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Common Council, Albany mayor at odds over reconfirmation law

The council's Law Committee met Monday to discuss proposed Local Law A
A disagreement is brewing between the Albany Common Council and Mayor Kathy Sheehan over a proposed Local Law. The council's Law Committee met Monday to discuss proposed Local Law A

A disagreement is brewing between the Albany Common Council and Mayor Kathy Sheehan over a proposed Local Law.

The council's Law Committee met Monday to discuss proposed Local Law A, which would direct any appointed city commissioner to appear before the council every four years for reconfirmation. 2nd Ward councilor Derek Johnson co-sponsored the measure:

“In my first four years, in my first term, I just noticed, in the process, I thought, we had many situations where people were called to come to committee meetings, you know, council, and commissioners didn't show," Johnson said. "And so when I looked at the whole process, you know, the council people have to get elected, we have to go before the voters, the mayor has to go before the voters, it makes a lot of sense that the commissioners have to come before the council every time there's an election. I think that it would help improve the relationship, you know, as I saw, not only with myself, I saw other members in situations that I think would be addressed by the commissioners having to come and get reconfirmed every four years.”

City Hall spokesperson David Galin read from a letter the third-term Democratic Mayor sent to Law Committee members in which she says the legislation "exceeds the authority granted the council" by the city charter and "erodes the accountability residents expect from their mayor."

“In November of 2006 the voters of Albany gave the council confirmatory authority," Galin read. "A charter revision I supported because legislatures at the state and federal level also confirm high level appointees. Once confirmed, those who serve at the pleasure of the chief elected official continue to serve until they resign or are terminated by the chief elected official. Local Law A fundamentally changes this relationship and gives the council unilateral authority to fire commissioners. Our research has not uncovered any counterpart to Local A, at any level of government.”

In the letter the mayor said she isn't aware of a single instance where a member of her leadership team refused to appear before a committee or the full council.

10th ward councilor Owusu Anane favors more oversight of commissioners.

“We're the first city to pass Good Cause Eviction," said Anane. "We were the first city that has this oversight of CPRB [Community Police Review Board], independent oversight, and we're going to be the first city to have advise and consent when it comes to commissioners being confirmed. The council has changed and the city of Albany has changed. And I think that council members want more of a role, more of a say in the way commissioners respond.”

Refuting Johnson’s earlier remarks, Galin noted that that in his five years of service he knows of only one instance where a commissioner did not answer a councilor's email request to appear before the panel.

"He found out after the fact that the email had been filtered through our email system or junk email system, because it was sent from a Yahoo email address, " Galin said.

Nonetheless, the measure’s lead sponsor Common Council President Corey Ellis believes Local Law A would better serve the people of Albany.

"The mayor believes that, you know, she believes that it's believed that a strong mayoral governance," Ellis said. "I believe in giving citizens more power and more voice in their government. And they do that through their city council members. So I believe Local Law A is part of that, having citizens have a voice in how their city is governed.”

Mayor Sheehan says she doesn’t understand the problem that Local Law A is trying to solve.

“It adds a lot of challenges and questions around our current form of government," said Sheehan. "We have a strong mayor form of government that is built into our charter, our charter has been in existence for more than 300 years. And I think that changing that is something that's going to require a much deeper conversation with our residents and an understanding that if we're going to change our form of government, we have to do it intentionally, not chip away at it one local law at a time.”

Ellis was asked what happens to the law next:

“There'll be some language, some language amendments, tightening up language, it wasn't a disagreement on language it’s just, you know, making it make it sound better and flows better," Ellis said. "So that would be that, and then it will go in front of the Law Committee, again, to be voted out and to be voted on by council members. And then they sort it out. I believe it will pass. And then it will go to the voters in November.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.