Duchessi talks about county government

Former Amsterdam mayor and current Montgomery County Legislator John Duchessi said his experiences as mayor with the old county government played a role in his decision to run for office again when the county’s new form of government was approved by voters in 2012.

“I didn’t see myself getting back into politics,” said Duchessi regarding to his time after serving as mayor. “I was quite happy doing what I was doing – municipal consulting, and hopes of designing handbags again. But it was because of the new form of government that I became interested.”

“I had some very very strong feelings about the supervisor form of government that were based on my time as mayor,” said Duchessi. “I had some revealing moments. When I was mayor, I was fighting for a different method of sales tax distribution.”

Duchessi explained he wanted see sales taxes distributed based on population rather than property values, which would result in a greater share for the city.

“There was no interest in doing that on the part of those county supervisors,” said Duchessi. “The reason for that was because they kinda took care of each other in other ways with the road program and other things like that. And they didn’t want me upsetting that apple cart. I wasn’t a very popular guy up-county. But I’m a fighter and I was happy to fight on behalf of the city.”

Duchessi said the weighted voting and supervisors sharing legislative and executive authority made for poor system.

“I was very interested, and still am to this day, in ensuring there is a clear separation between legislative authority and executive authority,” said Duchessi.

Duchessi spoke highly of the new form of government. “I really like the people I work with on the county level,” said Duchessi about his fellow county officials and employees. “Their input, their work ethic has been great, every one of them.”

“Where we do differ, we have not carried over the disagreements. That’s pretty rare,” he said. “So we’re into our second year and I’m very happy to see that. I had some sharp differences right in the beginning. But no one’s holding a grudge or working like that. That is such a plus and that’s something that I want to make sure we continue to nurture. We have a good working relationship with one another.”

When I asked him if there was any area where the new government could improve, Duchessi pointed out the budget process.

“With that separation of powers, we have to understand the board has the power of the purse in making the budget. I didn’t like the way the budget was made last year. Because what happened is a couple of chairman from individual departments went in and talked with the county executive and then they reported back and that’s how the budget was crafted for those individual sections. I think we have a greater responsibility than that. I would like this year to see the department heads come before the legislative body and justify their budget and take questions.”

“It was fine in transition, but now that transition is over,” said Duchessi. “I’m very big on doing these things in the open, in public, and so I would like to see that process take place in a more public forum.”

Given that this fiscal year’s budget included a 2.9% property tax increase, I posed another question to Duchessi. “When I interviewed [County Executive Matt Ossenfort] earlier last year, he said we were going to see spending increases because some of the departments didn’t have the money to do what they needed to do. Do you think the tax increase was justified to get the county to where it needs to be?” I asked.

“In general, I would say yes,” said Duchessi. “Because one of the areas where the county executive is performing is he has tied those increases to specific plans for improvements and getting the job done. So I think he understands his responsibility very clearly.”

Near the close of our conversation, Duchessi said that he felt more at ease in his new role in government because the political ambition of his earlier years has waned. He likened himself to a “rich man playing poker.”

“I can call every hand, and I don’t care if I win or lose,” said Duchessi.

Please also read the first installment of this interview, Duchessi talks about economic development, comprehensive plan.

Tim Becker

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