According to New York State municipal law, local governments are required to fund charter commission expenses. Charter commissions are also meant to be able to operate freely without interference from the local governments that establish them.
These were the arguments put forward by our own local charter commission when they voted to have a special election on May 30th for the referendum on whatever they finally decide on and to ask the City Council for funding.
The problem is that the law is often more nuanced than laymen think when they read statutes. Implicit in the charter commission’s right to spend money crafting a charter is reasonableness. For example, the courts might not respond favorably if the commission chartered a Lear Jet to fly them to the Bahamas to a conference on government organization. While that is an extreme example, it is meant to point out that the power for a commission to spend is not unlimited. As attorneys will tell you, it is always risky to bet the house on what judges or juries will do.
Whether it is reasonable to spend $37,000.00 on a special election when it could be done without additional cost to the city in November is subject to controversy. The charter commission has put forward some thoughtful reasons for choosing May 30 for their vote. Thursday’s Gazette Newspaper editorialized against their plan. I am not going to go over the arguments on both sides as I have posts that I think fairly represents both of these arguments.
If the Council votes not to fund the May 30 vote, it seems it is possible that the Mayor could then certify that the expense is reasonable and necessary if she is asked to do that by the charter commission. What happens after that is unclear.
My assessment is that there could possibly be three votes on the Council against paying for the May 30 election whereas there would be unanimity to pay for the commission’s other expenses. When Commissioner Madigan requested the meeting for January 25, she expected that the full Council would discuss and decide these issues. When it turned out that John Franck, whose office would be in charge of running the special election, would not be able to attend that threw a wrench in the gears.
Between the grayness of the law and the passions of the players this is one very testy question. Had Madigan and Scirocco attended the meeting and opposed the resolution to pay for the election it would have failed on a tie with Yepsen and Mathiesen probably voting in favor. It appears to me that on such a serious decision, Madigan and Scirocco were not comfortable having it made by a minority. The decision needed to be made by the full five member council.
It remains to be seen how John Franck will vote on paying for a special election.
As Franck only made known his inability to attend the meeting that morning, it put Madigan on the spot since she had requested the meeting. She contacted the Mayor asking that the meeting be canceled and that the issue be decided at the next Council meeting. Her statement citing her reasons for this action is below. Commissioner Scirocco also contacted the Mayor to say he would not be attending the meeting for the reasons cited in his statement below.
So it was now the Mayor’s move. The Mayor, knowing that there would not be a quorum present could have canceled the meeting. She chose not to. In response to an email from me as to why, she responded, “…I felt it important for transparency that I live stream and report to the full room of people who came to participate in public comment why we couldn’t have an official meeting [See full text below].” If you have spent any time around city politics you know that the supporters of charter reform who attended knew that there would be no quorum. The Mayor told the audience: “It’s a shame that we will not be having an official meeting. It’s unfortunate our colleagues are not here to uphold their duty.”
The charter members present then voiced their frustration over the delay.
I leave it to the readers to apportion blame in all this if they are so inclined.
On Jan 25, 2017, at 8:36 PM, John Kaufmann <email@example.com> wrote to Mayor Yepsen:
I received a release from Commissioner Michele Madigan. The release asserts that she advised you this morning (January 25, 2017) that in addition to John Franck, that she and Commissioner Scirocco would not be attending today’s council meeting. Would be helpful to know why, since there would not be a quorum, you went forward with the meeting?
Mayor Yepsen responds Wed 1/25/2017 9:11 PM
Commissioner Madigan asked for the meeting. I rearranged my schedule to accommodate. The Charter Commission needs funds to operate. I didn’t hold the meeting However I felt it important for transparency that I live stream and report to the full room of people who came to participate in public comment why we couldn’t have an official meeting. I asked for role call and read the public agenda for the record and left the council table. I feel it’s Important as the presiding officer of the council to do everything possible to conduct the people’s business. Every Commissioner had to make a decision today. I sent an email this morning that “I was not cancelling the meeting and I hoped they would make every effort to attend”. Each Commissioner had a choice today.
Commissioner Scirocco’s Release
Earlier this morning I alerted the Mayor that without full representation by the City Council I would not be in attendance for the meeting and would prefer discussing the Charter Review Commission’s budgetary matter at the next council meeting. It had been indicated that both Commissioner Madigan and Commissioner Franck would not be in attendance this afternoon. I feel it only fair that when voting on an important issue that impacts all City Residents, and our future as a city, that all members of the council are in attendance. No matter what their position on charter change or a special election, the entire council should vote on this important issue as it involves spending taxpayers hard-earned dollars. People have a right to know how their money is being spent. If you have any further questions please call my cell: -Skip
Michele Madigan’s Release
Members of the Press,
Earlier this morning it was communicated to the Mayor that Commissioner Franck would not be able to attend the special meeting today at 4:00 for professional reasons. As a result, I asked that the meeting I requested regarding the Charter Commission Budget Amendments be cancelled as I want all 5 members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on these important budget amendments from the Charter Review Commission. Commissioner Scirocco agreed and also stated that he wanted all 5 members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on this important matter.
I personally called the Mayor’s office and emailed the Mayor’s office asking for the special meeting to be cancelled.
Therefore, there was not going to be a quorum for this meeting. I expect that Mayor decided not to officially cancel the meeting as was expected and requested of her to do once she realized there would be no quorum. It is unfortunate that this occurred and that many of you came to this meeting as notice should have gone out informing you there would be no meeting.
As a result I will bring the budget amendments on the February 7, 2017 City Council Meeting in order to avoid this happening again in the future. I am the Commissioner who requested this meeting and I am the Commissioner who requested it be cancelled if all members could not be in attendance. There was no reason for the situation that occurred today at 4:00 pm.
Thank you and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.
I suppose in the future I will send out notice of cancellations when it will be known that there will not be a quorum necessary to hold a City Council Meeting. I did my best to communicate with all Commissioners and the Mayor regarding the cancellation of this meeting today.
Commissioner Michele Madigan