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Albany Common Council narrowly defeats Local Law A; mayor welcomes move

The Albany Common Council meeting May 2, 2022
Albany Common Council
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The Albany Common Council meeting May 2, 2022

The Albany Common Council has voted down a local law that would have changed the city charter, giving the panel unilateral authority to fire high-level appointees. The mayor is cheering the vote.

In 2006 voters gave the Common Council confirmatory authority. Once confirmed, appointees could serve until they resigned or were terminated by the mayor. Several councilors had called for more oversight of commissioners.

Local Law A proposed giving the council the added power to fire commissioners. It called for any appointed city commissioner to appear before the panel every four years for reconfirmation.

Dannielle Hille, founder of the neighborhood association "A Block at a Time," spoke during Monday’s public comment period.

"The department heads work for us, they work for the people, they should be accountable to the people, not just to the mayor, who by the way works for us too," Hille said. "There is no concern or fear, when they ignore, dismiss or disregard us. I've been doing stuff in this community for 13 years. And I can tell you that I have wasted tremendous amounts of time just getting them to acknowledge what the problem is."

Chief City Auditor Dorcey Applyrs sent the council a letter, in which she says "commissioners should be held accountable" and she agrees "that there have been instances in which commissioners have not been responsive to the request of council members or constituents across the city," which on occasion "has resulted in the inequities in our respective wards." But Applyrs believes powers the council would be given under Local Law A "could have unintended consequences in the future."

City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar urged the council to reject the measure.

"Those who share my opposition to this legislation are the mayor, the city auditor and all the commissioners, union members and city employees who have voiced their opinion, with everyone believing that it is impossible for commissioners to function in an environment with nine to 17 bosses instead of just the one that was elected to be the boss,” said Shahinfar.

Shahinfar challenged councilors’ use of Facebook to “repeatedly message about things going on in the city and city legislation of the past several weeks."

“But I could not find a single post anywhere about Local Law A, the language of which was made available in public on your website only five days ago," said Shahinfar. "Furthermore, if this legislation is passed in its current form over the mayor's veto and is on the ballot in November, it will be voted on with the active opposition of the executive branch. All three of us, as well as several council members. This does not sound to me like a successful recipe for a ballot initiative that is likely to be passed by our mutual constituents.”

Council members who supported Local Law A said all they were trying to do is make sure the panel has a say in who serves as department heads.

"This city has been riddled with politics,” said 10th Ward Councilor Owusu Anane. “The exact reason why we need this legislation is good government, to have this council serve as an important checks and balance to the mayor. Checks and balance. Many of my colleagues talked about this, but I'm starting to realize, maybe it’s just rhetoric. People don't really mean that. Like, do we really want checks and balance or not?"

The vote was 8 to 7 against Local Law A.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan released a statement commending the councilmembers who voted against it, branding Local Law A as a "misguided piece of legislation, a solution in search of a problem."

Posting on Facebook, Dannielle Hille said she believed the measure was not intended to give common councilors power.

"It was for them to put the bill in front of the community to vote on for we the people to vote on," said Hille. "So they the eight members that voted against it decided that we the people shouldn't even have a say that we shouldn't even get the chance to vote it up or vote it down."

Common Council President Corey Ellis, who supported the measure and told WAMC in March he expected it to pass and go before voters in November, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.