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Canajoharie, NY ,

County taking a look at charter

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - Updated: 1:27 AM


For the C-S-E

FONDA -- Montgomery County officials will begin discussing a series of amendments to the county charter that could take several months to complete.

Education and Government Committee Chairman and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz said the county is in the process of reviewing comments by county department heads, who were asked last month to review the charter, and provide feedback about possible changes.

"My feeling was that the department heads know how their departments run. So we asked them for their feedback, and what we are working with now is a fully marked up charter that has quite a few comments," Weitz said.

He said next week he and county attorney Douglas Landon will review the comments, determine what needs to be changed, and whether they can be changed by a local law, or if a referendum is necessary.

Landon said the determinations will be forwarded to Weitz's committee, and then the full legislative board for approval.

"The goal is by May or June to have a fully worked up amended version of the charter," Weitz said.

Some amendments, depending on the content, will require a public referendum in November.

The county has a deadline for a potential ballot proposition but Landon said the legislature has made significant progress since the new year.

"We do have a head start in a sense," Landon said. "We have the suggestions that the representatives from NYSAC [state Association of Counties] identified last year."

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario went over the association's suggestions with the now-defunct board of supervisors last year, pointing to operational issues in the language.

"The charter is like a reference document," Weitz said. "In 10, 20 or 30 years, whoever is sitting in the executive office will know what their powers are. It is our duty to clarify this charter so its a governing document that will guide Montgomery County's future."

The county legislature hired a research analyst earlier this year to assist the legislature with research and drafting a revised document. She will also be involved with the discussion.

According to Weitz, some of that research has involved referencing other county charters and comparing it to Montgomery County to determine what makes sense and what is standard practice throughout the region.

While the county has set an aggressive timetable to get the charter revisions done, Weitz said he plans to take it one step at a time.

"We are going to have to take it as it goes," Weitz said. "Every time we go back we keep finding new things that need clarification. There is no way to tell how long its going to take."

There is no law that requires the charter to be amended as a whole, Weitz said, adding that taking it by "piecemeal" may be an option. So the legislature could select a handful of clauses in the charter that goes to referendum this year, with the remaining changes being implemented the following year.

"This is an enormous task so we are definitely spending time to go through this and get it right," Weitz said. "It would be great to get it all done but if we sit down and go through this, it may be that we have to it a little at a time. My goal is for when the first term of the legislature is up in three years, we have a charter that the next term of legislators can work with."


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