Recorder News Staff
Nearly 8,000 voters on Tuesday agreed it was time to change the centuries-old structure of Montgomery County's government.
Unofficial tallies indicate a pair of necessary majorities were met to approve a charter that establishes a legislature and an elected executive post.
More more than 1,000 absentee and affidavit ballots still need to be counted, however, and the results have to be certified.
The unofficial results say the charter was approved in the city of Amsterdam by a margin of 2,665-1,339, and cumulatively approved in the 10 towns by 5,299-3,645.
Many local officials admitted their surprise of not only the outcome, but the turnout.
"I truly never thought I'd live to see the day, having served on three county charter commissions going back to when I was still in law school in 1977-78," said Charter Commission member Robert Going.
The charter transfers the authority of the 15-member Board of Supervisors to a nine-member legislature. If the election numbers hold, the charter will be instituted in 2014, with elections held for the legislators and executive in 2013.
Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington, who headed the Board of Supervisors Government Study Committee this year, said the districts and its corresponding map will be finalized by the county Planning Department in the upcoming months. He said the map needs to be completed by June, when the political process kicks off with petition pickup.
Having supported a change in county government the past 27 years, Coddington said he's pleased with the referendum results.
"I'm very surprised. I thought it might pass maybe in the city and fail in the towns, or vice versa, but the plurality is very telling. There are 8,000 people ready for change," he said.
"This is 25 years overdue," said St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, who was also surprised by the results, and the turnout. "If it passed, and only 50 to 100 people voted on it, I thought maybe that would be unfair, but I never expected close to 13,000 people to jump in."
This is the first time that the Board of Supervisors allowed a public vote on a proposed charter.
"They are much to be commended, as they did so knowing that the result could be a substantial, if not total loss of personal power and authority," Going said. "That showed great character, especially people like the late [Board of Supervisors Chairman and Charleston Supervisor] Shayne Walters, who allowed the people to decide, though he may have personally opposed its passage."
Currently, 10 supervisors are elected to serve their town governments, and they also serve on the county board, with five supervisors elected from each of the city of Amsterdam's wards.
Supervisors will still be elected to serve the 10 town governments, but will no longer serve the county board. Instead, nine legislators will be chosen from districts that have equal population.
The charter directs the elected executive to oversee the county departments. He or she will appoint department heads (subject to the legislature's approval), propose a budget, and will have veto powers that can be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the legislature.
The measure failed in the town of Charleston, and in Palatine voting District 3. It was approved at all other 46 voting districts, unofficial results indicate.
Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza, who's against the charter, said democracy prevailed.
"The voters have spoken, and we'll just have to see what it provides," he said. "I don't think a lot of people know what's in the 27-page document."
DiMezza said though the county will save money from six less stipends paid to legislators, he's concerned about the salary that will be necessary to lure qualified candidates to run for the executive post.
"There's no way this form of government isn't going to cost money. You can't get an executive of a $93 million budget for $60,000."
The Board of Supervisors will set the salaries for the legislators and the executive in the next year.
Amsterdam 1st Ward Supervisor Vito "Butch" Greco agreed the changes won't be budget-neutral, but thinks having a day-to-day executive to oversee operations might lead to savings in the future.
"I think the legislative body is excellent, I believe in it," Greco said. "My big concern is the individual who applies to be the executive. There are no qualifications, and if the wrong person gets in there, the county could be in deep trouble. My advice to the voters is when the time comes, make sure the person you choose is a qualified individual. If we get the right individual, we're golden."