Controller position still up in the air


Recorder News Staff

An elected or appointed controller?

This is the question hanging in front of the Common Council -- and soon the voters -- in the city of Amsterdam.

Earlier in February, the council was given, for introductory purposes, Local Law A, an ordinance revising the city charter to change the position of controller from elected to appointed, along with revising the budget process.

The law had been tabled at the council's last meeting.

But at Tuesday's council meeting, the discussion continued.

"Part of the reason we tabled it the last time was we were going to find out how much a special election costs," said Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi.

City Clerk Susan Alibozek said she had gotten some figures about the costs and read them some of those figures off to the council.

There are 9,161 registered voters in the city, she told the council, and explained costs associated with housing polling places in buildings that receive government funding versus buildings that don't.

"You can have as many or as few as you think you need," she said.

Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas continued the discussion, informing the council that a rough estimate for the cost of the special election would run anywhere form $6,000 to $8,000, for programming, machines, and inspectors.

He noted that discussion on the very topic came up at a recent meeting.

"As we sat there going through a number of logistical-type questions, a proposal came out to do it at City Hall," Dybas explained. "People would know where to go."

Dybas added that it would be the logistical place to hold a special election because it is a familiar place for constituents, it would keep expenses down, it's accessible, and the city could "just do it ourselves."

Dybas suggested that five machines be used for each ward.

But there was still no clear consensus of whether the council wanted the special election or not, and First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel, who was also acting as Deputy Mayor, posed the very question.

"Is the consensus of opinion that we do want a special election?

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said that's what they have to decide.

"My concern is if we wait to general election, you have multiple people that will have to run and do a primary," she said. "They put a lot of time, effort, and money into that.

"That's my reason for supporting doing a special election."

Though Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said he would like to see minimal qualifications out for public view, he added that he is "not really in favor of the special election."

"I am in favor of the public to either agree or not agree to it," he said. "I'm in opposition to changing the charter because ... the only thing really needed in this situation is changing of qualifications for this position."

While Isabel wondered how many would even come to vote in a special election, DeRossi brought up that the full percentage of the voters don't come out in regular elections and there is really no way of knowing.

Dybas brought the discussion back to DeRossi's initial comments.

"I agree totally with Gina. It's going to be unfair for anybody to run, have that on the general election, run for a job they're not going to get," he said, adding that if a person won they could conceivably also lose if the voters voted to change the position to appointed during that general election.

"Either way the voter gets to pick or choose," Dybas said of the special election. "If the voters decide to vote, great. If they don't come out and vote they have no reason to complain."

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman echoed various council sentiments later saying, "We need to let people decide at a special election."

Though there were questions on whether there could be two different pieces on a special election ballot -- one on elected or not, and another saying if not, what about qualifications -- it was decided to give Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis the ordinance to make final corrections, have him craft a ballot question that encompasses everything that's within that charter change, and then bring it back to the floor at the next council meeting to vote on it.

The ordinance was tabled once again until the council's March 19 meeting.