Role of county attorney, dept. head qualifications discussed

Montgomery County legislators are considering several possible changes to the county charter, including 17 just in Article 8, which deals with the Department of Law under the direction of the county attorney.

District 4 Legislator Ryan B. Weitz, chairman of the legislature’s Education and Government Committee, outlined some of the proposed changes at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

The county charter currently states that if the county executive and the legislature are in conflict, the county attorney must represent the interests of the legislature. Some committee members said the county attorney should represent the executive.

County Attorney Douglas E. Landon said he could see both sides of the issue.

“It would seem logical that the county attorney represent the executive,” he said. “However, there is language in the charter that appears to give the county executive the authority to hire outside counsel.”

In addition, the current charter does not prohibit the county attorney from representing other municipalities. Weitz asked committee members to consider whether the charter should be changed to add that restriction; most said it wasn’t necessary.

Landon said he didn’t think so either.

“The best barometer of this is that in 16 years as county attorney, there was never an instance that was a problem,” he said.

Legislators are discussing changes in other articles of the charter as well, such as whether department heads and deputies should be subject to educational requirements. Under the current charter, the positions of purchasing agent and director of economic development and planning are the only ones with specific educational requirements. The director of public health must also be approved by the state Department of Health.

Other possible changes include expanding residency requirements to include the adjoining counties of Saratoga, Schenectady, Fulton, Otsego, Schoharie and Herkimer.

Changes to the charter must be made by means of local laws. The legislature has three options: presenting all the proposed changes individually, presenting them in groups according to which article of the charter they fall under, or presenting all the proposed changes at once.

“I would not recommend Option 1,” Landon said. “That would amount to several hundred local laws.”

Any amendments to the county charter must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the county legislature. Amendments that change the powers and duties of county officials require a referendum.

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.