Is the common council hedging on their position?

The unanimous voting block that approved the two Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course contracts and overrode the subsequent mayoral veto seems to be showing signs of fraying as the issue has now evolved into a contest over interpretation of the city charter that may have to be decided in the courtroom.

While 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman (D) voted with the four other Republican council members to approve the golf course contract resolutions and on the veto override, she has now clearly drawn the line on the issue of authorizing the deputy mayor or city clerk to sign the contracts rather than the mayor. She made her argument very plain saying “if it’s not in the charter, you can’t do it.

When each of the two resolutions authorizing the deputy mayor or city clerk to sign came up, 1st Ward Alderman Ed Russo made motions to table them, citing a desire to get further opinions. The first resolution for the concessionaire was successfully tabled, the second one was not tabled and went on to a vote and was approved with Beekman casting the lone no vote.

What I think is happening here is that council members are starting to come to grips with the real implications of the strategy they are pursuing. I think 3Rd Ward Alderman Ron Barone was right when he said you could ask five different lawyers what they thought of an issue and get five different answers. It’s far from clear which way a judge would rule on this issue, and whoever loses stands to be the party held responsible for dragging the issue out for so long. I think council members are getting nervous.

I think it’s possible that regardless of whether 4th Ward Alderman Diane Hatzenbuhler’s split vote on tabling the resolutions was intentional or not (she has claimed in the local media that it was inadvertent), it may have effectively afforded the council a hedge. If the council turns out to be wrong on the issue, better to be wrong on one resolution rather than two.

I think both parties in this debate would be wise to make sure they are not simply listening to lawyers who are telling them what they want to hear. Rather, they should be doing some research and looking at how cases such as these have been decided in the past.

Dan Weaver wrote an article last month that is worth referring to which contains and in-depth look at the two different interpretations of the section of the charter in question by Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis and former Corporation Counsel Robert Going.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.