A handful of county residents gathered in Amsterdam City Hall on Wednesday evening to learn about the charter that could change the structure of their local government.
“I’m curious about how this charter works,” Charles Browne said before the presentation, “I want to know what I’m voting for.”
In the simplest terms, the charter would change the county government to be run by an elected executive and nine-member legislature rather than the current 15-member board of town and city supervisors.
County residents will find the charter on their ballots Nov. 6.
Browne drove out from his home in the town of Florida to get a few of his questions answered.
“Why would we hire nine more people when we already have 15 supervisors?” he asked.
Charter Commission member Vincent Stark did his best to answer all possible questions in an hour-long presentation.
“We want people to be informed before they go to the polls,” he said.
Stark ran through some of the problems with the current system.
“People ask, ‘Why do we need to change the county government?’ ” he said. “There are some obvious issues.”
Foremost, he said, was the lack of focus and direction of the current board, calling it an “inefficient free for all” and a “ship with 15 captains.”
“We can’t really expect 15 part-time town supervisors to be informed of everything that is going on in every department of the county,” he said. “The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.”
He offered up the charter as a solution, saying that one elected executive managing department heads would streamline the system.
He also pointed out that town supervisors are expected to govern both their individual towns and the county as a whole, which can lead to biases.
The nine elected legislators would exclusively deal with county issues, freeing up supervisors to concentrate on their towns.
A few of the main arguments against the charter were also discussed in what Stark called a “myth busting” session.
“People think this will add a layer of government,” he said, clarifying that the board of supervisors is already a layer of county government and the supervisors’ county-level positions would simply be replaced by the legislature — not built upon.
He also said that while some believe the county executive might have too much power, his powers are very standard for executives in other county governments.
“There is no reason to think your taxes will go up,” he said in response to worries the new government will cost more than the current one. “We hope it will actually cost you less.”
The presentation seemed effective.
“I was undecided before,” Browne said, “but now I think I’ll go for it.”
In fact, after Stark’s charter crash course, Browne’s only worry was the low attendance.
“What are there, 10 people here?” he said. “People aren’t going to understand this.”
Wednesday night’s presentation was recorded and will be posted online at www.montgomerycountycharter.com.
There will also be two more public sessions, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Glen Town Hall and 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, in Canajoharie Town Hall.
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