Montgomery County charter change given final approval
New legislature to be seated Jan. 1, 2014
MONTGOMERY COUNTY The structure of Montgomery County government is in for a drastic change in 2014 after more than two centuries.
County residents approved by a wide margin in both the city of Amsterdam and nine of the county’s 10 towns a new charter to replace the current board of 15 supervisors.
“The people spoke,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman John Thayer, “I expressed opposition to parts of the charter, but the people wanted it, so we’re moving forward.”
The new county government will be made up of a nine-member legislature and an elected county executive.
The legislators will be elected by the residents of each of nine electoral districts and serve a three-year term. The executive will serve a four-year term and lead the county’s day-to-day operations.
The charter commission proposed a district map that divides the county into nine sections, each with a population of roughly 5,580. Under that map, Amsterdam would be divided into three sections, but Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger, who chaired the commission, said the Board of Elections will have to sign off on each district.
Swanger said Wednesday morning he was very pleased with the 7,964-4,984 vote.
“This is a clear message that the people of Montgomery County want a change,” he said.
Even so, the Board of Elections couldn’t be sure of the results until Wednesday afternoon. In order to pass, the charter had to take a majority of the vote in both the city and the combined 10 towns. Swanger explained this was a state decision designed to prevent the city from forcing its will on towns with smaller populations.
Prior to the election, the city was understood to be more favorable toward the charter revision than the rural towns. Even with such a solid majority, until the votes were broken down by municipality, there was a chance the charter could have been voted down.
The towns passed it with a 59 percent majority and the city with 66.5 percent.
The new charter might be the first change to county government in a couple hundred years, but it’s not the first attempt at change. Back in 2005, a proposal to create a county president made it all the way to a referendum but was voted down by a wide majority. Decades ago, similar systems were proposed but never came to fruition.
Swanger credited the change to forward-thinking voters and the efforts of the commission.
“Members of the commission took it upon ourselves to get the word out,” he said, “We got on the radio, in the papers, held public forums, we even started a Facebook page so people would know what they were voting for. That helped.”
On Dec. 31, 2013, terms of the current supervisors will expire. In November 2013, elections will be held for both the town supervisors — who will continue to run their individual governments but have no role in the new legislature — and the new county legislators and executive positions. This leaves the current town supervisors with a choice between sticking with their towns or running to stay at the county level.
County supervisors representing the city don’t have any city duties, so they won’t have to make that decision. Though he may be out of a job, Amsterdam Second Ward Supervisor Jeffrey Stark supports the new charter.
“I was the original proponent of the charter,” he said. “Streamlining the county government was what I campaigned on. It’s a promise I kept.”
Stark said he is too busy working on the county budget to think about running for the new legislature, but will decide closer to the actual election.
Thayer said several supervisors told him they won’t be running for the same job at the next election, “but I don’t know if that means they plan to run for the new legislature.”
Thayer couldn’t be sure of his own plans so far out, either, but said he’s leaning toward running for a seat in the legislature.
Swanger said there are no clear contenders for the new positions at this point, but he expects to see hopefuls start to surface in the next six months.