NY State’s “Super Control Board” idea and what it means to Amsterdam

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Government
Tags: , ,


I recently ran across an article from the NY Post, published last year that was interesting to me given the idea that’s been floating around in the news and in discussions lately of bringing in a state control board to sort out Amsterdam’s finances.

The Post reports that legislation is currently under review by state lawmakers to create one centralized “super control board” to handle a large number of cities, towns and counties in NY who are facing severe fiscal problems.

According to the Post, the key factor that control boards have is this…

[The control board] wouldn’t completely replace the locally elected officials. But it would provide them with the political “cover’’ many privately say they need to stand up to the powerful unions, which have consistently resisted spending cuts.

So in the context of the traditional battle between labor vs management, it’s not hard to see why Republicans (and Republican leaning pundits) might favor this type of intervention. According to the Post, control boards have proven to be an effective union-busting method.

Personally, I am neutral as far as unions go. I think they are beneficial in balancing the power of big business, however big unions can also make it difficult for small cities like Amsterdam to cut costs when it needs to. And I think right now, the city needs to cut costs in order to stay healthy long-term.

However, I believe that calling for a control board at this point is premature. Deputy Controller David Mitchell has – in fact – made good progress in correcting the city’s finances in the nine months that he has been at the job so far. He’s reconciled nearly half the accounts and has succeeded in finally getting our AUD report out the door. Additional accountants were also hired in October to work on the project.

I agree with the critics who say that both the Mayor and Common Council should have started a lot sooner on tackling this problem. But you’d have to have blinders on (or maybe have an agenda?) to not acknowledge the progress that has been made this past year. 

Furthermore, I believe the current Controller-elect and Aldermen-elect have a clear mandate to fix things, not throw up their hands and give up. Obviously, if a control board turns out to be the best option, then they have to do what’s right. But if they don’t even to try to fix the problems they’ve been tasked to solve, then I think they will have failed the voters who elected them. I think the current plan of action, along with the new council and controller, need at least another year before a decision is made on asking for a control board.

Also worth checking out is a widely circulated AP story on the reactions of some NY state mayors to the idea of a “super control board.” The article reveals some bleak statistics quoted from State Controller DiNapoli on the state of NY municipalities. In short, Amsterdam is by no means alone in our financial plight. This doesn’t absolve any of our leaders of their responsibility, but for me, it puts the problem into a larger perspective;  our economic troubles are intrinsically tied to the performance of NY State.

  1. diane says:

    As one of the aldermen-elect, our first and foremost duty is to get the finances under control. We along with the new controller, are all on the same page. At this point we are still formulating our plans and will keep you and all apprised of our plans.

    Thank you,

    Diane Hatzenbuhler

  2. diane says:

    The plan is not to throw in the towel………has only been discussed by Alderman Dybas. However, he thinks they should come in, and as I understand it, he is asking them to do so. The city did not get here overnight, and therefore it will take time to correct the many issues. The CPA working on the capital projects reconciliation expects to have her part completed by the end of Dec. The other group is starting by tomorrow. As much as I would like answers tomorrow, it just is not possible.. 😦

    • Tim Becker says:

      Well sounds like you are taking a level-headed approach. I’m not sure how Dybas can unilaterally call in a control board?

      Seems to me that in regards to the accounting problems, the CC can really only provide accountability and oversight. The actual work has to be done by the controller’s staff and the various contractors. But I think the current situation shows that the CC has to take a more active role in the future – if things aren’t going right in the controller’s office, it’s not just the controller’s problem, it’s everyone’s.

  3. wildthane says:

    It’s been a productive few weeks talking with the new members of the City Council. Matt Agresta has readily taken up his position with confidence and a willingness to learn. It’s refreshing to have open conversations about a variety of topics without rancor or disrespect. I hope this air of concilliation and cooperation persists.

    It’s my opinion that the outgoing Council has been unfairly portrayed by the Recorder as causing the problems we are experiencing in the Controller’s office. The systemic problems in that office go back for a decade or more. It has also been incorrectly posited that we have done nothing to manage these problems – in fact, this is the first Council since I’d taken office that had listened to our concerns and responsibly acted. We identified long-standing difficiencies and took action to remedy them. We hired an accountant in 2012 to assist the newly-elected Controller with assessing the books, training staff and making recommendations for improvements. We strengthened the job description of the Deputy Controller, adding educational and experiential qualifications, and hired an individual with an extensive background in straightening out financial matters for large corporations. We hired two additional accounting firms to reconcile bank accounts with the general ledger and new KVS software, as well as reconcile all capital project accounts. This will get us to a point where we can knowingly make decisions about city operations.

    It seems that, with the findings of the State Records Management Report, everyone has forgotten that we invited the State auditors in to begin with. Our first required response was issued in a timely fashion and we have drafted an initial Corrective Action Plan which is due back to the State within 90 days upon receipt of the final report. We have not yet received this document.

    The City is NOT going under. To suggest this is unnecessarily incendiary and irresponsible. The last thing anyone needs in a time of difficulty is to panic or act rashly. The prudent course is to allow time for these hired experts to work through this very detailed business and discuss realities instead of fearfully meandering around a future we cannot yet know.

    “Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.” ~ Quintus Horatius Flaccus

  4. diane says:

    It was Ron W. the late controller who contacted the state controller’s office, several months before his untimely death. I am not the only one that knows this, as he was extremely concerned about the
    shape of the books. Yes, the problems do go way back, but the consultants kept saying the same thing, stop spending, we do not have the receivables to support it. That was in a Dec 2012 report.
    We are moving forward now, and that is what is important.

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