AMSTERDAM — Mayor Michael Cinquanti plans to seek approval from the Common Council to bring in an outside consultant to handle the duties of the city controller until the vacancy can be filled.
“That’s not enough long term; we need to get someone in to manage the city’s finances,” Cinquanti said Thursday.
The Common Council earlier this week tabled a proposed local law that would have amended the city charter to remove some of the obstacles to finding a candidate to fill the vacancy left by former city controller Matthew Agresta following his resignation on Aug. 12.
Cinquanti, who was absent from Tuesday’s council meeting, requested the legislation be tabled after it became apparent it lacked the support needed to pass.
The measure would have aligned the charter with the reality facing the city, according to Cinquanti, who rejected the insinuation that changing the charter is not “playing by the rules” made by Deputy Mayor and 5th Ward Alderman James Martuscello earlier this week.
“We already violated it,” Cinquanti said. “I’m trying to change the charter so we don’t violate it.”
The city charter requires the vacancy of any elected official be filled within 30 days by an individual from the same political affiliation. The 30-day deadline to name the successor to Agresta, a Republican, passed on Sunday without any appointment by the Common Council.
The local law would have amended the city charter to stipulate that appointments made later than 30 days would not be invalidated and to remove the political party requirements when filling the vacancy of the controller.
“The charter says we have to do it this way when we can’t do it that way. We were not trying to expand anybody’s powers, we were just trying to fill a void we have,” Cinquanti said. “We cannot find qualified people who want to get into a political environment that is temporary.”
The city has been unable to find candidates for the opening that officials agree is unappealing because a public referendum on Nov. 8 seeks to convert the controller from an elected office without minimum qualifications to a mayoral appointment based on experience.
If the ballot measure is approved, it would take effect and the first mayoral appointment would be made on Jan. 1, 2024. If it is defeated, the controller’s post would be up for election for a full four-year term next fall.
Agresta’s date of departure was four days past the cutoff to hold a special election this fall to fill his unexpired term, which had one year left. The cutoff date is set by state law.
With limited options, Cinquanti now plans in the coming weeks to propose hiring a third-party consultant, either a firm or an individual, to carry out the duties of the controller at least until after the referendum. The city has done this before to address the vacancy of the controller following a resignation, according to Martuscello.
“We’re working on it,” Cinquanti said. “It has to be something that will be approved by the Council and also has to be good for the existing staff in the Controller’s Office.”
Deputy Controller Cassandra Kinowski and other staff in that office have been filling the controller’s duties since Agresta’s departure. The mayor has also been more actively involved in managing the city’s finances, spending time this week researching and negotiating vehicle purchase options and service contracts normally handled by the controller.
“We’re functioning now,” Cinquanti said. “We all have a lot of jobs to do here and we need help and we need to get that assistance in place.”
After the uncertain circumstances surrounding the future of the position are determined, Cinquanti is hopeful that city officials will be guided toward a long-term solution for the vacancy and that a suitable candidate can be identified.
“Once the people decide, I’m hoping I can get aldermen to agree that we need to move,” Cinquanti said.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.