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Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Mayor sets limits on employee interaction

Saturday, August 09, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM

By CASEY CROUCHER

casey.croucher@recordernews.com

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane issued her second executive order Wednesday with the intent of regulating interactions between city employees and council members.

In the order, Thane states that the "informal relationship between council members and city employees can be subject to abuse, and has caused disruption to the administration of government."

The order demands that all meetings between council members and city employees be requested through the mayor's office to discuss policies, the work performance of any employee, or department operations.

All requests for information made by a council member to a city employee, written or verbal, must be copied to the mayor's office or summarized and provided to the mayor's office, and any response to a request must also be provided to the mayor's office, the order states.

Any request for information that will require greater than 15 minutes of work time to prepare shall not be provided without prior approval of the mayor, the order says.

"I issued the executive order so the council and executive branch and staff would work more collaboratively together, so that it would be an open process," Thane said.

She originally said there wasn't a specific event that sparked the executive order, however, after thinking about it, the mayor changed her mind.

"When you think about it every council meeting we meet at, there's a consent item or two or three on the table," she said, "and there's no conversation going on between the executive arm or the staff and then these items end up getting tabled. I just want to avoid these blind-siding situations, and that's what led up to this executive order."

Thane said she's heard council members talk about addressing issues like blight in the city and dilapidated properties, but she wants the council to bring ideas about these issues to committee meetings instead of "talking to a city employee, then talking to another employee then drawing a resolution up without the legal department seeing it, and me not knowing anything about it. It's completely dysfunctional."

After receiving Thane's executive order, however, some council members were not happy.

"What can I say?" 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said. "We don't know where she's coming from or why. The council has certain duties and responsibilities, and obviously she doesn't want us fulfilling our duties and responsibilities -- limiting us, and not allowing anyone to speak to us kind of prevents that."

Hatzenbuhler said she was supposed to meet new Amsterdam Fire Chief Michael Whitty with 1st Ward Alderman Edward Russo Thursday morning, but the meeting was canceled because of the mayor's new executive order.

Hatzenbuhler said she wanted to review the fire department's procedures for fire safety inspection of multi-unit homes and commercial businesses.

She said she wanted to know if the fire department would have any changes added to the fire safety inspections, or if the department would stick to the same routine former fire chief Richard Liberti had.

"I just wanted to see what [Whitty] has planned, and how we could tie it in to code enforcement," she said.

"I don't believe [the council] started this," Hatzenbuhler said. "It came out of the blue and we were a little taken aback after receiving this from someone who claims she wants to work with us."

Hatzenbuhler said the situation is "unusual" and she didn't know she was "living in a Gestapo state."

"I mean this goes against everything about free speech, and frankly I'm appalled," she said.

Russo also said he thinks the mayor's executive order violates his freedom of speech.

"I'm a taxpayer, and if I want to go down and talk to the chief of police or the fire chief, I should have that right to go talk to them," he said. "Just because I'm an alderman, I can't go talk to them at will? It's absolutely wrong."

He said he thinks the mayor is causing trouble with the council and it's "making it hard for everyone to work together."

"I'm just so disappointed in the mayor," he said. "It's got to be her way or no way, and you know what? It's her way, no way or she needs to take the highway, because it's not going to be her way all the time."

Thane said her executive order is not a gag order. She said if council members want to speak with city staff they have to call a committee meeting and notify her department so that "everyone can work together."

She said she hopes the executive order will "entice the council to work collaboratively."

"We all lose when there's no conversation between my office and the council and the staff."

     

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