Council to revisit idea of DPW structure changes

The Amsterdam Common Council took time at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting to review resolutions that were tabled during the previous year. Council members agreed that most of the resolutions were either no longer relevant or needed and should “die”. However one resolution dealing with the structure of the Department of Public Works was brought back to life.

The resolution calls for Department of Public Works (DPW) General Foreman Ray Halgas to report directly to City Engineer Richard Miller. Currently, Halgas reports directly to Mayor Ann Thane.

Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler argued that under the city’s charter, the City Engineer should be the head of the DPW. She said that council approval is required for the mayor to act as a department head, which she said was never given.

Chapter C-37 of the Amsterdam City Charter reads, “Except as otherwise provided by this Charter or by law, all departments, offices and agencies shall be under the direction of the Mayor. Subject to approval of the Common Council, the Mayor may serve as the head of one or more of such departments, offices or agencies or may appoint one person as the head of two or more of them…”

Chapter C-57 of the charter reads, “There shall be a Public Works Department which shall be headed by the Director of Public Works, who shall also be the City Engineer.”

The City Engineer currently does not hold the title of Director of Public Works and there is currently no funding in the city budget for that position.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said, “There is a Director or Public Works position which is currently vacant. What the charter says is that the mayor can act as the head of any department with council approval. In this instance since the council has budgeted nothing for the Director of Public Works, it’s defacto approval that the mayor is acting in that stead.”

Hatzenbuhler said that she had discussed the issue with “previous administrations” and that she did not agree with DeCusatis’ interpretation.

“The City Engineer is the head of DPW, that’s the way it’s always been,” said Hatzenbuhler.

DeCusatis said her statement was “inaccurate.” He went on to explain, “Previously there was a City Engineer that was separate from the Director of Public Works. Then because they had a long-term city engineer at one time, they decided to merge the two positions into one position.”

DeCusatis said that hiring one individual to do both jobs has become nearly impossible because “the duties of the two positions have risen to the point where they are not easily satisfied by one individual and it creates dissatisfaction in that job position.”

“It ended up driving engineers away because they had to be in charge of all the discipline instead of focusing in on engineering,” said Thane.

Thane said that a previous common council decision allowed for the separation of the two positions. Alderman Ron Barone said he wanted to see the resolution and agreed to request copies of the resolution from the City Clerk.

Hatzenbuhler also complained that Thane was approving too much overtime for Halgas.

Thane said that she would occasionally approve an extra hour of overtime for Halgas because he is voluntarily “on-call” twenty four hours, seven days a week to respond to problems in the department.

Alderman Ed Russo said that he had some ideas as to solve the problem but wanted time to gather more information. He recommended that the issue be discussed again in committee next week.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.