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Time to Upgrade?

Albany Treasurer Kathy Sheehan may be warming up for a mayoral run, but she says the city’s budget priorities and outdated information technology are more pressing

by Stephen Leon on January 26, 2012

Photo by Julia Zave


The logo on the website, which went live on Monday, says, merely, “Kathy Sheehan for Albany.” And although there is considerable speculation among insiders that she is planning to run for mayor in 2013, Sheehan, the city treasurer, laughed and deflected the question when asked if the launch of the website, kathysheehan.com, is a prelude to declaring her candidacy for Albany’s highest office.

“It’s certainly a way for me to communicate to the residents of the city what the issues are that I think are important to them,” she said in a phone interview yesterday (Wednesday).

Monday evening, Sheehan stoked rumors that she is planning to run by addressing the progressive RFK Democratic Club in a talk that was billed as a response to Mayor Jerry Jennings’ State of the City address last week. In front of a receptive audience at McGeary’s Pub, Sheehan  criticized Jennings’ handling of city affairs, specifically, shortsighted budgeting that relies too heavily on one-time revenue streams, and the city’s failure to invest in state-of-the-art information technology.

On the subject of running for mayor, Sheehan told Metroland, “It’s something I’m giving serious consideration to. A number of people have approached me and asked me to give it consideration.”

More important, she said, are the issues she addressed and the importance of working on them right away, not putting them off until after the 2013 election. “These are policy issues we need to focus on now,” she said. “We can’t wait for an election cycle.”

“We need to invest in technology now,” added the treasurer, who admitted to being a little “wonky” when it comes to discussing the nuts and bolts of budgeting and record-keeping. “Let me give you an example: We do not have an automated timekeeping system in the city of Albany.”

She explained that the city still uses handwritten time sheets and punch clocks, and supervisors enter the information manually into outdated programs. “The software that’s available today allows employers to work much more efficiently,” she said, adding that the city could save 1 percent of payroll, or about $750,000 a year, by switching to automated.

Among other things, the handwritten system makes it difficult to track overtime and make real-time decisions on how to most efficiently deploy staff. Automated timekeeping, Sheehan said, would enable managers and supervisors “to see in real time who’s working on what, where. . . . We can make better decisions, and I think we can save jobs by doing it.”

And it’s not just employee timekeeping. “The general ledger, budgeting, billing, how we process purchase orders . . . everything is manual and on paper.”

Asked if she thought new software was being held up because some city officials prefer the relative lack of transparency, Sheehan said only, “I have seen a tremendous amount of resistance to automation. . . . In 2008, the city purchased an automated timekeeping system for the Department of General Services, and it never has been implemented. They would say it’s because the software doesn’t work right, it’s complicated, but the bottom line is, it’s never happened.”

In spite of her criticism of the city’s priorities, and the fact that she defeated longtime Jennings ally Betty Barnette in the 2009 Democratic primary for treasurer, Sheehan said that she has had a good relationship with Jennings(who has yet to declare whether he will run for another term). “I think the mayor is a really likeable person, and he cares about the city.”

But she is concerned that the city is going in the wrong direction—and that, she said, is what the next election should be all about. On the speculation that progressive Democrats want to coalesce quickly behind one candidate and avoid the damaging rift in 2009 between supporters of then-council members Corey Ellis and Shawn Morris, Sheehan said, “In 2009, for many progressives, it was about electing a new mayor. . . . It has to be more than about how do we beat one person. It has to be more about the direction of the city.”

And if Sheehan and her supporters decide she’s the right person to bring Albany a new vision, she’ll enter the race—but she wants a lot of input from her constituents first.

“I’m looking at this from the standpoint of what direction do we need to take the city in,” she said, “and what can my voice add in getting it there?”