Here we are again finding ourselves trying to figure out how to finish a book filled with many questions regarding the financial picture of our beloved city of Amsterdam. I want to start off by mentioning one particular person who dedicated himself in trying to correct this fiscal mess which has been boiling over for years. Not only did this person work diligently in an attempt to correct the problem but also had to deal with a somewhat lukewarm political friendly environment. His name was Ron Wierzbicki, controller of the city of Amsterdam, who passed away Dec. 28. Ron's untimely death made me think of how unfortunate we are to lose a lifelong city resident who finally came forward with a direct and honest manner to express his concern of our city's financial picture. It was what most did not want to hear but with Ron there was no sidestepping the issue.
Though I did not know Ron well my connection to him goes back a number of years when Ron's dad (Mike) and my dad worked together for the post office. It was during those years that my dad's friendship with Ron's dad brought about occasional family visits to the Wierzbicki household. From what I recall as a young kid they were enjoyable visits and happier times. It was some time ago within the year when Ron as an elected city controller decided to stop by and visit my dad. I was also invited and upon arrival found the two of them having a fun-filled conversation while reminiscing about the past. I decided to sit down for a brief moment with Ron to ask him one important question: "What made you decide to run for city controller?" I went on to say is it worth all the headaches? Ron paused for a moment and with a Santa Claus smile responded in a way that made me believe his intentions were solely based on loyalty to the city. Some may have perceived Ron to be gruff in his approach in addressing things, but sitting down with Ron for a few minutes made me believe him to be sincere. Ron truly wanted to make things better but it wasn't going to be easy.
It only took a few months in office before Ron discovered numerous discrepancies in the financial records. It was Ron's job to sort out and eliminate the discrepancies while at the same time facing an uphill battle (as always) in trying to explain it to politicians. How a former accountant and auditor with more than 30 years' experience can even explain to city officials how a city can function where the numbers don't match is a miracle in itself. Well, if our city gets through this discombobulated mathematical mess then consider it a miracle.
Speaking of miracles maybe it's time for our elected officials to be tested for the new "Miracle-Ear" device. The qualifications for this device are simple. All you need to do is have difficulty listening and communicating with others along with dealing in background noise. This offer is at no cost to city taxpayers and our officials will be re-evaluated after a 30-day trial to see if there is any improvement with communication.
Looking at our present situation on the budget sort of makes me compare it to a vacant house standing in our city. There is one particular house I dread driving by which is in close proximity to mine. It's a house that caught fire many moons ago but since then has been sitting there with a whole bunch of graffiti on it such as "no trespassing and keep the [blank] out." So here the house sits ... and sits ... waiting for a miracle to happen or decision to be made.
There are some folks out there who thought Ron was not up to snuff or computer savvy with regards to the budget process. Some believed that streamlining the process would correct the problem. However there is much more to the process than just streamlining in order to make it efficient. It's called human abilities and qualifications. I also think we need to remind ourselves that along with computer technology is the possibility of human error. It only takes punching a wrong key to change numbers and cause all sorts of problems. It's sad to say Ron never had the chance to justify himself of having the knowledge and ability to point us in the right direction. Unfortunately Ron never finished the last chapter in his book. It's now sitting on the shelf waiting for auditors and the next city controller to decide where we are going, what we are doing and if it will work. Ron you served the community well and will be missed.
Until next time -- hold that thought.
MIKE LAZAROU is an Amsterdam native and a regular columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.