By CASEY CROUCHER
Recorder News Staff
After receiving legal advice Tuesday night from the city's corporation counsel regarding Mayor Ann Thane's second executive order, the Amsterdam Common Council is still not sure of what is and is not allowed in the city.
"The mayor is the executive officer of the city," Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said. "She has control of personnel, and she's ordered personnel to act under a law or in a lawful manner."
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.
DeCusatis said he doesn't think the order prevents council members from speaking to or asking questions of city employees, and city employees aren't banned from answering them. He said the mayor just wants to be notified of potential meetings and discussions.
"Especially any meeting that would be held to discuss certain sets of policy issues," he said, "since the mayor is the policy-making officer of the executive department and she can be asked to be notified of those meetings."
Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. said he interpreted the executive order as a way to make communication between city employees and council members impossible.
"City employees that see me say to me 'oh I can't talk to you, I can't talk to you, I'm not allowed,'" Barone said.
"Perhaps [those employees] don't understand the order," DeCusatis responded.
"Then maybe we should make sure they do understand it properly because they won't talk to me and I don't understand this," Barone said. "I thought I was an elected official and could talk to everybody to make sure I have answers for people, but apparently the executive order put out there bans that. To me this is ridiculous -- to me it means [Thane] doesn't want people talking to us because she's trying to hide something. That's my interpretation of it."
DeCusatis told Barone that the order does not say employees and aldermen can't communicate; he said council members are supposed to summarize their conversation with a city employee and report back to the mayor with it so she can stay in the loop.
Barone also said he interpreted the order as a way to get permission from Thane to talk to employees.
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler agreed.
"We have to get permission from her in order to talk to a city employee to discuss an issue," Hatzenbuhler said. "If we want more information and it's going to require more than 15 minutes then the department head has to respond accordingly."
DeCusatis reiterated to the council that the order is not preventing them from communicating with city employees.
"The order just causes the employees to basically report the substance of that communication and/or if it's a policy-type meeting on how business should be conducted to the mayor," he said. "She wants to be included in those meetings because she's supposed to be setting those policies."
Barone continued to insist that the order is a way to ban communication between the council and staff and he feels like he can't perform his job correctly.
"We control the purse strings of the city," Barone said. "If I can't talk to any of the employees and if they're looking for money or someone to hire, I'm not going to give them it because I can't talk with them. So, this can work both ways -- let's not be silly here, this is supposed to be a government."
"It's supposed to be run by the people and for the people," Hatzenbuhler added.
Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick told Hatzenbuhler he thinks the mayor created the executive order to help set boundaries for city departments.
He gave an example of Hatzenbuhler suggesting a desk audit from the APD and with the order the mayor would have the final authority to say yes or no to the department retrieving documents.
"It's the mayor's prerogative," Culick said. "She's got to give the final authority and say yes or no. If you're asking for documents that go back so many years, it's her prerogative to say yes I need those documents or no because it might take 10 days to get through all the information, and she might think it's a burden to the department with other important work that needs to be done. I think that's the main purpose of her order."
Hatzenbuhler told Culick she doesn't think anyone on the council has requested information that would require time from anybody.
DeCusatis suggested the council re-read the executive order and discuss concerns with him.
Casey Croucher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org