By REBECCA NEYEHUIS
A series of letters criticizing incumbents in Saratoga Springs during the primary have brought up issues such as compensation, high turnovers in public office and residents lacking a voice among the mayor and City Council. These issues in the letters have come to be the heart of this election.
“They alerted people to some things that had taken place in City Council that wasn’t in their best interests,” said Council candidate Kevin Eads.
During the Saratoga Springs primary election, the anonymous letters began circulating Saratoga Springs under an “Old Folks” letterhead. Michael Dortch, a Saratoga Springs developer, admitted to authorship on Oct. 21.
“I dealt with the city on a real intimate level. I was at all of the meetings. A lot of people didn’t know what was going on so I decided to get some facts on the table,” Dortch said.
While the letters did not target any candidates, they were critical of incumbents. The first mayor and four-person City Council were appointed at Saratoga Springs creation in 1998.
However, City Council incumbent Reid Wayman said they went too far, causing heartache for Council members.
“The City Council in its best judgment has acted in the best interests of the community. They have been challenged, abused and hassled, and life is not worth it to put up with what we have,” Wayman said.
Three incumbents dropped out during the primary race. Only two incumbents chose to run in the elections: Mayor Larry Johnson and Wayman. However, Johnson was defeated in the primary.
Although Council candidate Terry Stapley and mayoral candidate Timothy Parker said the letters were a bit inappropriate, they agreed that relevant issues were raised. Mayoral candidate Scott Kahn said the letters stated fact without getting too personal.
The biggest concern raised by the letters is the voice of the people hasn’t been heard. A water issue was cited by Dortch as a prime example of the problem. According to Hubbard, residents attended the Council meeting and were overwhelmingly against the ordinance. The Council voted opposite the majority of the residents in attendance. A petition was circulated to vote on the issue, which had 63 percent of the city’s signatures, Hubbard said. The petition was dismissed on a technicality.
The “Old Folks” letters titled “Bad Breath” and “What in the blue blazes was all the hubbub about the water, anyway?” discussed the water issue. “Bad Breath” discussed the Council meeting on Aug. 13 when the Council discussed the issue. “What the …” was an allegory of a corn farmer (developers) and his manure (water). The WORM, or Whimsical, Overbearing, & Rash Municipality, (City Council), wrestled the water away from the farmer, and in the end, no one won. The letter ends, “And the WORM, who fought so hard for the title to the manure pile, could never grow ears with it and remains deaf to this very day. If you have ears, then you have just heard the water story.”
Another “Old Folks” letter compared the compensation to mayors and Council members in surrounding cities. According to one of the “Old Folks” letters, Saratoga Springs gave its mayor $750 and Council $500 compared to the $300 and $106.25 averages, and candidates say it is something they want to address.
“Our mayor and City Council members, in my opinion, were overpaid. They need to be compensated similarly to towns of our size,” said Council candidate Lynette Hubbard.
The third “Old Folks” letter said the high turnover for positions like secretary and treasurer. Saratoga Springs has been without a treasurer for five months now.
“I think it has been difficult for individuals to work in an atmosphere in where frustrations are high and where their opinions were disregarded,” said Council candidate Timothy Taylor, who served as the first city recorder.
All the candidates agreed communication between the mayor, City Council and the residents is the key issue.
“I want to get in there and figure out why people aren’t having their say,” said Council candidates Merlin Smith.
The candidates all have ideas for how communication could be improved. Council candidate John Kimball suggested a town Web site would improve communication. Mayoral candidate Scott Kahn said a big part of the communication problem is public involvement. Council candidate Timothy Taylor said that it’s vital to invite the public back to the city meetings and ensure them they would be listened to.
All the candidates are optimistic about the future of Saratoga Springs. Other issues they want to address are accessibility, growth, commercial development and establishing the city’s identity.
“With the caliber of the people running, anyone who gets in there will do a good job,” said Council candidate Marsha Paskett.