Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Problem of Checks and Balances

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.


Anonymous said...

This proves two points....Mayor Sottile (who really could care less at this point) has overstepped his authority with little or no concern that he did, knowing that no one will do anything about it.and....the Common Council is useless. I really think Kingston has to seriously consider some other way. The aldermanic races are truly popularity contests, with people running for quite a few years now that have no idea how to run a city government. Quite frankly, really qualified people could care less about devoting time and money to running for alderman. And...despite all the participation on the blogs, I don't feel there are enough people that really demand anything from their city govt. I know there are a few races in the primary (of course, your own for mayor)and having worked the polls for 10 years now, if 20 people show up on primary day, it's a crowd. Most people on the street would not even know it is primary day. I would normally think you should be a shoo-in for mayor, many people are actually going to show up to vote? Most people will tell you that the school budget is a sham that they disagree with. How many show up to vote against it????

Anonymous said...

Charlie Landi should call a meeting ASAP you are absolutely correct. But, I have seen Charlie at committee meetings before. Its always hurry up and get out of here. When committee members want to read something before signing it his reaction is always the same. "We'll be here past midnight"

Come January first the Mayor is gone and hopfully Charlie with him.

Anonymous said...

1:56 is spot on. The average resident is unaware of most things going on in the city. If it doesn't directly concern them Kingston residents go merrily along with no opinions and no independent thoughts. What does it take to shake people enough to wake them up in time to see the city going down the toilet?

Anonymous said...

Corruption - taxpayer rip offs - the City Comptroller, Purchasing Agent, City Planner, Fire Chief, Mayor should all be brought up on charges by State Inspector General - but their office is probally make believe, too.