Concerns linger as vacancy remains


Recorder News Staff

With a rejected nomination for city controller earlier this week, a deputy controller position still hanging in the works, and just two weeks left per the charter to fill the controller seat, Amsterdam officials are concerned about the finance office.

Earlier this week the city of Amsterdam Common Council failed to pass a resolution to appoint local city resident, Manfred Phemister, to the vacant position of city controller.

Prior to the decision, the council discussed the office needs.

"It's very difficult," said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane of the position, "and it's difficult to attract qualified people who reside in the city."

Some council members discussed the need to bring someone in who is qualified for the finance position.

Thane questioned at the time whether the council would be able to find someone with that accounting background.

After the council meeting, Thane said that Tuesday was an opportunity to get someone in the under-staffed department getting up to date on the KVS system, working with consultant Darryl Purinton, and getting ready for the budget, but now she's concerned.

On Friday, Thane said more and more issues pile up in the office daily.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said this week that the city did receive about 25 resumes for the deputy controller position, but only two from city residents.

But other than city resident Manfred Phemister, Thane said no one contacted her about the controller position.

"It is irresponsible to leave the position open," she said.

Thane said she reached out to city and county Democratic leadership asking for names, but no one came back to her with any prior to Phemister's name being put out.

She said it seemed to have been a miscommunication.

City Democratic Chair Jeffrey Stark said on Thursday that if there is any way he could help, he would, if given the opportunity.

"We have an individual that's willing to do the job, and normally that would be just dandy, but seeing that over the last three to four months so much discussion was made about the problems in that office, I think everybody would want to take a step back in trying to resolve those in a permanent position," he said.

Stark emphasized that that doesn't mean he doesn't support Phemister, but he believes it's important that the council has options.

"I think it's a great opportunity that we all take a step back and see if there's someone out there that is very well-qualified," he said. "What's the big deal if it takes five weeks or 45 days?"

According to the city charter, when a vacancy occurs within an elected or appointed position, the Common Council is tasked with appointing someone within 30 days of the vacancy, a qualified individual to fill that vacancy until the next general election.

Those qualifications entail being 18 years of age, a city resident, and, in this case, a Democrat.

The charter mentions no penalty if that position isn't filled.

DeCusatis said Thursday that it's not really clear what happens at the end of that 30-day period.

"It's not really specified that if they don't make the 30-day limit, something else happens," he said. "It just says they will do it in 30 days.

"The pretty clear intention of the charter is that the position should be filled because obviously you need a chief financial officer."

DeCusatis said he would imagine that the vacancy will be filled within the thirty days, but after that, "You're kind of in uncharted territory."

But, Thane said, the penalty will be clear.

"The penalty for the city of Amsterdam is not having the position filled because we are struggling from being understaffed," she said.

County Democratic Chair Bethany Schumann-McGhee said that although the county Democratic party has not been formally involved in the process, she has had conversations with a number of city officials and other members of the party in relation to the process.

"The situation is interesting in a number of different ways," she said. "One is that we had a Democratic primary for the office last fall so from a primary perspective there was another member of the (party interested)," she said.

Schumann-McGhee said Phemister had been the only person that expressed an interest in the position to her, and that throughout these last few weeks there have been a number of discussions about what the potential pool of interested and qualified individuals would be.

She said the Democratic party treaded cautiously at the beginning, giving time to the party, community, and family of the late controller Ronald Wierzbicki to grieve before jumping in to talking about a new controller.

"I'm sure the city council and the mayor had to start working and thinking about it in much more concrete terms because they're faced with much more of a pressing need," she said.

Schumann-McGhee said she had conversations with the mayor in relation to what type of interest the city received and what candidates, if any, reached out to them.

"There were some concerns expressed that there should be kind of a call for applicants, and I think that's happening," she said.

That call for applicants went out in the form of an ad this week.

"The city of Amsterdam is seeking applications and resumes for the vacant position of City Controller for the remainder of 2013," the ad reads.

The ad gives the charter qualifications, but says experience in municipal accounting, particularly familiarity with the KVS system, is desired.

The position is a $55,000 salary per annum with benefits, and applicants have until Tuesday to submit their resumes, cover letters, and references to the Employee Relations office at City Hall.

Thane said Friday that her sources have run out, so now it's a waiting process to see if and what applications come in.

"The staff is rising to the occasion and they're doing their best to keep up with what's going on on a daily basis," she said. "We need the administrative arm, the managerial position at the head of the department."