[JK: Link to video fixed]
In our form of government, the Commissioner of Finance is the chief financial officer of the city. This job involves:
- the responsibility for 8 different City budgets every year
- working closely with the other Council members and all the city departments to balance and prioritize their needs within the limits of estimated revenues, the New York State 2% tax cap, and the interests of the taxpayer
- overseeing the implementation of the budget
- maintaining a balanced budget
- making budget adjustments as the year progresses
- making borrowing and investment decisions
This job requires many skills. For instance:
- attention to details
- a mind for numbers
- an understanding of the regulations that determine how money is raised and how it is spent in a municipality
- the ability to hire skilled staff to assist in managing all these responsibilities.
When we vote for a candidate for Commissioner of Finance we are, in effect, hiring a person to do this job.
There is no question that there are issues to consider outside of the skills required to manage the city’s finances. In our form of government the person holding this office will also, as a City Council member, be in a position to vote on important issues facing the city such as the hospital expansion, how the city should grow, bike trails, etc.
I am concerned, though, that many voters may underestimate how much damage a person can do if they are put in charge of the Finance Department and lack the necessary knowledge and skills to manage it.
At the League of Women Voters forum last week, voters were finally given the opportunity to compare the two candidates running for Commissioner of Finance this year: the current Commissioner, Michele Madigan, and Patty Morrison. The contrast between the performances of the two candidates was striking. Ms. Morrison seemed completely at sea when she had to address questions about the Finance Office. It appeared that she saw no need to prepare herself for this event by learning about the responsibilities and workings of the department she seeks to head. Instead she relied on pushing vague sound bite type issues about
the alleged unresponsiveness of government which she promised to remedy.
In contrast, Ms. Madigan talked in detail about what the Finance Office does and the many things that she has done to both make that office more efficient and to utilize that office in forwarding the progress of the city.
Voters need to get away from indulging in focusing on personality when assessing candidates. Elections are about choosing the most competent person to do a job, not on choosing who you would like to invite to a dinner party or who you would like to have a beer with.
I know that the readers of this blog are busy people but I urge them to take the time to watch the approximately twenty-five minutes of the League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Night during which Ms. Madigan and Ms. Morrison were questioned and decide for themselves who is best suited to take on the responsibility of managing our city’s finances.
The segment where the two debated can be found here At 1:25