Mayor names pick for controller


Recorder News Staff

The first name has been thrown into the pot for interim Amsterdam controller, but the possibility is bringing mixed reviews from city officials.

Amsterdam resident and Amsterdam Armory owner Manfred Phemister is the first candidate for the position.

Following the death of the city Controller Ronald Wierzbicki, who held the office for nearly a year, Amsterdam Common Council members and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane were faced with the challenge of finding someone to take the helm in the finance department as the city is about to enter into budget season.

And they, according to the City Charter, only have 30 days to do so.

Thane said Tuesday that she had heard through the grapevine that Phemister, who unsuccessfully ran against Wierzbicki in 2011 for the Democratic line for controller, might be interested.

So she gave him a call.

"I have spoken with the Democratic leadership at the city and county levels. They have not come forward with any other names at this point," Thane said. "I think Manfred would be a good choice."

Organized, proactive, a team-builder, and compassionate were just some of the ways Thane described him.

She also said his work managing multi-million dollar companies and managing at times more than 70 employees bring an added bonus.

"I think these are all strong qualities to have in this position," she said. "If we have the proper leader with the proper staff and training of staff ... I think all of these will strengthen the department."

In a phone call Tuesday evening, Phemister said that he spent most of 2011 preparing himself for the position and he did a lot of studying on the subject.

"I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done in the position," Phemister said. "We are about 115 days away from delivering a budget which is due on May 1 so this is obviously one big aspect of the work."

Phemister said he also understands that the neither the 2011 nor 2012 books have been closed and there has to be forensic accounting and research done into capital projects.

"I think that with the right approach and setting up a timeline for all of this, I think it can be done," he said, adding that the good news is that the day-to-day operation is seamless.

"It's a lot of work that needs to be done in that office."

Phemister said he has a business degree and has done budgets for companies with bigger budgets than the city and has been "a businessman" all his life.

"I think that I would be a perfect addition to the staff that's already there," he said. "I'm pretty well-organized and I think that I can bring a lot to the table that the city can use and needs."

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said Tuesday after a special council meeting that while she hasn't canvassed herself, it doesn't surprise her that Phemister is interested in the position.

"I had hoped that we would have more people interested, but I do also understand that it's a big undertaking at this point," she said. "I'm hoping we can find somebody with some experience, some background in accounting since it's not a requirement of the position, it would be nice to have that.

"I don't have anything against Manfred I just would like of course if we have choices. It's always beneficial."

Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas said after the meeting that he is opposed to the idea of Phemister coming in.

"Put in somebody who doesn't have a background? This makes no sense to me," he said. "I don't think any individual is qualified unless they have an accounting background."

Dybas said he wonders whether the city will be worse off or better off putting someone in who does not have that experience.

"What's the penalty for not appointing someone?" Dybas said regarding appointing someone within 30 days. "If I don't fill it, what's the downside?"

Dybas said he is willing to go over that 30 days even if it takes until the next election to find the right individual to take over.

Thane expressed Tuesday afternoon the importance of moving the process forward for the interim controller.

"I'm feeling the pressure of not having a controller to share the weight of the city," she said. "The staff has anxiety over not having a leader in place.

"If there is someone else out there that is 18, a resident, and a Democrat and is interested in the position," she said later that night, "call my office."

As for the deputy controller position, which the city posted just recently, Thane said they have received 20 applications for the job, one from the city and the rest from residents outside of the city.

She said five or six of them are well-qualified for the job.