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Friday, August 29, 2014
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A change for Amsterdam

Saturday, June 01, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Voters in the city of Amsterdam have a chance Tuesday to have a direct influence on how their government operates.

A ballot referendum seeks to change the city charter so the controller's post would be an appointed job instead of an elected one. The measure also seeks to change the way city government crafts its budget.

We believe both proposals will help City Hall better function, and voters should approve the changes.

The controller's position is too important for just anyone to have. As the city's chief financial officer, the person is in charge of keeping tabs on every dollar that comes in, and every dollar that goes out. It's a job that requires a specific education, set of skills and experience.

Right now, because the controller is elected, the only qualifications for the job are for a person to be 18 and an Amsterdam city resident. That means just about anyone can come in off the street, circulate petitions around town, say the right words, and get elected.

The city isn't doing itself any favors by keeping things the way they are. If the wrong person gets elected to that post, it could be a major disaster for Amsterdam.

It's also not a good idea to have position where a new person could come in every four years. Institutional memory is important for such a position, which won't happen if that person is replaced every four years.

Likewise, making the position an appointed one enables the city to replace that person if they're not up to the job. Right now, if it's clear that the wrong person was elected to the post, Amsterdam's stuck with them for at least four years. It opens the city to all sorts of problems.

The change in the budget process is not a new way doing things, but instead goes back to an old system that worked just fine and is used by governments at nearly every level.

Right now, a budget review committee composed of the Common Council, the mayor and controller gathers requests from department heads and reviews them line-by-line and votes on changes that are made. Anyone who has watched the city budget process since its inception can see this hasn't worked. It's inefficient, creates chaos, and eliminates the separation of powers needed for an effective government.

The old system is better. The mayor, as chief executive who runs the day-to-day operations of City Hall, works with the controller and crafts a balanced budget. The plan will already include proposed spending cuts or increases, along with rates for property taxes and user fees (a fancy term for taxes). The council, as the legislative body that controls the purse strings, then makes adjustments, votes on a plan and sends it back to the mayor for a final sign-off or veto. If the mayor rejects it, the council can override that veto.

It's easy, it's simple, and it holds elected officials more accountable for their decisions. Those are good things.

While this referendum isn't as exciting as an actual race for mayor or alderman, it's important because it will affect the way business is conducted at City Hall.

The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, and the vote takes place in City Hall. We're concerned that the location, coupled with all the road construction taking place in the middle of the city, will discourage people from turning out, but we understand the need to keep the costs down. We encourage registered voters in Amsterdam to educate themselves about the proposal and take the time to vote.

After all, it is your government. You should have the final say in how it's run.

     

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