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A new veto battle looms at City Hall

Thursday, May 01, 2014 - Updated: 10:22 AM


Members of the Amsterdam Common Council say they plan to override a veto issued Tuesday by Mayor Ann Thane on a resolution to resurrect and appoint members to a Charter Review Commission.

"Our next step is to override that veto," 3rd Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. said Wednesday.

The resolution appointing a seven-member commission was unanimously adopted by the council April 15; however, Mayor Ann Thane thinks the council rushed its decision.

"We have much more important things to focus on, that's why I vetoed this resolution," Thane said. "We need to focus on the budget, economic development and infrastructure improvements, rather than who has the power to do what."

"The council hasn't taken the time to think of the outcome of changing the charter," she said. "They haven't identified where the problems actually are. It's like setting out on a destination without a map."

Thane said the council made its decision hastily, because two weeks before the resolution was proposed, Montgomery County's Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise issued a ruling interpreting the city charter in favor of the executive branch. She believes the council is reacting to that decision.

"I think that given the timing of the council's action, it was very likely a political action on their part," she said.

Barone, however, said the decision had nothing to do with politics.

"We created the Charter Review Commission to go over the city's charter," he said. "There's too much ambiguity in the charter, and there are several issues that need to be cleared up. That was our sole reason for creating it. This has been an ongoing discussion since January."

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler agreed.

"It's been years, probably 10-plus years, that the charter has been reviewed," Hatzenbuhler said. "Society has changed and the charter needs to be looked at. It's pertinent."

She also thinks the mayor doesn't like the appointments made to the commission.

"The mayor agreed with the commission idea in the beginning," she said, "but she does not agree with the appointments. What do you do when you have a mayor for six years and she's relentless? She does not give up; it has to be her way or no way."

On April 15, the Common Council appointed Robert Going -- who served as corporation counsel during the Republican administration of former Mayor Joseph Emanuele -- as chairman of a new Charter Review Commission.

Named as its other members were Jerry Skrocki, Marie Gavry, Mario Villa, Jeff Chase, Robert DiScenza and Michael Sampone.

According to Thane's veto message, Going advised Hatzenbuhler -- who sponsored the charter review resolution -- and the entire council that they have the "authority to unilaterally negotiate and approve contracts."

Thane said the conflict of authority "must stop."

"In order to effectively manage the needs and concerns of our taxpayers, we must learn to work in our roles set forth in the charter," according to the mayor's veto message.

The mayor, the council and the question of authority landed in Montgomery County Supreme Court last month at the tail end of a months-long battle for control of the city's municipal golf course. There, Sise ruled in favor of the mayor, saying that, under the charter, the council does not have the authority to negotiate contracts.

Council members came away from the decision with plans to crack open the charter and see what, exactly, it does say. And perhaps update some of its language.

Hatzenbuhler decided to resurrect the Charter Review Commission to address some of the "ambiguous" areas of the city charter.

"Government is changing," she said at the time. "I think that there are parts of the charter that are wishy-washy, and they need to be more clarified. You need some more black and white so you can avoid going to court."

Even though going to court -- again -- remains an option.

If the council does vote Tuesday to override Thane's veto, it will then come down to a question -- as it did during the Muni debate -- of whether the mayor's hand can be forced to sign the original legislation.


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