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Council debates hiring freeze

Wednesday, May 07, 2014 - Updated: 10:22 AM


The Amsterdam Common Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night in favor of overriding a veto Mayor Ann Thane issued last week in response to an April 15 resolution which appointed seven people to a Charter Review Commission.

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman was the opposing vote, saying the mayor deserves "to have a voice."

"The mayor should have some powers of her own," Beekman said. "And she should issue a veto if she so chooses. That's the process."

Thane said the council made its decision hastily about the commission, because two weeks before the resolution was proposed, Montgomery County's Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise issued a ruling interpreting the city charter in favor of the executive branch. She believes the council is reacting to that decision.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr., however, said the decision had nothing to do with politics.

"We created the Charter Review Commission to go over the city's charter," he said. "There's too much ambiguity in the charter and there are several issues that need to be cleared up. That was our sole reason for creating it. This has been an ongoing discussion since January."

Also on Tuesday, the Common Council unanimously tabled a resolution calling for a city-wide hiring freeze.

Barone, who proposed the resolution to help alleviate budgetary constraints, decided it should be tabled to the next council meeting.

"The reason I tabled this resolution is because there may be things in the public safety department that we need to address," Barone said.

Barone said he'd like department heads to come to the council before hiring someone, so they can justify their need for the position.

"The reason I'd like to see this take effect is because any department head who has to hire somebody will have to bring it back to this council," he said. "We're just hiring and hiring and hiring and nobody's looking at it. My understanding is we're in charge of the budget, the buck stops here, at this common council. I want to know where our bucks are being spent."

Thane questioned whether Barone had talked to any of the department heads to "assess the operational impact this action would be on each department?"

"No, I didn't talk to them," Barone answered. "This should have been put in place, and was in place, long ago but nobody ever followed it, and now they will."

Thane went on to ask Barone what "hiring and hiring and hiring" he was referring to.

"Any new hiring," he responded.

Thane said she wanted to see specific examples.

"You seem to have some specifics in mind," she said. "Where is all of the hiring going on? That's what I want to know."

Barone said there's been a lot of hiring that's been done outside of the budget, but when Thane asked him when it was done, he told her the council would "take a look at it."

"People don't like hiring freezes, and I can understand that fully, they hate it in the county also," he said. "But guess what? They work. They work to a point that we all have to get on the same line and talk about it. You want us to be accountable to the taxpayer, this is my accountability."

Thane, however, said Barone's lack of specific examples confused her.

"I would say that the council has always budgeted for the positions that were filled and the departments hired within the budget that the common councils set and there was no hiring outside of that budgeted number of positions, so I'm confused," she said. "I'm just confused as to what you're talking about, it seems myth-like, because you can't point to specifics."

During Tuesday's meeting, members of the Amsterdam Police Department also addressed the council regarding the issue.

"I strongly urge the council to vote against this," Police Chief Gregory Culick said. "Our problem with the police department is if I try to put somebody on [the department] because we have a position slated for retirement this month, I already have three empty positions. We've given up three positions since I've been here in 2011; we've done our part. There are some essential jobs in this city and some non-essential jobs. ... People call, we have to respond."

Culick said the department isn't doing anything outside of its budget. He wants to fill the position of a retired officer.

Rob Richardson, patrol lieutenant for the city's police department, tried to convince the council to reconsider.

"In my department alone, by December of this year, you'll have 11 members of a 39-man unit that can retire," Richardson said.

He wanted to know what would happen if most of those officers retired.

Barone said the council would have to take a look at the cost of retirement before deciding how many positions could be refilled.

"There are some extraordinary costs we pay for an employee when they retire, so we'd have to take a look at the costs, but we're not going to leave 11 men off of a police force, of course," he said. "So, what I'm saying is if we're going to run this budget right then I think we should at least be afforded the opportunity to look at where we are and what we're doing."

Owen Fuhs, a city police sergeant who's been in law enforcement for more than 34 years, announced to the council that he'll be retiring at the end of this month. He also urged the council to reconsider its decision.

"The wheel must turn," Fuhs said. "When I go, someone has to replace me. You can't freeze the wheel. People have to step up, people have to take the responsibility and police officers need to see that wheel turn, because they can't stay in one place, they want to advance, they want to reach goals, just like I did."

After listening to the other side, Barone suggested the resolution be tabled so he can discuss amendment options with the city attorney.

He said he doesn't like the idea of a hiring freeze, but the budget could use the extra help.

"What are hiring freezes meant for? We're in budgeting constraints but nobody seems to realize," he said. "It's a tough thing; nobody likes hiring freezes but guess what? When you're on budget crunches, it's a good thing to have them."

In other news, the Common Council will discuss an ordinance that was on Tuesday's agenda at its next meeting May 20. The ordinance calls for an increase in the number of members on the city Golf Commission. Currently there are six members including a non-voting alderman. The council wants there to be seven members plus a non-voting alderman. The ordinance would shift the alderman liaison appointment to the council, instead of the mayor. The mayor would be able to appoint two of the seven commissioners.

Golf Commission Chairwoman Michele Russo said she hopes the council will change its mind.

"I'm hoping this council will do the right thing and allow the current Golf Commission to continue advancing the golf course," Russo said. "We're willing to work with the council. We're looking to move the golf course in the right direction and have a place that everyone can appreciate."


Comments made about this article - 1 Total

Posted By: On: 5/7/2014

Title: coumcil debates hiring freeze

Mr. Barone has to grow up and act like the adult he is. He contradicts everything just as he did as a county supervisor.

Comment on this article

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