Council rejects appointment to controller's post


Recorder News Staff

The city of Amsterdam continues to run without a controller.

At Tuesday's Common Council meeting in City Hall, a resolution was brought before the council to appoint local resident Manfred Phemister to the post. The appointment was put up following the death of Controller Ronald Wierzbicki at the end of last year.

But after a long -- and at times heated -- discussion, the resolution failed to pass.

"I think it's a huge disservice to the city, I do," said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane after the council meeting. "Just now, speaking to staff, they're very upset because this was an opportunity to get somebody in immediately."

Prior to the council's discussion, Phemister took the podium during public comment period to address the council in his interest to fill in the controller vacancy.

Phemister, who made an unsuccessful bid for the controller's post in 2011, a contest won by Wierzbicki, told the council that he understands the four main tasks that the controller position deals with and feels the council is wide in appointing a deputy.

But, Phemister said, the books need to get straightened out.

"The city needs a controller, a manager," he said. "I believe that my years of management ... I will be able to do this job."

Phemister told them he was "under no illusion" of how complex the task is, but he was confident that he could bring the team together.

As the resolution came up in front of the council, council members launched into debate about what is best for the position and city, but not before 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel made a motion to place 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas' name in the pool.

Dybas declined, however.

Thane continued to tell the council that it was an opportune time to bring someone on because of all the training that is about to ensue in the department.

"They can be in on the whole learning process that's going to be coming," she said.

Dybas soon raised his hand and offered his explanation as to why he was voting against the resolution.

"While it conforms to the current city charter requirements to fill the vacant position, it continues to ignore the reality of today's 21st century demands required of the position," he told the council.

Per the charter, the requirements call for someone at least 18 years of age, a member of the same party as the person who held the position, and a city resident.

Dybas called them "meager requirements."

He later proposed that the charter be changed to give the residents a say in what happens in the office.

"Let's postpone the current charter requirement for appointment," he said.

He continued to express the need for an experienced person to take the position.

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman verified that there would still be two weeks left to fill the position if the resolution did not pass, and Thane hesitantly said yes.

Thane said she felt Dybas was choosing to "ignore the entire operation of the department."

"Joy is to the breaking point right now and the department is coming to me," she said. "I have no interest in running the department of finance. The separation of powers is absolutely critical to running an effective government."

At the end of the discussion, the roll was called and with a 3-2 vote, the resolution failed.

After the meeting, Phemister said that he knows it wasn't an easy decision.

"The position is very emotional. A lot of emotions come in to this position," Phemister said. "I think that they thought long and hard about it, about this position."

He thanked Isabel and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi for their votes "yes" to his appointment, and said he knows the others had a reason for their decision.

Leaving City Hall, Deputy Controller Joy Chiarello, who has been sitting at the helm of the controller's office since Wierzbicki's death, said she is playing three parts right now in the controller's office and "it's very difficult."

"For a year it's been said that we were short staffed. We needed an extra person," she said. "Well, now we're down two because we don't have the deputy controller that they wanted and we don't have a controller so they're still leaving us hanging with nothing.

How much longer do we wait?"