At last night’s Common Council meeting, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis responded to the council’s request for clarification on Mayor Ann Thane’s recent executive order that established terms on which city employees could interact with common council members.
The order, issued August 6th, 2014, states that any meetings to discuss policy, work performance of any employee, or department operations must be approved by the mayor’s office. Furthermore, city employees must notify the mayor’s office when they are contacted by common council members for information, and any request for information that would take longer than 15 minutes to prepare must be approved by the mayor.
“The mayor is the executive officer of the city…so she can order personnel to act in a lawful manner. I don’t believe it prevents you from speaking or asking questions, it doesn’t prevent them from answering you,” said DeCusatis. He went on to explain that since the mayor has authority over department policies, she was within her rights to request to be present at any meeting in regards to policy.
Alderman Ron Barone called the order “unfair” and said that city employees that he had encountered had told him “I can’t talk to you.” DeCusatis suggested that the order may not be properly understood by the employees.
Barone said that as an elected official, he needed to be able to get answers to constituent’s questions and suggested that Thane didn’t want common council members talking to employees because “she’s trying to hide something.”
DeCusatis said that the order doesn’t prohibit conversations between council members and employees, but required the employee to report a summary of the conversation to the mayor.
Both Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler and Barone said they interpreted the order as requiring them to get the mayor’s approval anytime they wanted to talk with any employee.
“That’s not what is says,” explained DeCusatis, “it doesn’t prevent you from communicating with employees, it causes the employee to basically report the substance of that communication, or if it’s a policy type meeting, where there’s going to be a discussion on how business should be conducted, the mayor wants to be included in those meetings because she’s supposed to setting that policy.”
“Maybe there needs to be some [employee] training on the executive order so that it functions as intended,” said DeCusatis.