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Special meeting to fill Troy council seat a no-go, candidate forum planned for next week

Troy City Council Chambers
Dave Lucas
Troy City Council Chambers

The Troy City Council remains divided over how to choose an interim member to serve in the city’s District 2 seat, following the sudden resignation of Republican Kim Ashe-McPherson earlier this month.

Kim Ashe-McPherson resigned from the Troy City Council June 8th after pleading guilty to fraudulently submitting absentee ballots in last year’s election.

Ever since, city Democrats including the mayor and Republican city councilors have been at odds over how to fill the District 2 seat. With the vacancy, the city council is split between three Democrats and three Republicans.

Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Patrick Madden’s office announced he would call a special meeting the next day for the purposes of filling the seat.

Wednesday had been the deadline announced by Republican City Council President Carmella Mantello for candidates interested in filling the vacancy to come forward. Mayor Madden and the three Democrats on the city council have endorsed Steven Figueroa, a Democrat who lost to Ashe-McPherson in November.

Democratic caucus leader and District 3 councilor Sue Steele tells WAMC she had reached out to Mantello last Friday to set up a meeting to consider all interested candidates on Thursday, June 23rd.

“I attempted to reach out to Council President last week and in an effort to move things along, have all of the applicants who were interested come before the council and let’s move forward with this,” said Steele.

But pushing back against the mayor and Democratic councilors, Mantello announced Wednesday that a special meeting would not happen.

She accuses the mayor of trying to control the process.

“I specifically asked the mayor not to enter the legislative process. I asked him, ‘Please, let the process unfold.’”

Mantello said the meeting was off because one councilor, Republican Irene Sorriento of District 6, would not be able to attend.

The Troy City Charter holds that a vacancy on the council “shall be filled by a vote of the remaining Council members. In the event of a tie vote, the Mayor of the City of Troy shall cast the deciding vote.”

Mantello said tempers flared after it was announced Sorriento could not attend the special meeting.

“Sue Steele actually approached Irene and really jumped down her throat and it was unfortunate because, you know, Irene tried to explain, ‘Listen, I informed Carmella about this way before all this came about,” said Mantello.

Steele called Mantello’s characterization “an absolute fabrication” and accused the council president of seeking to delay a vote to confirm a candidate. The Democrat said she was not previously aware that Sorriento would not be able to attend the special meeting.

“This has not been an open process in any way. It’s been evolving. It’s caused tremendous confusion among the council and the public as well. I think it’s intentional to deny the people the voice they are entitled to,” said Steele.

Mantello says six people have expressed interest in the District 2 vacancy, including Figueroa. She says residents will be able to meet each of the candidates at a public forum next week.

“And that will be Tuesday evening at 6:30 at the Knickerbocker Middle School auditorium, next Tuesday. And folks in District 2 will be able to meet these prospective candidates and then we’ll have a Q and A,” said Mantello.

Following the publication of an earlier version of this story today, Mayor Madden’s office provided WAMC with a statement that reads in part:

The administration is deeply troubled by the City Clerk’s refusal to comply with the terms of the City Charter and properly notice the Special Meeting of the City Council for Thursday, June 23rd, at 7:00 p.m. The mayor and administration have expressed their concerns that the actions referenced below may have serious legal consequences for the City Clerk staff and City Council.”

Madden, who declined to speak on tape, also wrote a letter to Mantello Thursday afternoon accusing the council president of “precipitating a crisis,” violating the city charter and making the council “look foolish.” He writes in part:

“Your refusal to allow the Clerk to call this meeting is a violation of your oath of office. And worse, you instructed the City Clerk to violate her oath of office. These lawless actions can have grave consequences.”

Mantello responded with her own letter.

The Republican faulted the Democratic mayor with failing to communicate with council members of the opposing party. She writes in part:

"Your non-communication and disrespect to myself and certain members of the legislative branch continues, and I will continue to respectfully remind you that you do not oversee the legislative branch despite the three Democrat Council Members [sic] insistence to merge the legislative and executive branches and blur the pure fundamentals of government."

