By Rebecca Martin
In the City of Kingston’s Charter Article X section C10-1 (a) it says that “The Corporation Counsel shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Corporation Counsel will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.”
That means that the mayor can hire/remove members of the corporation counsel at any time, serving at their “pleasure”. They haven’t civil service protection.
In section (b): “The Corporation Counsel shall be the primary legal advisor of the Mayor, Common Council and of all commissions, departments and other offices of the city. The Corporation Counsel shall conduct, supervise or monitor, as required, the prosecution and defense of all actions or proceedings brought by or against the city or by or against any of its officers in their official capacity and appeal from all such orders, decisions and judgments as he or she deems advisable.”
Building on that, the mayor’s counsel represents the mayor (executive branch) all boards, committees and commissions as well as the council (the legislative branch) and department staff too – who like everyone else at city hall, may or may not have civil service protection and can be hired/removed at the mayor’s whim.
Going further, in Article XV section C15-4 “other boards and commissions”
“…Successors to these other commissions, boards or agencies shall be appointed by the Mayor as their terms severely expire or as vacancies occur.”
In other words, the mayor has the authority to also appoint/remove all members of committees, boards and commission members, the community volunteers who we rely on to freely interpret our current policies and laws for the public good, are also guided by city hall staff. Going backwards, many of those city staff are beholden to the mayor.
That’s a whole lot of influence by one person and that’s obviously not a good scenario for a healthy democracy in Kingston. A monarchy is more like it.
The council understands that Kingston’s charter needs to be addressed in order for the legislative branch to provide its critical work in providing checks and balances to the executive branch. On June 17 of 2020, they invited Wade Beltramo, General Counsel of the New York Conference of Mayors – NYCOM to give a presentation and overview on charter reform.
You can watch it from the start HERE
So what’s getting in the way of charter reform moving forward? Ward 9 Alderwoman Hirsch, a “progressive” democrat, provides a clue. She is not alone in her concern of the public’s voice here. It’s a bitter pill for the old guard to contemplate losing an ounce of power that they have and that she is upholding.
As of late, the Kingston democrats have ushered in the Kingstonian PILOT for luxury housing, and initially worked against a censure for Hector Rodriguez’s reprehensible behavior in order to hoard power. But the recent Board of Education election and David Donaldson’s shocking loss of the recent primary to newcomer Phil Erner is proof that what once worked without question in Kingston isn’t going to work any longer.
If a holistic look at Charter reform is too much for Kingston right now, then how about amending the items we outlined above in a referendum including the council having mandatory training? It may not cost the community anymore then it does currently, as the mayor’s office has two full time corporation counsel staff. How about we move one of those salaries over to the council to hire their own?
We’ve done the work for the council and the community to begin with a resolution that is ready to workshop. If the current chock-hold blocks the community from holistic charter reform, then let’s do it piecemeal and get the show on the road. Let’s bring the obvious changes that we all can agree to in the charter to referendum in 2022 and let the public decide
VIEW: How Kingston got its strong mayor form of government