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Saturday, November 01, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
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City charter review: Are big changes on the horizon?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - Updated: 10:37 AM

By CASEY CROUCHER

casey.croucher@recordernews.com

A seven-member city council presided over by a president -- this could be the direction in which Amsterdam is headed.

The Charter Review Comm-ission appointed by Mayor Ann Thane has been drumming up ideas during the past few weeks while reviewing the city's playbook.

Commission Chairman Peter Califano said the nine-member group has been working at separating the city's executive powers from the legislative powers.

"We're in the process of drafting a few measures for the ballot," he said. "I guess our number one change is the structure of the separation of powers in that the mayor would be removed from being the presiding officer of the common council."

Califano said the aldermen would instead be presided over by a council president.

"That would, for all intents and purposes, take the mayor out of sitting on the council," he said. "None of us [on the commission] can think of any other government or level of government in the United States where the executive officer sits on the legislature. It just doesn't happen. It's like if President Obama was controlling Congress. I don't know how this happened here, I don't know why it happened here, but it creates issues, and you need a separation."

Califano said if the mayor was separated from the council then the deputy mayor would have to be removed from the council and appointed differently.

"If we are going to separate powers then we need to really separate powers," he said. "So, instead the deputy mayor would come from department heads and would be chosen by the mayor."

He said the commission hasn't looked at changing the deputy mayor's powers but "there aren't a lot of powers associated with the deputy mayor's position. The position just makes sure the city doesn't fall apart when the mayor is away," he said.

The commission chairman said another proposal the group is working on is the structure of the common council. He said they want to increase the size of the council from five to seven members.

"Five of the members would be the current ward councilors and the other two members would be at-large candidates," he said. "The at-large council members would run for the citywide office instead of the ward-wide office. It's done in a lot of cities and places and it seems to work well."

Syracuse and Utica use that council structure and it works well for their city government, he said.

The commission wants to propose this change to help improve interaction between residents and the council. Califano gave the example of a conflict between a ward resident and his or her ward council member.

"For example, your ward alderperson isn't responding to your calls or you're not happy with what they're doing or you just don't get along with that person," he said. "With this structure you'd have two more people who you voted for who you can reach out to for help."

He said the change would also increase the number of candidates to vote for, create more options, more representation and more people to reach out to if a ward alderperson serves in a busy ward.

"This change will shake things up a bit and strengthen the people's say on the council," he said.

The commission is also looking at changing the city clerk position because the city clerk currently holds two different positions: record keeper for the city and clerk of the common council, Califano said.

The group is proposing the common council have its own clerk and a separate city clerk to perform the traditional functions, he said.

These proposals would add three new positions in the city, but Califano said he doesn't think that would be a big deal because the positions would not be full-time.

"These positions won't be full-time, at least not with the council," he said. "They'll get paid at whatever the council decides because they control their own pay. The clerk of the council might not be full-time either; it could end up being 10 to 15 hours of work."

Califano said the Charter Review Commission usually meets every Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the annex building next to city hall.

"The public is invited to these meetings," he said. "They're public meetings and we urge people to come out."

He said public comment is allowed and the group would "love to hear ideas from residents."

     

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