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Aldermen seeking legal advice on Thane's executive order

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - Updated: 10:37 AM

By CASEY CROUCHER

casey.croucher@recordernews.com

During a Personnel Committee meeting Tuesday, the Amsterdam Common Council said they want legal advice from the corporation counsel regarding Mayor Ann Thane's second executive order.

In the order, which was issued Aug. 6, Thane states the "informal relationship between council members and city employees can be subject to abuse, and has caused disruption to the administration of government."

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

In the order, 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

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.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald Barone Sr. said he wants to talk to Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, to get his legal opinion.

"I want the city attorney here; I want to know where this [executive order] came from," Barone said.

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler agreed with Barone, and said she was concerned with the council's "lack of free speech."

"No, this does not infringe on anyone's free speech," Thane interrupted.

Barone reiterated his desire for DeCusatis' opinion on where the order came from, but Thane said it was her order, and it was coming from her, not DeCusatis.

First Ward Alderman Edward Russo said he thought Thane was misinterpreting why Barone was seeking DeCusatis' legal advice.

"All we want, in writing, is how you have the authority to put this executive order in," Russo said. "If we want to continue to have this collaboration between us then we need to stop this bologna, to put it nicely."

He said he doesn't think he's ever taken too much time out of a city employee or department head's day in the past, and Barone agreed.

Thane, however, said she's received numerous complaints from departments regarding time being expended with extended conversations with council members.

"This is not temporary, this has been an issue in the past with former councils," she said. "I think what happens is there's a confusion as to executive function and legislative function and directing employees."

She said she issued the executive order so that conversation would be "opened up" between council members and herself.

"When the council wishes to discuss an issue with a department head, we have an open meeting, everyone is in the same room, we're all on the same page, we all know what each other is thinking, instead of the private conversations going on, and then I come to a council meeting, and I'm blind-sided by consent orders, and blind-sided by ordinances," Thane said.

The mayor said she also reconstituted meetings with department heads, so that the city can "work as a team."

"We once worked together and I'd really like to see us get to that point again," she said. "I'd really like to see us publicly establish goals and talk together as a group."

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero asked the mayor about communication between liaisons to departments and the department heads.

"Let's say we are liaisons to [the Department of Public Works] for example, and we're out on the road and DPW is working," Leggiero said, "what's to say we ask them how things are going, ask them if they have any problems and how we can help them? Why do we have to get consent from you to do our job?"

Hatzenbuhler agreed with Leggiero. She said council members should be able to go to city hall to request information from anybody in the city's departments without having to go through the mayor's office.

Hatzenbuhler said the council has its own issues and council members get their own calls, and they should be able to deal with them without being forced to involve Thane.

"I guess I just don't understand the resistance to wanting to work collaboratively as a group," Thane said. "I don't see why you wouldn't want to bring me into this conversation and inform me of your goals or concerns so that I, the executive, could assist in the process."

Russo said Thane needs to give the council a chance to start using the committee structure to talk to departments because that was one of the council's goals in January.

Hatzenbuhler suggested the council hire an attorney for legal advice on the issue.

"I see no other way," she said. "We cannot accomplish anything, we cannot get anything done without an attorney present to give us legal advice for us, not for the mayor, right now [the Corporation Counsel] advises the mayor."

Barone, however, shot down Hatzenbuhler's proposal and said he just wanted to get the opinion of DeCusatis first.

"All I want is to get his opinion and go from there," he said. "If we have to hire our own attorney in the future then we'll discuss it then."

The council plans to discuss the issue again Aug. 19 during their regular meeting.

     

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