Montgomery County considers charter revisions

FONDA – The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors’ Education and Government Committee discussed possible changes to the text of the county charter after a presentation Tuesday by the New York State Association of Counties.

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario and Assistant Counsel Patrick Cummings outlined suggestions for the board to consider as possible amendments to the new charter, which calls for a new county legislature-and-executive form of government and is set to take effect next year.

Many of NYSAC’s suggestions involved fixing typographical errors and clearing up confusing language and discrepancies.

The Municipal Home Rule Law allows either the current board or the yet-to-be-elected legislature to amend the charter. Acquario pointed out that the newly elected legislators could disagree with any amendments made by the current board.

St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, who is running for the position of county executive, said the present board should try to amend the charter.

“We would be setting the next government up for failure if we leave this charter for them,” he said. “It’d make no sense.”

Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor Barbara Wheeler agreed.

“If we can start this off better, then isn’t that our duty?” she said. “I don’t think it would infringe in any way on the next board.”

County Attorney Douglas Landon said it wouldn’t be useful for the current board to merely make recommendations for the future legislature.

“That would be five months of work for nothing,” Landon said. “This board has the ability to make the changes themselves.”

He urged the board to take its time deciding on any corrections to the charter.

“Let’s not forget it was put together in a tight vacuum of time in early 2012, and there are arguable errors and inconsistencies,” he said. “But don’t rush through making corrections on these changes.”

Acquario said charter amendments can be proposed by any member of the county legislature, the county executive or the legislative bodies of the towns and villages in the county – but not the city of Amsterdam.

“It blocks the city, and the language is inconsistent with other county charters, and state law,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the right thing for people of Montgomery County. It’s absurd. The county knows no boundaries or districts – you’re supposed to be acting on behalf of the county as a whole.”

Acquario also took issue with the county executive portion of the charter. He said the document confuses the role of executive with that of the elected treasurer. The charter clearly states that the executive is the county’s chief fiscal officer, yet throughout the document, the treasurer and executive share the same responsibilities.

Acquario suggested eliminating references to the treasurer from the section about the executive so the executive is the only acting as the county’s chief fiscal officer.

Acquario praised the board for how much it accomplished in a short time.

“The fact that you were able to construct this charter and vote on it in such a small amount of time is monumental,” he said. “This is a complicated transitional process; it’s a tough thing to do, but you guys definitively have the ability.”

Acquario left the board with the question of whether the charter could be amended with just a board resolution or if a public referendum would be necessary.

Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington, chairman of the Education and Government Committee, asked that Landon and the NYSAC officials review the Municipal Home Rule Law and come up with an answer to that question. The committee will reconvene Aug. 13 to make a decision.