Amsterdam to hold referendum on controller position

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AMSTERDAM – On Nov. 8, Amsterdam residents will head to the polls to determine whether they want to keep the position of controller an elected one or have the mayor appoint someone to the job. 

Following a public hearing Tuesday, the Common Council voted 3-2 to approve holding the referendum. 

The decision comes after Mayor Michael Cinquanti has repeatedly raised concerns over the lack of qualifications required to be elected as the city’s chief financial officer while arguing that the best way to protect Amsterdam’s finances would be to make the controller an appointed position.

Under the city charter, any resident of the city who is at least 18 can run for the four-year term of controller. There are no requirements for accounting experience or education at any level. Not even a high school diploma is needed. The controller as an elected official is not subject to any oversight from other city officials.

The city charter amendment proposed in the local law would make the controller a four-year appointed position concurrently with the mayor’s term of office. The controller would be under the mayor’s supervision similar to other department heads.

Candidates living in the city could be appointed by the mayor alone. Confirmation by the council would only be required for nominations of non-city residents consistent with other mayoral appointments.

Qualifications would be established limiting appointments to individuals who are certified public accountants; hold a four year degree and have at least three years’ experience in accounting; or with at least eight years’ experience in public accounting or equivalent financial management experience.

During the hearing Tuesday, two people spoke in favor of making the position an appointed one, while one person disagreed with changing to an appointed position. 

John Watroba said residents have previously voted down the proposal.

“The mayor doesn’t need to have total control of what’s going on,” he said. 

He said current controller Matthew Agresta is doing a good job. 

“We as voters will decide whether he keeps the job or not,” Watroba said. 

However, resident John Mattas wants the change. 

“As a city, Amsterdam will need the most qualified and experienced brain power we can afford to manage our municipal finances,” he said. Identifying that person will create financial stability for Amsterdam, he said.

Bill Sise said he wants the change after watching years of a “corrupt and chaotic” financial system in the city.

“I think with such a responsible position the controller needs to be experienced in the kind of finances the city brings,” he said. 

Cinquanti said Wednesday the controller should report to the mayor. 

Our City controller is the Chief Financial Officer of a $36 million operation and we must make sure that the individual in this post has the right qualifications and clearly defined duties and responsibilities to handle these critical tasks,” Cinquanti said. 

Cinquanti said right now the controller is only required to work six-hour days, which to him isn’t enough given the scope of the city’s budget and fiscal climate of the city. 

In other news, the city clerk will receive a raise of more than $6,000, bringing her salary to $50,000 after the city council voted to override the mayor’s request to only give her a raise of about $1,700. 

Cinquanti said Wednesday he disagrees with the council’s decision. 

“Our city is still in a deficit situation so when the 4% raise I approved for this position is converted into a 14% raise by the Council without an explanation I could agree with, I tried to stop it,” he said. “The Council did not agree with me and overrode my veto, which is their prerogative.”

The corporation counsel will also receive a raise after the alderman who objected to the raise withdrew his objection. Cinquanti said counsel received a 2% raise. 

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