AMSTERDAM -- When Mayor-elect Michael Cinquanti is sworn into office in January, nearly all of the city's department heads will remain the same as under Mayor Michael Villa.
Cinquanti on Wednesday said he has begun the process of assembling a transition committee and he's started to talk to potential candidates to replace current city Corporation Counsel William Lorman.
"I'm still looking, gathering names. I've talked to a couple of candidates," Cinquanti said. "I've had three meetings at City Hall, so I'm very busy working at it, but I don't really have anything to announce at this point."
On Nov. 6, one day after Cinquanti defeated Villa by a vote count of 1,657 to 1,243, the city Common Council voted unanimously to approve Villa's appointment of former city engineer Michael Clark to replace Richard Miller, who resigned the position Sept. 20.
Cinquanti, a Democrat, said he would have liked to have been consulted regarding the appointment.
"I certainly would not have or will not hire a city department head during my own lame duck period as mayor unless my successor was in full approval of the hiring. That would have been the right thing to do," Cinquanti said.
"I’m sure the process for hiring Mr. Clark began before the election, so I understand that the mayor was thinking he’d be the one working with Mr. Clark. Hopefully, I will agree with Mayor Villa’s glowing assessment of this individual and there will be no problem. We shall see."
The Common Council also voted unanimously in July to replace outgoing city clerk Laura Barquero, who had served in the role since 2017, with Stefanie Lenkowicz.
Amsterdam also has an elected city controller, Republican Matt Agresta, who was unopposed in November.
Cinquanti said the city charter gives the mayor of Amsterdam the authority to only appoint the city police chief, fire chief, the city's attorney, which is the corporation counsel, and the city's medical health officer. He said his understanding of the charter is he could appoint new people to all of those positions in January, or wait until the city's budget process. Amsterdam's fiscal year begins July 1.
"The appointments listed in the charter serve at the pleasure of the mayor," he said. "I'm meeting with them all. I'm making sure we're compatible and they understand how I operate. I'm not anticipating changing the police chief or the fire chief at this point."
Cinquanti said he doesn't believe he has the authority to change any department heads not listed in the city charter. He said he has met with city Recreation Tourism and Marketing Director Rob Spagnola and with Community and Economic Development Director Amanda Bearcroft. He said during his campaign for mayor that his inclination is to continue the city's policy of sponsoring city festivals under Spagnola.
Thursday he praised Bearcroft's efforts. Bearcroft is the city's point person in charge of coordinating the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.
"I spoke to Amanda before the election, I anticipate no changes there at all. I'm very pleased with Amanda and I hope to work closely with her," he said.
Cinquanti said it's his intention to hold monthly budget meetings to monitor whether the city's departments are overspending their budgets.
One of the major issues in Amsterdam's mayoral election was the city's accumulated deficit and how to deal with its consequences. The state Legislature passed a home rule law in June to enable the city to borrow money to pay off what was then estimated to be the city's $8.4 million accumulated budget deficit.
Gov. Andrew Cumo has yet to sign the law, however, and the first step in allowing Amsterdam to borrow the money would be the state Comptroller's Office certifying the city's deficit. After that the comptroller will require the city to submit quarterly financial statements and to submit its annual budget for review before its approval. According to the deficit finance legislation, the city Common Council will not be required to follow the comptroller's budget advice, but it will be required to respond in writing with an explanation as to why it chose not to follow any budget advice the Comptroller's Office gives.
City officials under Villa's administration have given these explanations for why the city's deficit grew to the approximately $8.4 million amount: turnover in the city's elected controller's office; the failure of the city to conduct any property foreclosures for a period of six years; a new accounting software system installed by a prior city controller before Agresta; and bad past bookkeeping practices, such as co-mingling capital projects money with tax revenues.
Villa, as well as Democratic officials like 4th Ward Alderman Dave Dybas, have praised Agresta and the city's independent auditing firm for straightening out the city's financial system, ending the practice of commingling revenues.
Amsterdam, however, was still ranked as the most fiscally stressed municipality in New York state by the state Comptroller's Office in September.
Cinquanti said under his administration he intends to comply with the city charter and provide the public with an annual report on the progress of the city's capital projects, a process he criticized Villa for not doing. But he said he does not anticipate doing an internal investigation into the city's past bookkeeping practices, including any attempt to determine who made the decision to co-mingle capital projects money with tax revenues.
"I've got enough to do looking forward. I'm not going to go in there looking to see what happened and why. I just want to get the dollars straight, and we'll leave the rest of that up to time," he said.
Cinquanti said he will not attempt to obstruct any Freedom of Information Law requests from journalists attempting to investigate the city's financial history.
"I'm not going to stop the press from doing its job. I just don't have the time to find out who's culpable on the back end, I have to look forward," he said.