Montgomery County’s new government charter, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, is riddled with errors and inconsistencies, according to New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario.
County residents voted in November to switch from the current board of 15 town and city ward supervisors to a more streamlined, nine-member county Legislature and elected executive.
Acquario has been meeting with the county Board of Supervisors’ Education and Government Committee for a few months, helping to ease the transition. Tuesday night was the culmination of those discussions.
“He got a PowerPoint together and put all the mistakes up there in red,” said St. Johnsville town Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, who is also the Democratic candidate for county executive. “There was a lot of stuff up there.”
Acquario listed some of the problems Wednesday. There was quite a laundry list, from an imbalance of power to referenced chapters that do not exist.
“I knew it was going to be bumpy ride when they asked me to help,” he said.
His main issue had to do with a balance of budgeting power between the executive and treasurer, both elected officials. In the charter as it is, the executive and treasurer share budgeting responsibilities.
“That’s not normal,” he said. “The executive should gather and present the budget to the legislature.”
There were a few other problems, like disagreements over which body has the power to appoint a county attorney, and some typographical errors.
The issues varied, but basically lead back to one cause, according to Stagliano.
“The charter commission had a very short window of time,” he said.
A group of local businessmen, attorneys and others from the community gathered to draft the 30-page charter in April 2012. Based on supervisor term limits, they had to get the document to voters by November or wait four years for another opportunity.
With all the legal steps to approval, the group had less than four months to get the charter written.
“They didn’t have time to handcraft a charter just for Montgomery County,” Stagliano said, “so they just copied one from Putnam County and made changes to fit.”
One change, from Putnam County’s appointed comptroller position to the elected treasurer, was handled with a simple word document “search and replace,” Stagliano said, which led to Acquario’s budget confusion.
Going forward, Acquario said the current Board of Supervisors can either fix the new charter by resolution or ignore the problems and let future legislatures figure things out.
“Personally, I think we should give this the best possible shot at success,” Stagliano said, “and hand off a government that works.”
Despite the issues, Acquario commended the charter commission for a job well done.
“County government is incredibly complicated,” he said. “I’m a lawyer, and it took me an hour to read and understand each paragraph on each page of this charter.”