By Dan Weaver
It was disappointing to see the City of Amsterdam follow the example set by our county legislature and attempt an end run around the city charter in order to give elected officials midterm raises. According to the city charter, “The compensation of the Mayor, the Controller and the Aldermen shall be fixed by local law, except as otherwise provided in this Charter, and any increase or decrease shall become effective only at the start of the term of office next succeeding that in which it was enacted.”
The proposed resolution would have made it possible to raise the salaries of the mayor, Common Council and controller, although the only proposed pay raise was a $10,000 raise for the controller. Fortunately, Alderman Jim Martuscello pulled the resolution citing the New York Conference of Mayors, which said a referendum was required to change the charter. The issue is not dead, however, since Corporation Counsel William Lorman has stated that he does not agree with NYCOM’s position. If the Corporation Counsel’s position is that a referendum is not required, little stands in the way of a Common Council member making an attempt again to change local law to give elected officials a raise midterm.
Elected officials do deserve reasonable raises from time to time, so why not just follow the charter and give them reasonable raises effective at the beginning of the next term? Is that so difficult? It would also protect politicians from deserved negative feedback from the public. Since the controller did not ask for the raise, one wonders also why it was put in the budget in the first place?
Raises continue to be a contentious issue throughout the county. They were part of what brought the government of the village of Fultonville to a temporary halt with the resignations of Mayor Ryan Weitz, Clerk-Treasurer Tom DiMezza and Deputy Clerk Kathy DiMezza. I have no desire to take sides between the resignees and the trustees, except to say the raises seemed high and the resignations seemed petulant and not in the best interest of the village. On the plus side, the resignations brought an end to contention. On the negative side the village lost officers with many years of experience.
One thing that has troubled me over the years is the number of politicians in Montgomery County who have collected salaries and pensions, sometimes simultaneously, from several different tax payer-funded entities. On top of that, one or more of their family members is doing the same. I have often wondered why they don’t enter the milking competition at the Fonda Fair, since they seem to be able to milk three or four cows at the same time.
Montgomery County Resolutions 80 & 82, which I wrote about in April, which change the county charter to give midterm raises to elected officials as well as raises and bonuses to elected officials, department heads and non-department heads passed during the March 28, 2017 meeting of the legislature. They passed without any discussion, and legislator Martin Kelly was the only one who opposed both resolutions. Kelly seems to be the only legislator who takes seriously his responsibility to the taxpayers and the county charter.
The local law changing the county charter so that the county can give elected officials mid-term raises can still be stopped by permissive referendum. I have no doubt the legislators are counting on the ignorance of the populace or their apathy to keep this from happening. A permissive referendum requires a petition signed by registered voters equal to 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in Montgomery County during the last general election.
This is the second time I have written about pay raises in the past six weeks. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the issues I raise here are not just about pay increases. They are about power, and how people in power naturally do what they want to do, rather than what is best for the people, when the populace is compliant and apathetic. Elected officials should be cautious about making changes to charters and constitutions. Sometimes changes are necessary for the benefit of all. I see nothing, however, in Resolutions 80 & 82 or the attempt by the city of Amsterdam to change its charter to raise elected officials’ salaries mid-term that has all of our best interests in mind. Rather they seem to be for the benefit of a select few.
Dan Weaver lives in the Town of Florida and operates a business in downtown Amsterdam.