs revision

This week’s “My turn” column is by Oneonta Mayor John S. Nader. It is long past time to review, revise and rewrite our city charter.

The document is obsolete and too often hinders rather than facilitates effective, representative government.

As New York’s Department of State notes, “A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and a clear description of the duties and powers of municipal officials.” Our charter does neither.

Therefore, consistent with New York State Home Rule Law, I intend this year to establish a charter review commission.

The commission should review the entire charter and prepare a new or significantly revised version. Our charter diffuses authority among numerous entities without sufficiently empowering those who assume dayto- day responsibility for public administration and policy.

Simply put, the document’s lines of accountability are unrealistic, the duties of elected officials are obscure; it establishes a chief executive position without sufficiently empowering the office.

A citizen can read the city charter and find that Oneonta’s form of government defies description.

Although the city’s form of government has at times been called a weak-mayor system, this characterization is inaccurate.

It is far more accurate to view the charter as the by-product of the early 20th century, when many localities empowered boards and commissions whose members were certainly conscientious, but plainly unelected. In fact, the most significant of those commissions no longer even exist.

Unlike our federal constitution, which provides a clear separation of powers, the city charter seems as likely to confuse as to clarify.

In one instance the lines of authority overlap so wildly that within two paragraphs, the charter actually requires the supervisor of parks and streets to report to four separate entities: a board, a commission, the city engineer and the mayor.

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