Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Some people just don't get it

And apparently never will.

The depth of the ignorance of some members of the city’s governing body never ceases to astound us.

Last night, East Ward Councilwoman tried to introduce an ordinance amending the Rules of Procedure for City Council.
Her proposed amendments would have called for a reorganization of the body each year, rather than once every four years as it is now. Her ordinance also referenced the position of Vice President of Council.
This proposal is fraught with errors.
The first error is that amending the rules of procedure does not and should not require an ordinance when a resolution works just fine.
By utilizing an ordinance to make the changes, the governing body inadvertently drags the mayor into the mix. Ordinances, once passed, go to the mayor for signing.
Why would the governing body do such a thing when state law clearly gives them the authority to set their own rules by resolution? The following citation (our emphasis) is pretty clear on the matter.

N.J.S.A. 40:69A-36. Legislative power

1. The legislative power of the municipality shall be exercised by the municipal council, subject to the procedures set forth in this plan of government. Legislative powers shall be exercised by ordinance, except for the exercise of those powers that, under this plan of government or general law, do not require action by the mayor as a condition of approval for the exercise thereof, and may, therefore, be exercised by resolution, including, but not limited to:
a. The override of a veto of the mayor;
b. The exercise of advice and consent to actions of the mayor;
c. The conduct of a legislative inquiry or investigation;
d. The expression of disapproval of the removal by the mayor of officers or employees;
e. The removal of any municipal officer for cause;
f. The adoption of rules for the council;
g. The establishment of times and places for council meetings;
h.The establishment of the council as a committee of the whole and the delegation of any number of  its members as an ad hoc committee;
i. The declaration of emergencies respecting the passage of ordinances;
j. The election, appointment, setting of salaries and removal of officers and employees of the council, subject to any pertinent civil service requirements and any pertinent contractual obligations, and within the general limits of the municipal budget;
k. Designation of official newspapers;
l. Approval of contracts presented by the mayor;
m. Actions specified as resolutions in the “Local Budget Law” (N.J.S. 40A:4-1 et seq.) and the “Local Fiscal Affairs Law” (N.J.S. 40A:5-1 et seq.); and
n. The expression of council policies or opinions which require no formal action by the mayor

So, Ms. Reynolds-Jackson was ready to yield the body’s power to the mayor, for what purpose?
The East Ward councilwoman, along with her colleagues, at large councilpersons Kathy McBride and Alex Bethea have been chomping at the bit to take the gavel from the hands of current president, Phyllis Holly-Ward. They also wish to continue the non-conforming process of having a designated council vice president. This has come up before.
During Tuesday night’s proceedings, Councilwoman McBride asserted that there has been a council vice president “as long as {she} could remember.” If that is the case, the councilwoman must not have a very long memory.
The council vice president title was bestowed upon former West Ward councilwoman Annette Lartigue in the July 2006 reorganization of the body. Before that, if the designated presiding officer was not in attendance at a meeting, the body selected a president pro tem as proscribed in state statute and the existing rules of procedure. The council never formally or properly changed their rules to create the position of vice president. The current council, not knowing any better, carried on that erroneous for the first two years of this term. They never amended the rules of procedure and so current president Holly-Ward would not allow a nomination of someone to the non-existent post of vice president.
This has not sat well with Ms. Reynolds-Jackson who wanted, badly, to be the VP.
Compounding the problem was this body’s initial plan to rotate the presidency amongst its members by holding a reorganization meeting each year. This was done, we suspect, in large part to quiet the outrage expressed by Councilman Bethea and Councilwoman McBride when, in 2010, SouthWard councilman George Muschal was made the council president.
In a nice gesture towards his colleagues, Councilman Muschal decided he would serve for one year and then the council would reorganize and choose a new president. This opportunity to rotate the presidency was never formalized by amending the rules of procedure.
And they may not be empowered to make such a change.
In the state statutes there doesn't appear any power granted to Council to organize every year, or to limit the term of its president to one year or less than four years. There is no authority to elect a Vice President of Council. The law allows for a President and in the absence of a presence at a meeting, provides for the election of a temporary president to conduct the meeting. See subsection c below:

40:69A-180. Rules of procedure; quorum; ordinances and resolutions; presiding officer; compensation

(a) Council shall determine its own rules of procedure, not inconsistent with ordinance or statute. A majority of the whole number of members of the council shall constitute a quorum, but no ordinance shall be adopted by the council without the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members of the council.
(b) Each ordinance or resolution shall be introduced in written or typewritten form and shall be read and considered as provided by general law. The vote upon every motion, resolution or ordinance shall be taken by roll call and the yeas and nays shall be entered on the minutes. The minutes of each meeting shall be signed by the officer presiding at such meeting and by the municipal clerk.
(c) The council at its organization meeting shall elect a president of the council from among the members thereof and the president shall preside at its meetings and perform such other duties as the council may prescribe. In the absence of the president, the council shall elect a temporary presiding officer. The compensation of the mayor, council members and department heads shall be fixed by the council immediately after its organization. (our emphasis)
Just as current council president Holly-Ward has attempted to bring the body back into compliance by refusing to allow the designation of a vice president, Councilman Zachary Chester made a motion to amend last year’s resolution naming Holly-Ward president for one year and extending her term through June 30, 2014.
This action was greeted with great resistance from the axis of Bethea, McBride and Reynolds-Jackson. They sputtered and spit; claiming outrage and seeking legal advice from the city attorney (who actually seemed rather bewildered by the proceedings).
In the end, councilman Chester’s motion was held to be added to Thursday night’s docket. Leaving matters, once again, unresolved.
To be continued...

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