Amsterdam Controller Ronald G. Wierzbicki died Friday morning after a brief illness, shocking some City Hall staffers who are used to hearing the booming voice of a man still at work as everyone else was turning out the lights.
“We all liked the guy, he was kind of a big presence at City Hall,” said city Historian Robert von Hasseln, who said Wierzbicki was always the last one to head home at the end of the workday.
“It’s really hard to imagine that just isn’t going to be any more. Nobody expected this,” he said.
Wierzbicki, 75, retired as an accountant and auditor for New York state after a 30-year career and sought to apply his knowledge to his hometown government.
“I think Ron was clearly a dedicated public servant,” said Bethany Schumann McGhee, who chairs the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. “He was a good man who loved his family, and it’s just sad that this happened so suddenly.”
Wierzbicki ran unsuccessfully in 2009 to represent the city’s Third Ward on the Common Council before winning a primary then the general election in the 2011 controller race.
“All of City Hall is shocked and saddened by this loss, and our hearts and prayers go out to his wife Jean and their children,” Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane said in a statement. “We will miss him. He was often the last to leave City Hall each day, and it’s hard to imagine closing up next week and not seeing him at his desk as usual.”
She directed flags at City Hall to be drawn down to half staff in Wierzbicki’s honor.
Wierzbicki would have completed his first year as controller next week. He started off with several challenges when he arrived at City Hall in January. Greatest among those was a new computer system that wasn’t tied into current data. The city had recently put out a call to hire a second deputy controller to help coordinate the Finance Department, with which Thane has had problems. Just this week she lamented the state of affairs of the city’s finances. Though not directly criticizing Wierzbicki, who was in charge of those finances, she called for converting the office of controller from elected by residents to appointed by the Common Council.
Amsterdam 2nd Ward Supervisor Jeff Stark, the city’s Democratic chairman, issued a statement later Friday offering prayers for the family of Wierzbicki, whom he considered a colleague and friend.
“During the past year, no one in city government has worked harder than Ron Wierzbicki. Ron worked long nights and gave up time with his family to solve problems that were years in the making,” Stark said in the statement.
“The stress of the job and the level of unfair criticism undoubtedly contributed to his untimely passing. The city has lost one of its best and he will be sorely missed.”
The Finance Department was expected to hold a meeting Friday with other city officials to make sure operations are continued. In the interim, Deputy Controller Joy Chiariello is assuming oversight, Thane said.
The Common Council is charged with finding an interim controller of the same party as Wierzbicki’s — Democratic — within 30 days. His death will force an election in 2013 to fill the remainder of the four-year term.