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Controller needs to get with the program

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - Updated: 7:30 PM

It's unfortunate that the Amsterdam Common Council has called in the cavalry once again to bail out city Controller Ronald Wierzbicki. Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to hire an additional employee to help straighten out the city's records, and on Tuesday, aldermen agreed to hire a consultant to help the controller sort out the books in order to file required financial reports to the state.

This is on top of the city spending money on a consultant earlier this year to help Wierzbicki file the same reports, which should have been sent in under the previous controller's administration. Also, during this year's budget process, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis had to swoop in and rescue the controller when he was having difficulty accounting for Amsterdam's expenses and revenues.

How much more help does Wierzbicki need?

When Wierzbicki ran for the post last year, he touted his years of experience as an accountant and auditor as reasons people should cast their votes for him. We can't help but wonder if Wierzbicki fully understood what's required to be the caretaker of Amsterdam's finances, however.

Part of the job means using state-of-the-art accounting computer software the city installed before he took office. If the controller is not familiar with the system, he needs to avail himself of the training offered so he can get up to speed.

If he's uncomfortable using the system, or other computer programs designed to make tracking city finances easier, too bad. It's 2012, and for the controller to show up at council meetings armed only with a pad of paper and a pencil and without a laptop to access financial records is inexcusable. To be unable, or unwilling, to use the programs designed to keep a more accurate accounting of revenues and expenses is unacceptable.

It also does a disservice to the city and the people who voted for him.

The city is lucky right now because the Common Council, as a collective, is much more engaged in the process than previous legislative bodies, and lawmakers appear more willing to roll up their sleeves and do some work on Amsterdam's behalf.

The hurdle aldermen face right now is they can't get the financial information they need to effectively and efficiently govern the city. Each time they meet in the council chambers at City Hall, council members ask for information about specific accounts in the budget, or how much revenue is coming in, or how much the city has in reserves, only to be told the information isn't available at that time.

You can't effectively keep an eye on a $27 million budget with ledger paper, a No. 2 pencil and an abacus. Municipal finances are more complex and require a knowledge and skill set beyond an ability to draw up a balance sheet.

We don't doubt Wierzbicki's intentions to do the best job possible, but we have to question why the city has to continue hiring people -- whether it's a full-time position or a consultant -- to do the job he was elected to do. We understand the controller walked into a mess when he took office Jan. 1, but the city already paid someone earlier in the year to help him straighten out some of the records. City officials can't continue to throw money at the problem. It's bad business.

Wierzbicki needs to bring himself up to speed and familiarize himself with the tools and resources -- and training -- already available to help him run a 21st century municipal finance department. If he can't, or won't, then he needs to evaluate whether he's up to the task of being Amsterdam's controller.

     

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