There is an important vote coming up for City of Amsterdam residents tomorrow to change the office of the Controller from an elected one to an appointed one, and to change the budget approval process. The vote was announced back in April, and the issues have been discussed before. However given that the Amsterdam Blogsphere has been relatively dormant on political issues lately, we’ve seen little online discussion on this important issue. I have a hunch that this vote snuck up on many (ok, admittedly on me). So here it is, one last chance to cram-debate on this issue before the vote tomorrow.
The ballot proposition reads as follows:
Amendment to the Amsterdam City Charter
Shall Local Law Number 2 of 2013 be approved?
This local law will eliminate the elected office of Controller and replace it with a Controller appointed by the Mayor, subject to approval by the Common Council. This law will also amend the budget process; the new process provides that the Mayor shall submit a Proposed Operating Budget to the Common Council for approval. The Common Council may then make changes to the proposed budget. If the Mayor objects to the changes, then the Common Council could override the Mayor’s objections by a four-fifths super-majority vote.
The vote will be held Tuesday June 4, 2013 at City Hall, 61 Church Street, Amsterdam, NY. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Source
I have yet to read one solid argument for keeping the current budget process, which was initiated under previous Mayor Joe Emanuele’s term. The current “cage match” style of crafting a budget by committee is wildly inefficient and it seems most people are ready to finally ditch this idea.
I believe the change to the Controller’s position, overall, is the right one. I have great faith in the public (probably more than most) to pick the best candidate among several choices. However, our choices are currently limited to those who are willing and able to execute a public campaign. I think that handling a campaign is a fair test for people running for Mayor or Common Council. These people directly represent the public when it comes to creation of the laws we all live by and have to be able to respond to public opinion. However, keeping our city’s finances in order is a fairly objective task, not an ideological one. I see the Controller’s position as a type of department head, similar to a police chief or fire chief, which have always been appointed positions for this very reason.
My only concern with an appointed Controller, is that the selection process may end up in political fighting and backroom deals. Of course, that type of stuff probably happens anyway within parties when it comes to supporting various candidates for any office. But at least now, when a Controller is elected, there is no further argument and the person can get to work knowing the public is behind them.
And I wouldn’t be as concerned about the politics of the situation if it weren’t for what went on back in January of 2012, when the Common Council voted down the appointment of Gerard DeCusatis, only to have the Mayor nominate him again and refuse to appoint anyone else. To me, this action undermined the basic principle of checks and balances which has been a foundational part of our nation’s system of government and which is modeled by all states and localities. The fact that DeCusatis is still in office and that the Common Council subsequently approved a whopping raise for him, is a dead giveaway that behind the scenes politics were in play on this.
One thing I would have liked to see on this proposal is something that would explicitly prohibit the Mayor from selecting the same person again after being voted down once by the Council.
If this proposal passes, we have to remember that as citizens, we still have a right to be heard on the issue of who gets appointed to the Controller’s position, as well as any of the other appointive officers. If this new arrangement goes into effect and doesn’t end up serving the public well, then we need to be ready to demand yet another change.