Lawyers advise lawmakers to negotiate with charter group

 February 8, 2017
BY NED CAMPBELL Gazette Reporter

The City Council continues to delay a vote to provide funding for a special election proposed by the Charter Review Commission.

The election, proposed for May 30 by the 15-member citizen group, would present a new charter to residents — one that would change the city’s commission form of government to council-manager.

The council did not vote on the group’s requested $37,000 for the special election, or $46,000 in operational expenses, as anticipated Tuesday night. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan previously said the issue would be handled at Tuesday night’s council meeting after a Jan. 25 special meeting to decide on the expenses didn’t reach a quorum. That special meeting, called by Madigan, never took place because she, Accounts Commissioner John Franck and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco — who have all objected to a special election — were absent.

Madigan said Tuesday that because a majority of the council doesn’t support a special election, she was advised by two attorneys — City Assistant Attorney Tony Izzo and John Aspland of the Fitz-Gerald Morris Baker Firth law firm in Glens Falls — to try to come to an agreement with the review group before voting on the funds. She said she sought the added counsel of Aspland because Izzo also represents the charter review group.

“It was my inclination to at least bring it forward to get them to keep moving on their work, but based on the legal opinion that I received, the best thing to do is to continue to negotiate,” she said. “If the council moves and we don’t come to an agreement, it could lead to a lawsuit.”

Madigan said the council has 45 days from when the funds were requested to take action, citing state Municipal Home Rule Law 36. Bob Turner, chairman of the Charter Review Commission, has said the same home rule law gives the group the authority to call a special election funded by the city and that after 45 days, the city must provide the necessary funds.

Madigan said the 45th day is Feb. 24, according to one calculation, “but a legal opinion has been requested as to when the clock actually starts on the 45 days.”

“We think we should use the 45 days, to the best of our ability, to come to an agreement,” Madigan said.

That agreement, according to Madigan, should involve the charter vote taking place during the general election in November. Madigan said no council members take issue with the request for $46,000 in administrative expenses.

“I’d like to see them agree not to use taxpayer funds for a special election,” she said.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen stressed that the commission is independent from the City Council and should be allowed to continue its work drafting a charter for residents to consider.

“They are doing important independent, non-political work to set our city on a positive course for the future,” she said. “Obviously, the commission needs necessary funds to defray their expenses. Council members asked for more time but it will be on the next City Council meeting agenda.”

City Council members have criticized the proposed special election for being rushed, and predict a low turnout. Review group members say the special election would give the issue of the city’s constitution the attention it deserves, rather than have it compete with several contested local races expected to be on the ballot in November.

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