Council balks at executive order regulating contact with city employees

Common Council members voiced their displeasure with Mayor Ann Thane’s recent executive order during last night’s committee meeting. The order directs city employees to get approval from the mayor before meeting with common council members, that the mayor be informed of any requests for information from council members, and that any request for information requiring more than 15 minutes of work to produce would require the mayor’s approval.

Council members asked Thane for a written legal explanation of the mayor’s authority to issue the order.

“All we’re asking for is, in writing, how do you have the authority to put this executive order in,” said Alderman Ed Russo, “if you want to continue to have … corroboration between us, you need to stop this baloney…let’s stop this…speaking for myself I don’t think I have ever gone to any employees or department heads and tied up any of their time or took up half their day. Unless somebody else is doing it, I’m not aware of it.”

Thane responded, “I have had complaints from several departments about time being expended with extended conversations….this is not only contemporary, this has been an issue in the past with other councils as well. And I think what happens is there is a confusion as to executive function and legislative function.”

Thane went on to say, “This is meant to open up that when the council wishes to discuss an issue with a department head…we have an open meeting…everyone is in the same room, we are all on the same page, we all know what each other is thinking, instead of…there are private conversations that go on. I come to a council meeting, I’m blindsided by consent orders, I’m blindsided by ordinances that come up, I don’t know what your goals are.”

“Where I really want to see all of us go is to very publicly establish goals and talk together as a group… It is a problem, I know you are not one that does it Ed…but believe me, we have a problem,” said Thane.

Alderman Rich Leggerio questioned why the liaisons to various departments couldn’t have conversations with those departments as to what problems they were facing. “What’s the problem there, why do we have to get a consent from you to do our job?” he asked.

“There’s no problem, just make me aware of what’s happening so we are all working together,” said Thane.

“We should be able to come in and request information from anybody in a department and get that information without having to go through your office,” said Hatzenbuhler.

Hatzenbuhler continued, “We have free speech, the department heads report to everybody, we pay their salary. We should be able to speak to them at anytime about any issue without going through you…you don’t want anybody to succeed unless you succeed. We have our own issues, we get calls on our own subjects, therefore we should be able to deal with those subjects firsthand with the people involved, not through you, not with your office.”

Thane replied, “I just do not understand the resentment to working collaboratively and bringing me into this conversation and informing me of your goals or of your concerns, so that I, as the executive, can assist in the process, because believe me, I don’t care if I succeed, my only goal is to see this city function effectively. But what we have seen in the past seven months is not effective government. We have a mess of nonsense going on, we’ve talked about some of it tonight. It think we need to talk as a group, use the legislative committee system…effectively. [If] you are a liaison, you have a question, bring us into the room and let us talk about it.”

“Let’s stop all this baloney right now,” said Russo, “we are using [the committee structure]…we all agreed on it…we are going to start using it more…I know it’s hard to for everyone to meet every week…we’re trying to get it back into place, I know I am…you need to give us a chance to get this in order.”

After suggesting the council needed to hire its own attorney for legal advice, Hatzenbuhler said ”We don’t need to call a consensus of six people and come in here and sit with the mayor and play like we’re in school. I’m sorry, we are adults, we can go talk to people and find out an answer without talking to the mayor and sitting in her little classroom so that she knows what’s going on. I have a problem with it.”

The council will discuss the matter further at next Tuesday’s meeting.

Tim Becker

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