Mayor Rolison Vetoes Legislation to Establish Common Council Staff
June 5th, 2018
TO: Deanne L. Flynn, City Chamberlain
FROM: Mayor Robert G. Rolison
SUBJECT: Veto Concerning Local Law No. 3 of 2018 “A Local Law Providing for Professional Staff to the Common Council”
Pursuant to the authority vested in me by Article III, Section 3.02 of the Charter and 3.04 of the Administrative Code of the City of Poughkeepsie, I hereby veto Local Law 3 of 2018 which was adopted by the Common Council at its regular meeting of May 21, 2018. This veto is cast within thirty days, pursuant to Section 3.02 (f) of the City Charter.
As this Local Law acknowledges, our City Charter was amended in 1996, and updated again recently, in 2016. Charter revision is typically undertaken by a Charter Review Commission, comprised of subject matter experts and local stakeholders whose duty it is to recommend to voters the modernization of what is, essentially, the City’s Constitution. There is a reason that significant changes to the balance of power between branches of government, in this case between the Executive and the Legislative, require the consent of the governed in the form of a referendum. That sole purpose is to ensure that the fabric of our democracy – how we are governed, the delicate balance and inter-relationship of the separate branches of government – cannot be changed by five members of the City’s Common Council on a whim. Just consider the ramifications were it otherwise. Any five votes of the Common Council could alter anything – and two weeks or two months later, five different votes could change it back again. That is most certainly not efficient government, by any means.
The drafters of this Local Law suggest that the Charter Review Commission believed that members of the Common Council should have their own legislative aides and that the newly created position of Council Member At-Large should have the power to hire and fire City employees to serve “at the pleasure” of the Council Chair. For support, the majority references a letter from the organization retained by the City to assist it with Charter revision which says in part:
This subject was considered by the most recent Poughkeepsie Charter Commission specifically with regard to the possible need of legal advice for the city council independent of that available from the city’s Corporation Counsel. As I recall, this discussion resulted in a recommendation that funds be budgeted annually to pay for independent legal advice to the Council, if needed” (emphasis added).
What the Charter actually says, in its preamble no less, is:
The revised Charter clarifies that the City Chamberlain and Corporation Counsel serve the Common Council, as well as the Mayor, thus ensuring that the legislative branch has sufficient clerical and legal support in the exercise of its power and authority” (emphasis added).
Clearly the Commission considered the issue of staff support for the Council, but decided to recommend to voters only that funding be provided to account for possible conflicts which might conceivably arise requiring the appointment of outside legal Counsel. The Charter was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
The crafters of this Local Law would have us believe that Council staff is necessary to the performance of their duties “under the City Charter amendments”, but their argument presupposes that the new Charter gave them new duties and responsibilities, which is simply not the case. The suggestion that, because the new Charter added a ninth Councilmember in the form of a Council member at-large, now staff is necessary – well, that simply seems counterintuitive. Are we asked to believe that the Commission, comprised of nine professional volunteers with many years of collective local experience and much love for our City, just forgot to provide the Council with the power to hire and fire employees who report solely to them and operate outside the regular lines of authority that exist in our local government?
Not only is the Local Law at odds with the clear language of the Charter and the expressed will of the voters, the New York Courts have held that any Local Law which “abolishes, transfers or curtails any power of an elective officer” is subject to mandatory referendum (Matter of Yevchak v Raymond, A.D. 2nd 197, 1978).
Finally, Section 2.10 (a) of the City’s Administrative Code requires that a Fiscal Impact Statement be prepared prior to the adoption of any action which could cost present or future taxpayers more than $50,000. The Local Law I am vetoing today does not specify how many staff will be hired by the Council, whether they will be full-time or part-time, how much these employees will be paid, or even whether they would receive benefits, including very expensive health-care and pension benefits. By not including these critical pieces of information, the majority attempts to avoid the requirement that a Fiscal Impact Statement be prepared – ‘let’s budget for the specifics later’, they say.
That’s not good government and it’s certainly not fiscally responsible.
Hon. Robert G. Rolison