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Amsterdam voters to decide on controller's post

Thursday, March 21, 2013
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— Amsterdam residents will head to the polls this summer and decide whether to keep the controller an elected office or change the city charter to make the critical financial position an appointed job.

The controller serves as the city’s treasurer.

Currently, the position is vacant following the December death of Ronald Wierzbicki, who was elected in 2011.

The Common Council set the referendum process in motion Tuesday and will likely hold a public hearing next week, city Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said.

The charter change calls for adding the controller to the list of appointed officials — which includes the city clerk, deputy city clerk, corporation counsel, city engineer, assistant city engineer, fire chief, police chief, health commissioner, recreation commissioner and water and sewer director.

If approved, it would put the controller’s term at six years instead of the current four-year term held by an elected controller.

The measure would also eliminate the Budget Review Board, formed each year when the Common Council, controller and mayor get together and hash out details of the budget.

Mayor Ann Thane said the idea of shifting the controller position to appointed rather than elected has been discussed for several years now.

“Finally we have a council that is willing to move forward, understanding the importance of this position for city finances,” she said.

First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel said he expects residents will see pros and cons in the initiative.

One of the benefits of an appointed position is it gives the city the ability to secure a qualified individual, he said. But doing so will take away a bit of the power residents have held up until now.

“They’re giving away a little bit of control,” said Isabel, who supports the change.

Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas said hiring a controller rather than electing one would bring the city up to modern times. “My own personal feeling is that the days of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries are gone. This is the 21st century. We need to move ahead,” he said.

“The demands of that position are such that you really have to have a degree in accounting and finance, even a dual degree. And, If you could have the municipal experience, that would be even better,” he said.

Dybas said letting residents decide is the “right thing to do.”

“If they want to still have an elected controller, so be it. My opinion is that hasn’t worked properly for a good number of decades. Not years, decades,” he said.

The status of city’s finances have been in question ever since Wierzbicki took office in January 2012.

When he arrived, the city had just begun using a new computer system to which data from prior years hadn’t been added.

DeCusatis said a public hearing will likely be scheduled for late next week and, after Thane signs the resolution, the city can set a referendum date for 60 days later.

 
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