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County legislature discusses limiting executive’s contractual powers and abolishing committees

FONDA – Committees and contracts were two of the topics Montgomery County legislators discussed Tuesday in a “committee of the whole” meeting.

“It’s not a meeting to have resolutions, because it’s just a committee meeting,” Legislature Chairman Thomas Quackenbush said. “The county executive and I have been talking quite a bit.”

Quackenbush also said several questions have come up regarding procedure under the new county charter. Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger, who chaired the Charter Commission, also attended the meeting.

Quackenbush and District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, chairman of the Finance Committee, met earlier in the day as the audit committee. The charter calls for a third legislator to serve on the audit committee, and legislators discussed the idea of rotating that responsibility.

“It’s your appointment as the legislative body,” Swanger said.

Legislators talked about abolishing committees altogether.

“I was planning to bring this up tonight,” District 9 Legislator Alexander S. Kuchis said. “Is the committee structure really necessary?”

Under the Board of Supervisors form of government, seven standing committees met regularly, and the chairman of each committee was the liaison to department heads. Under the county charter, that role is filled by County Executive Matt Ossenfort.

“The charter is crystal clear,” Swanger told legislators. “All staff report to the county executive.”

The charter also gives the county executive the power to negotiate contracts.

“We want the county executive to be able to move forward and run the county,” Swanger said. “That’s what he was elected to do. What we talked about was not tying his hands.”

Legislators talked about whether contracts for more than a certain dollar figure should go through the board before being signed by the executive.

Ossenfort said he has contacted other county executives about whether they are under such a threshold.

“It runs the gamut from no threshold [to a large one],” he said. “In counties where you have a bitter relationship [between the board and the executive] you see a small threshold. One county executive has a $50,000 threshold and says it works very well.”

Ossenfort said he would like to see a $100,000 threshold, but he is willing to settle for less.

“If you want to go lower, we’ll work through that,” he said. “I don’t want to pick a fight here.”

Swanger said the Charter Commission members discussed putting a financial threshold in the charter but decided to leave that question to the legislature.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Martin Kelly’s first name. This has been corrected.

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About John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.

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