A disturbing series of events has occurred in city government. The result is that the Mayor ignored the role of the Common Council and authorized expenditures without proper approvals.
As part of the demolition of the Kings Inn, it was learned that significant cost overruns would require further bonding by the Common Council to complete the asbestos removal. So, the Mayor asked the Common Council's Finance/Economic Committee to borrow an additional $200,000 to pay for asbestos cleanup and tipping fees.
At a recent meeting, the committee declined to do so. There were unanswered questions raised by committee members, and the committee as a whole decided to postpone the matter to September. Some might consider this irresponsible considering that asbestos causes its damage as airborne particles. Nevertheless, the Council is the sole entity in city government that may authorize expenditures.
Mayor Sottile decided that the Council was wrong and ordered the work to go forward without the funding being in place.
While the Mayor is correct that the asbestos must be dealt with quickly, he has acted well beyond his authority under the City Charter. The Mayor may not authorize expenditures or borrowing. Only the Common Council may start that process. Mayor Sottile has therefore violated the rules of his office.
The Common Council is not blameless here either. If there were important questions to answer, there was no need to put the matter off until September. Get the answers and call a special meeting of the committee. Important matters cannot just be pushed off for a month. The Council must do its job.
Finally, why has the Council done nothing in response to the Mayor's actions? The Council has an obligation to be a check and balance for the Mayor. A responsible Council should have notified the Mayor that he was without authority to enter his order. A responsible Council would have made it clear to the Mayor that they would seek a legal injunction against the Mayor's actions. This of course presumes that the Council would have scheduled a follow-up meeting earlier than one month out.
Here is the solution to this problem. First, the Common Council schedules a meeting within the next 48 hours. The answers to the questions are obtained and a final decision is made. Meanwhile, the Mayor retracts his order until the Council has its say.
Some of you may be thinking, "Why is this such a big deal? The Council will ultimately approve it, right?" Indeed, the Council will likely approve it after a few campaign speeches from the three Aldermen running for Mayor. But, at least in theory, the Council could say no. If they did, and the Mayor has already authorized the work, what happens then? There would be no legal authority to pay the contractors and a lawsuit would follow.
Second, the relationship between the Mayor and Common Council must be respected and maintained. I know full well that if I am elected Mayor, there is a strong chance the Common Council will have a Democrat majority, perhaps even veto proof. In such a case, the Mayor and the Council would have to work together or face at least 2 years of gridlock, which would be devastating to the city and its residents. I know that the Mayor and Council as a whole are equal partners in city government. Perhaps they need to act that way now.