By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
In response to what was determined to be years of fiscal mismanagement within the finance office, the Amsterdam Common Council voted informally Tuesday night to begin exploring the possibility of altering the city charter in order to change the position of city controller from an elected to an appointed one.
In an informal poll conducted by 4th Ward Alderman Dave Dybas during a special Finance Committee meeting, all five members of the council and Mayor Ann Thane said they would be open to changing the charter.
"We need a charter change," said Dybas. "It should not be an elected position."
The move was first suggested by Thane, who said she believed the problems within the controller's office were caused, in part, by repeated transition within the department as a result of the continuous election cycle.
"I don't see this problem mending itself," said Thane, adding that she believed making the appropriate changes to the city's charter the only "responsible decision."
"I think we need a someone in there that does not have a shelf life of three or four years," Thane said.
In response to the request from the Common Council, Amsterdam Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said he would begin researching the possibility of a charter change.
Ultimately, DeCusatis is expected to begin drafting the new local law that would make the change a reality, which, he said, would likely result in a restructuring of the controller's office, as well as changes to the city's budget process.
The law would have to be approved by the council and would also be subject to a public referendum.
Among the issues discussed on Tuesday were length of the appointed controller's term and particulars of the appointment process.
Tuesday's meeting was originally called to continue discussions on a proposal to hire a new deputy controller for the city at a yearly salary of $70,000 in an attempt to resolve the city's fiscal issues.
"This is ridiculous," said 5th Ward Alderman Rich Leggiero as he opened the meeting.
Leggiero said he believed $70,000 to be too much to ask of Amsterdam taxpayers.
"I want the record to reflect that I did not put this resolution in," said city Controller Ron Wierzbicki. "My name is attached to it, but I did not develop it or initiate it."
Wierzbicki said he agreed that he needs additional help in the department to straighten out the city's long-mismanaged finances, but that he did not specify that it needed to be a deputy controller at such an extravagant salary.
Wierzbicki said he only requires the aid of someone with an accounting degree and preferably municipal accounting experience.
Wierzbicki also said he believed $40,000 to $50,000 to be a more reasonable salary.
Dybas, however, said he extensively researched the salaries of deputy controllers and that $94,000 a year is considered to be average.
Both Thane and Dybas said the position required a talented and experienced person and that the expenditure was necessary to garner the most qualified applicants.
"This did not occur with Ron. This occurred through decades of neglect and instability," said Dybas. "What you're doing is buying the intelligence to run an efficient department."
"We need to know where we are. We need to balance our books," agreed 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman. "If we don't, we're going to create a monster."
"I'm all in for getting to the bottom of this financial problem," Leggiero responded, "but at what cost to the taxpayers?"
"There's not proper oversight of operation and there are problems every single day," said Thane. "It can not go on."
Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi, however, said she too was concerned about funding the additional salary, especially in light of the money the city has already spent to hire outside consultant Darryl Purinton in an effort to help rectify the problem.
Wierzbicki said the hiring of the deputy controller was Purinton's recommendation, but 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel suggested that the council hold off on any decisions until Purinton can deliver a report to the council in person regarding the state of the controller's office and his official recommendations.
In the end, no decision was made on the proposed resolution to fund the position at $70,000. It is not yet known when Purinton will be available to make a presentation to the council.