Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Council Will Let Voters Decide Terms, Not Treasurer

Previous coverage is listed at the bottom.
The Common Council voted Wednesday evening to put three questions about Charter revisions to the public for a vote in November. The first question is whether all elected officials except Planning and Zoning and the Board of Education should have 4 year terms. The second question is whether the borrowing limit of the Council should be raised from $750,000 to $1M. The third question is a catch-all for technical changes to the Charter.

The Council Democrats proposed several significant alterations to what was proposed by the Charter Revision Commission. The Council voted against letting voters decide whether to specify an increased Mayor's salary in the Charter, against letting voters decide whether to remove the City Treasurer as an elected position, and against a reduction in the number of polling stations for elections in which the only offices on the ballot are Planning and Zoning and the Board of Education.

The Council heard from about 5 people about the changes under consideration.  Bobbye Knoll Peterson, executive director of North End Action Team, spoke out strongly against the elimination of polling stations, especially those in less affluent neighborhoods.

Karen Race said she was "deeply concerned about [the mayor's] salary increase", suggesting that if someone was unwilling to serve the public for a lower salary, he should go into the private sector.  Molly Salafia called the $100k salary "ridiculous."

I spoke in favor of splitting apart the question of the Mayor's term from the question of the Council Members' term, and against burying the salary increase and the elimination of the Treasurer as an elected position in an "all other" question that does not make it transparent to voters what they are voting for or against.

Finally, Quentin Phipps, the current treasurer, spoke passionately about power and accountability. He said the proposed Charter revisions combined to increase one while decreasing the other, "To have less accountability with more power is truly wrong."

After hearing from the public, the Council voted themselves a 15 minute recess, and then stretched it to 25 minutes.  The Democrats, with an 8-4 majority, caucused privately (out of sight and sound from the public), apparently to make a group decision on these and other issues.

When the Democrats returned, Gerry Daley read an amended version of the resolution accepting the Charter Revision Commission report. The amendments eliminated the mayor's salary increase, restored all polling stations for off-year elections, and restored the position of the elected Treasurer.

Support for the amended resolution fell along party lines. Republican Councilman Giuliano complained that not one single suggestion made by Republicans was included anywhere, and expressed his opposition to everything except the 4 year term for mayor. Democratic Councilman Jim Streeto expressed his support of everything that was suggested. The amended report was accepted by the Council by an 8-4 vote.

The questions originally proposed (see yesterday's Eye article) were read by Councilman Serra. Serra then expressed his personal opposition to Question 1, which if approved would grant 4 year terms to the Mayor, all Council members, and most other elected officials. He argued that most employees are evaluated every year, if not more often, "Two years is long enough for individuals to evaluate [an elected official's] performance."

However, Serra said he felt that this was a question that the voters should decide.

Serra also said that voters should be very clear that salaries for the Mayor and for Council were NOT part of question 3, nor was the elimination of the elected Treasurer.

The Council voted 9-3 to send the following questions to voters in November. Councilwoman Sandra Russo-Driska voted with the Democrats.
  • “Shall the Charter be amended to provide for a term of four years for the following elected officials of the City of Middletown: the Mayor, Common Council, Treasurer, Board of Assessment Appeals and Registrars of Voters?
    YES NO"
  • “Shall the Charter be amended to raise the bond limit for which the Common Council can approve spending without going to referendum to $1,000,000?
    YES NO”
  • “Shall all other amendments to the Charter as stated in the Final Report of the Charter Revision Commission and adopted by the Council at its September 2, 2014 meeting be approved?
    YES NO” [NOTE: I did not get the exact language of this question, which was changed on the floor of the meeting, it now indicates that the Final Report was amended by Council prior to being approved.]
Previous Eye coverage on the Charter revision (Reverse chronological order):


Anonymous said...

It's disingenuous for the Eye to complain about lack of transparency when there has not been a single BOE budget committee agenda or minutes posted on BOE website in over 6 months and at least one boe member complains there is no budget detail.

Stephen Devoto said...

It apparently bears stating again, for the sake of anonymous: The Eye is neither more nor less than a collection of unedited articles by volunteer correspondents. If those volunteers do not write what you think our city’s residents should read, join them! If there is an untold story of the BOE budget, write it! If you want to write regularly (once a month is fine), do so.
Write, don't whine.

Anonymous said...

I read this article as a play-by-play recounting of the meeting- to interpret it as the Eye complaining about lack of transparency is quite a warped and twisted view of a piece of factual news reporting. Hyper-focusing on one paragraph (one tenth of the article) where the reporter did report on his own involvement, after all, he was there too, and if he did not report on this, who would? Maybe Anon will take up the offer to write the next article.