Saturday, December 20, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,

Staying in control of the controller

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

A deafening minority of Amster-dam voters believe they know best when it comes to hiring a bean counter.

On Tuesday, a cacophony of 573 people made their way through downtown construction and up to City Hall to decide how the position of city controller is filled: either at the hand of this same madding crowd or, more sensibly, through an interview process conducted by the mayor and sanctioned by the Common Council. Never the lot to let logic and common sense spoil an opportunity to drop the ball, the voters decided the controller's should remain an elected post. The final tally, with a handful of absentees thrown into the mix, was 417-230.

The decision was the wrong one. As has been argued in this space previously.

This is not an argument against an American's right to vote, as some would have us believe. So let's bury that uninvited notion at the outset. It's more about which jobs that support our lives and livelihoods should be hired out and which should be voted in.

We need to vote for our accountant? Seriously? How about city historian? Or attorney? (Wait. ... That last one might make a little sense.) We digress.

The job of controller -- not unlike the jobs of police chief, heart surgeon, pilot -- takes specific skills, knowledge and training. It takes a lot more knowledge in a much narrower field than that maintained by the average person. These professionals have studied in their chosen fields, honed their skills, and prepared themselves for the possibility of one day landing a leadership role befitting their accomplishments.

Imagine getting on an airplane and hearing the flight attendant announce that:: "Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are accepting nominations for pilot. Once we have the field narrowed to a few, we will then vote. The winner from among you will be flying us to Orlando." Same thing. Only, with less danger.

Granted, many (read: most) political positions command nothing more than an ability to sit upright and take nourishment. A mayor, for example, need only know how to maneuver a giant pair of scissors near an out-sized grand opening ribbon, know which end of a gavel (or trowel) is the business end, and delegate to those around him or her who have been selected for their ability to say "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am."

And please don't argue that if it was left to the mayor, the controller would wind up as a hand-picked crony -- which, yes, is entirely possible. But that's also exactly what the electoral process delivers. Local elections in small communities are, more often than not, popularity contests. Especially when it comes to letting the general public pick their new accountant. The majority of us can't handle long division; we're supposed to use our vote to determine who can? The crony might at least know enough to carry the 2.

We suggest Mayor Ann Thane take her giant grand opening scissors and cut the salary -- do it with legislation -- of the elected controller's position. Make it a $5,000-a-year job. The person would have only to show up in time for lunch and stay out of the way of the real thinkers. Also, maybe find deals for office supplies on eBay. Then Thane should take the assistant controller's position, make it a $65,000-a-year job, and fill it with a professional bean counter most suited for the tasks at hand.

The dozens -- nay, scores -- of people who show up to vote and believe they know better how to hire a controller would still get to do so. And the mayor -- with the blessing of the Common Council -- would have the final say on the professional staffing of this figurehead's office.


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