Mayor Patrick Madden's letter to Council President Carmella Mantello Thursday afternoon is posted below:

Council President,

I am disheartened and disappointed to see that the City Clerk has failed to comply with her duty under the Charter to call the meeting that I properly requested. I presume this was at your direction

Your unilateral decision to treat my call for a meeting as “null and void” is an entirely fabricated usurpation of authority – an authority you do not lawfully possess and cannot lawfully exercise. It is not based on the City Charter. It is not based on the advice of City Counsel. It is not based on any precedent. Further, your opinion runs directly contrary to the plain language of C-20 of the City Charter: “Special meetings of the City Council shall be called by the City Clerk on the written request of the Mayor.” There is no discretion. The Clerk’s duty is mandatory and ministerial. Your refusal to allow the Clerk to call this meeting is a violation of your oath of office. And worse, you instructed the City Clerk to violate her oath of office. These lawless actions can have grave consequences.

I appreciate that you do not like the difficult position you find yourself in. Nonetheless this does not give you or anyone the right to flaunt the rule of law. You are precipitating a crisis and making the Council and City look foolish. Please do not do that.

There is no other lawful procedure for filling this vacancy except the one prescribed by the Charter. Your evasions only bring disrespect on your office. I urge you to respect the rule of law, respect the City Council members and Clerk’s Office staff, and sit with the Democratic caucus to set a date for a vote in order to resolve this matter without further unnecessary delay.


Council President responded to Mayor Madden Thursday afternoon:

Dear Mayor Madden,

First and foremost, I am a bit perplexed by your email call to work with the Democrat Caucus. Once again, your insistence to invoke and interject in the legislative process is over the boundaries of the separation of powers between the executive branch and legislative branch.

Council Members Gulli, Sorriento and I, from the moment of the resignation of the prior Council Member, has and will continue to respect ALL the residents in District 2 (D2) with a fair, open, and transparent process to fill the D2 vacancy. As you are well aware, this is a legislative function and not an executive function. Please respect the legislative process.

Despite the bullying, intimidation, and misleading public statements including threatening comments you make within this email to myself and the City Clerk, will not deter us from moving forward with an open and transparent process for District 2. Additionally, a certain Council Member’s intimidation toward the City Clerk last evening following our meetings did not go unnoticed. The hostile work environment this Council Member is creating will not be tolerated.

Now let’s really talk about the facts and respect, Mayor. We already have a special meeting scheduled for this evening to act upon sensitive financial issues. Instead of respecting the Council Rules of Order and going through the normal legislative process, you and the three Democrat Council Members chose to play politics with a very important matter attempting to squeeze in another last minute second special meeting.

Regarding your call for this second special meeting this evening, I called you yesterday before you called the special meeting. You did not answer and I left a message requesting you not call the meeting and requested a return call. No return phone call and minutes later you sent a call for a special meeting. Had you listened to your own advice and communicated with myself and the two Republican Council Members and called me back, you would have found out that your legislation is null and void as the Charter, Section C(1) D, clearly states, “the vacancy SHALL be filled by a vote of the remaining Council Members”. A Council Member informed me early this week, she was unable to attend the meetings this evening. The meeting you called was based on legislation that could NOT be acted upon without the remaining Council Members present. Therefore, since you refused to communicate with us you actually called a Special Meeting based on legislation which could not be acted upon. Please in the future Mayor, as Council Member Gulli states, “Measure twice. Cut once”.

Your non-communication and disrespect to myself and certain members of the legislative branch continues, and I will continue to respectfully remind you that you do not oversee the legislative branch despite the three Democrat Council Members insistence to merge the legislative and executive branches and blur the pure fundamentals of government.

Lastly, Mayor, I did take an oath of office to carry out the duties the people of Troy elected me to do, which is fair, open and transparent government. Despite the three Democrat Council Members and your continuous attempts to bully, railroad, intimidate, and threaten us, we will continue moving forward with an open and fair process.

Your continued circumvention of the rules and the legislative process will have consequences.

Carmella R. Mantello
City Council President
City of Troy

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.