Consensus Commission Releases Final Report on Government Modernization; Mayor Issues Sharp Rebuke

Feb 9, 2017

Credit cgr.org/consensuscny

Nearly three years after it started, the Consensus Commission released its final report Thursday with dozens of recommendations on how to modernize local government.  They include everything from infrastructure and public safety to economic development and municipal operations.  

The 19-member volunteer commission collected reams of data, held more than 100 meetings, and gathered comments from thousands of residents to arrive at the 110 page report.  Co-chair Neil Murphy says it’s a chance to embark in a new direction.

"Are we going to chart our own future against fiscal winds?" Murphy asked.   "Are we going to be able to create a unique approach, much like other communities are taking on today, examining their fiscal picture, and how they're going to manage that fiscal picture.  So, we have a unique opportunity to start here in Syracuse.  

The report identifies nearly $33 million  in annual savings.  Commission Co-chair Jim Walsh says some ideas are just common sense efficiencies.

"The close-in suburbs...Solvay, DeWitt, Mattydale, for example, their streets connect to the city streets," Walsh said.  "So it makes some sense to create a core highway system whereby those streets are plowed, maintained, and signed all by one entity."

The pier in Skaneateles
Credit cgr.org/consensuscny

But saving money was not the commission’s sole focus.   President and CEO of CGR Joe Stefko helped gather and analyze the data to find ways to provide the best service.

"You'll see in the menu of 50 recommendations, there are a number of them with no identifiable cost savings," Stefko said.  "In those cases, the commission identified either a service gap or service need."

The Consensus report also recommends a consolidated city/county police force, and, perhaps most notably, a combining of the city and county into a single metropolitan government.   Commission Co-chair Catherine Richardson says the new model would not only be more inclusive for residents, it might be more appealing to businesses.

Little Italy in Syracuse.
Credit cgr.org/consensuscny

"It does attract economic development.  It shows us out in front, a community that's taken ahold of its own destiny," Richardson said.  "Businesses want to come into an environment like that, where it can be streamlined and they don't have to deal with multiple governments."

But the idea of a metropolitan government was not well received by Mayor Stephanie Miner.  In a harshly worded statement, she says the “fatally flawed” approach would disenfranchise people of color and other under-represented groups.  The commission’s recommendations could be presented to voters in a referendum this November.  

Here's the full statement from Mayor Stephanie Miner:

“Despite the Commission’s good intentions, the Consensus Commission’s Final Report is, unfortunately, an enormous disappointment. It is rife with ambiguities and omissions. Its section on governance is fatally flawed since it assumes the existence of legal authority to abolish the City, which simply does not exist. City Staff actively participated in the process with the understanding the recommendations would meaningfully address issues of inequity and a better delivery of services. Instead, sadly, we are presented with a document that abolishes the City, strips the City of its assets (p. 80-91) and saddles the City residents with enormous financial obligations without any means to raise revenues to satisfy them. It resembles more a plan for the worst form of corporate looting than a progressive document designed to meet the needs of Central New York residents.  While not addressing the issue of School District consolidation, the implementation of the report’s recommendations would cripple the ability of the School District to fulfill its mandate to educate future generations. In short, it would doom Syracuse to eternal poverty.  Its proposed new government structure would dilute and disenfranchise people of color and other underrepresented groups at a time when greater participation in our civic process must be encouraged rather than diminished.  

“The voters of Syracuse entrusted me with a sacred obligation to serve them by exercising my best judgment.  As such, to endorse this proposal would be a dereliction of duty on my part.  For these and other reasons, I will be urging my fellow citizens to actively oppose any initiative to adopt its recommendations.”