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Council to tackle controller Thursday

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - Updated: 5:32 PM

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

The Amsterdam Common Council will meet with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane on Thursday to revisit the appointment of a temporary city controller.

The "Special Meeting Notice" went out Tuesday afternoon, the same day applications were due for the position as per the ad placed last week.

Thane said Tuesday afternoon that the results of that call for applications did not surprise her.

"We advertised this weekend and we did not get anyone stepping up as of Jan. 22 at 4:20 p.m.," she said. "We have one person interested in doing that job that's qualified per the charter."

That one person, she clarified, was Manfred Phemister, the resident the council rejected for the position last week in a 3-2 vote.

Thane said that although the resolution for Thursday's meeting had yet to be drafted as of Tuesday afternoon, the resolution will be created with a blank space where the name should go.

"Then it is incumbent on the council to fill the position per the charter," she said.

Timing is critical, the mayor said, as the controller is expected to be putting the preliminary budget together in one week, and a myriad of other items that are piling up need to be tended to -- like the foreclosure process, setup of the city insurance fund, the start of reconciliations, KVS accounting software transition, the state audit, the closing of last year's books, the completion and submission of the Annual Update Document.

"It is unconscionable that the council would allow this position to go vacant," she said.

First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel said Tuesday that his plan was to go to City Hall Wednesday to double-check if anyone expressed interest or was even close to qualifying.

"If there are no responses (Wednesday) I will probably maintain my present position on Thursday night at the council meeting," he said.

Isabel said he felt for the time being that the council would place Phemister into the position.

"I originally voted for him because I feel that the department does need someone there at this time," he said. "At the present time, the position is temporary, is very temporary, and it gives them an opportunity to have some direction up there in that department in City Hall."

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said Tuesday that he has been asking around about the position, but feels that the fact that the position is temporary may be deterring people.

"Anyone that really applies for the controller's job has got to know that it's not going to be a permanent job for the next three years," he said.

Leggiero said it also is problematic to find someone because there is a party limitation.

But the qualifications also trouble him.

He said he understands it is a "very difficult situation," but feels that anyone who goes into the position needs to have more qualifications than just being 18 years old, a city resident and a Democrat.

The alderman said his objections mirror those expressed by Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas last week during the original controller appointment meeting.

Dybas reiterated on Tuesday in a phone call that they should not be filling the position unless the person has the experience.

"I don't know of any one person (in Amsterdam) who meets those requirements," he said, adding, however, that there could be people who are interested.

"It's going to take somebody who knows how to reconcile a bank account and, better yet, how to teach people to do it, how to manipulate a system, how to put together bonding schedules, how to put together capital project schedules," Dybas said. "It's not knowledge that you pick up off the street."

Dybas said he has no idea what the council will ultimately do at Thursday's meeting as far as the controller vacancy is concerned and called the mayor's call of a meeting to be "extremely premature."

A solution Dybas sees is to bring in the new deputy controller position.

"If we put in place a deputy controller who has the requirements that we ask for -- and some of the candidates have more -- that solves the immediate problem," he said.

According to the mayor, 32 applications have come in for the deputy controller positions from folks across the Capital Region, and even one from Australia.

"We have six identified as strong candidates and we are going to be doing interviews on Friday," she said. "I suspect then I will bring the final candidates to the council for their input and then we will hopefully fill that position."

A second item on the agenda for Thursday's special meeting will be to approve funding for that position.

"They (the council) agreed to put the position of deputy controller in place with the qualifications, education, and experience necessary to help with the accounting aspects, to help with the Department of Finance, but they did not fund the line," she said.

Thane said the applications have been made available to the council.

Dybas said he feels the interview process should have begun last week.

"What's more important? Finding a qualified person to do the job? Or appointing somebody?" he posed.

He said he'd rather fill the position he knows they have 30 resumes and six "good people" for.

"I'm not saying it's going to be a zap ... but it's going to go an awful long way once this person is put in place," he said. "If we leave the vacancy in the controller open, that's where some of the money can come from."

Though Isabel is concerned with getting someone into the important deputy controller position, he also doesn't see the need to rush.

"I'm not in a hurry to put funding in place. We don't technically have to do that until we hire somebody," he said. "I think we're a little away from that."

Leggiero simply said he's concerned about where the money will come from and discussion will certainly be needed to answer some of the questions he has.

But even with the desire for a qualified individual for the controller position and questions about the deputy, he has concerns about the vacancy.

"Naturally, I have concerns because it is a department that really can't stay without a controller because of the finances and I guess the longer we wait the worse it's going to get," he said.

Thane said it's just critically important that the council take action on Thursday.

"To do anything else is irresponsible," she said.

     

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