By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Amsterdam Controller Ronald Wierzbicki passed away Friday after a brief illness.
News of Wierzbicki’s passing came as a shock to all in City Hall, who were notified Friday by family members.
Flags outside were immediately lowered to half-staff.
“Though we had issues with operations or whatever was going on within City Hall, Ron Wierzbicki was a very nice man and so he will be sorely missed by many,” said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. “I’m very sad for his family and for all of us. He was really trying here.
“This is just shocking and surprising and very sad.”
Wierzbicki, who was 75, officially started his post as city controller in January.
“I think the work that he was doing was important, and he had identified discrepancies and issues within the department and we were beginning to get outside help to address the issues,” Thane said. “And, so, in all actuality that will assist us through this difficult time.
“As gruff as he was, he was also as endearing and that’s really the truth,” she added.
Born and raised in the city of Amsterdam, Wierzbicki lived at his home on 49 Stewart St., with his wife Jean.
In 2009, he ran for the position of alderman to represent the 3rd Ward, where he’s been living in for more than 30 years.
He spent more than 30 years working as both an auditor and an audit manager for several state agencies before running for the seat.
“Amsterdam is my home,” he said during the 2009 campaign. “Amsterdam matters to me.”
In 2011, he ran again for a city office, that time for the controller’s seat, and that November he came out the victor.
He was sworn in to office in January for a four-year term and has tried for the past year to help put city finances in order.
Helping Wierzbicki through his campaigns was friend and former Amsterdam mayor John Duchessi.
Duchessi said their friendship began at the turn of the century and enjoyed his discussions about with Wierzbicki about the city, something he really cared about.
The two were members of the Elks Lodge 101 in the city.
Together they shared a June 14 birthday, Flag Day, and each year Duchessi said the two would meet at the Elks Lodge after Flag Day ceremonies and toast to one another.
“When I first met Ron he really did not reveal himself to be the warm and generous person that he truly was,” Duchessi said. “He was kind of gruff and put me to the test as mayor. Our discussions were pointed, but I appreciated that and it was one of the things I really liked about him.”
The two supported one another during their campaigns, and Duchessi said he will miss the times spent just talking politics with him.
“He would stop by from time to time and we would sit on the porch and enjoy maybe a cigar and some warm conversation about city politics, and he really loved that,” Duchessi said.
The news of his passing was, like it was to many others, a shock.
“It’s always that constant reminder that we need to hold our friends dear and remember that life can be short,” Duchessi said. “I’m going to miss those pointed discussions with him.
“Unless you knew Ron closely, than you didn’t know Ron. I think sometimes his public persona was just much different than his private personality.”
Wierzbicki was an active member of the Elks Lodge, something Duchessi said was a big part of his life.
“That was very important to him and I think he served in every capacity there over the years. He was a good Elk.”
Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas, also a member of the Elks Lodge 101, said Friday afternoon that the news came as a surprise.
“It was quite a shock really. I am personally saddened to hear of Ron’s passing, as a colleague, as a brother Elk, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his entire family.”
Dybas said he heard Wierzbicki had been in the hospital and Friday he found out that he was running a temperature that had doctors concerned.
No more than an hour later, he and others at City Hall heard the news.
His first year in office hadn’t been an easy road for Wierzbicki.
Before his passing, he was in the middle of bringing in consultants to help get the books in order and help to rectify discrepancies that he found in the accounting system.
First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel said Friday that he knew Wierzbicki had been under a lot of stress over the past few weeks.
“We had talked about it and he was very upset that he couldn’t do a better job with what he had to work with,” Isabel said. “I still hold a lot of respect for Ron, he was a good man.
“I’m just very sorry for what happened.”
Isabel said Wierzbicki was trying to do his best, and believed that other controllers always had a right-hand individual to help get the controller situated into the position.
Isabel said Wierzbicki didn’t have that, and added that after recent conversations following finance-related meetings, it was obvious that the pressure was effecting his health.
“He was left doing it himself and I think he tried to do the best he could,” Isabel said. “I’m was stunned today.”
Thane and other officials sat down with the Finance Department Friday afternoon to work out a plan of action to keep the department running.
According to a news release sent from Thane on Friday, Deputy Controller Joy Chiarello will immediately assume day-to-day oversight of the department until an interim appointment under provisions of the City Charter is made by the Common Council within the next 30 days.
Second Ward Supervisor and city of Amsterdam Democratic Chairman Jeff Stark said in a statement that over the years Wierzbicki became more than a colleague, he became a good friend.
“During the past year, no one in city government has worked harder than Ron Wierzbicki,” he said. “Ron worked long nights and gave up time with his family to solve problems that were years in the making.”
Stark said in the statement that the stress of the job and “the level of unfair criticism undoubtedly contributed to his untimely passing.”
“The city has lost one its best,” he said, “and he will be sorely missed.”
In a statement released by the Montgomery County Democratic Party, Democratic Committee Secretary Thom Georgia said the party is both shocked and saddened by Wierzbicki’s passing.
“Mr. Wierzbicki’s drive for excellence in his elected position is emblematic of his character, tenacity and strength,” Georgia said in the statement. “We fondly remember our fallen friend for these quality and honor his contribution to our city, our county and to our party.”
All of the city officials expressed their deepest sympathies for Wierzbicki’s family during this difficult time.