It's no secret that the city of Amsterdam's finance office has been a mess for quite some time. While it would be easy to point fingers and blame individuals for the problems -- which range from an inability to meet state deadlines when it comes to filing required financial reports to providing simple budget information to lawmakers -- Mayor Ann Thane and the Common Council have come up with a reasonable solution.
On Tuesday, the mayor and the council directed Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis to explore changing the charter so the controller's post goes from being an elected position to an appointed one. The move makes sense on several levels.
For starters, having an elected controller means anyone can run and win election to the seat, regardless of their qualifications and experience. While we'd hope the city electorate would choose a person best suited for the job, there's always the risk that a person could be elected as controller even though they have no business being in that office. As the chief financial officer for the city, the job is too important to take that risk.
Having an elected controller reduces the level of accountability needed to ensure finances are being properly attended. Right now, the controller isn't answerable to anyone at City Hall and doesn't even have to show up to work. The mayor and council can ask for information needed to make informed decisions regarding the budget, but an elected controller can't be forced to comply.
And if the controller isn't up to the task of properly performing the job, the city can't simply replace that person. The controller runs for the office every four years, which means the city is stuck =until the next election, and that could prove disastrous.
Changing the job from an elected to an appointed one means the city can establish minimum levels of qualifications, education and experience required to properly run the finance department. The person would actually be answerable to someone at City Hall -- mostly likely the mayor, who is the city's chief executive -- and can be immediately replaced if they fail to do the job right.
But even more importantly, it creates stability in the office. Amsterdam has lost a lot of institutional knowledge in that department over the years, and there's always the possibility that there could be a change at the top every four years. The city needs someone in that office who not only understands municipal budgets, but how things work in the city of Amsterdam. It's bad for the city to risk having to provide on-the-job training every election cycle, especially at a time when money is tight and there's very little flexibility in budgets.
Tuesday's decision is step one in a multi-step process, and eventually the decision to make the switch will be up to the voters. It is the right move to make, and it's a change that's sorely needed in the city of Amsterdam.