Albany city lawmakers ask the state to give them more input into commission appointments

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, March 6, 2009

ALBANY -- City lawmakers are looking to assert some control over administration of the Port of Albany.

In the wake of questions about management of the sprawling complex in the South End, the Common Council has asked the state Legislature to grant it the power to confirm the mayor's nominations to the five-member Albany Port District Commission.

The appointments are made by the governor on the recommendation of the mayors of Albany and Rensselaer -- four of the appointments come from Albany, one from Rensselaer, whose seat is vacant. The council has no input on the nominations to the commission, which oversees the port and its $3.75 million budget.

"We're trying to increase the input that we have on who gets appointed to boards throughout the city," said council Majority Leader Carolyn McLaughlin. "We have four appointments that come from the mayor, and I think it is important that we have some input."

A 2006 state comptroller's audit questioned a $3 million land deal with the city and the port funding improvements at the Corning Preserve. The findings of that audit were not widely known, even among council members, until recently, said council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti, who made the request, approved 14-0 by the council this week.

"I don't know that anybody would oppose it because I think it is good government," said Conti, who has generally pushed for greater council power as a check on the mayor.

He noted a similar council request last year for the Albany Municipal Water Finance Authority and the Albany Water Board -- the subject of a critical comptroller's report. The Legislature has not acted on that request.

Bob Van Amburgh, a senior aide to Mayor Jerry Jennings, said Wednesday the measure seemed "complementary to good government."

Assemblyman Jack McEneny questioned how the council could have confirmation power over nominations when the power to appoint lies with the governor. The Democratic lawmaker also warned against diluting the mayor's power.

"It seems to me that there are a number of people in the council who are having difficulty in dealing with Jerry Jennings," said McEneny, who has opposed Jennings but believes in a strong executive branch, "and rather than working it out with Jerry Jennings they want to change the system for Jerry Jennings and for all who succeed him."