Law Department overturns council assignments

The Law Department issued a ruling reversing City Council President Christopher Keefe’s reassignment of committee membership, stripping At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty of standing committee membership.
Keefe said this morning that he will abide by the “strict interpretation” of the City Council rules pertaining to committee appointments issued by City solicitor Susan Phillips Thursday.
“I promised I would respect her opinion,” Keefe said.
However, Keefe said that Phillips’ interpretation is not consistent “with the intent of the legislation when we drafted it.”
Ward 2 Councilor James E. Brown Jr., said the ruling has exposed an unintended consequence of the vote to adopt the revised City Council rules in January.
“The L&O will sit down and go through all of the rules,” Brown said. “We did not word that provision correctly according to the law department.”
Brown said that he does not plan to propose changes before a thorough review of the council’s regulations.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Brown said regarding Phillips’ ruling. “The message was sent to everybody about decorum in the council chambers.”
Brown did raise the question if the council presidents resigns, or is forced out by a super majority of the council members, the new council president would be saddled will all of the assignments of the old president based on the January appointments.
“We didn’t see that and didn’t build in any other provisions to make committee adjustments,” Brown said. “We need to go back through the rules.”
Brown said the Law Department ruling means that new councilors, filling a vacancy, will be assigned to the same committees as the former councilor.
“If I resigned for whatever reason today, the council would fill my seat through the same process that Ann Callahan was selected to fill P.J’s (Peter J. Miller Jr.) seat. Under the current rules (as interpreted by the Law Department), that person would assume the chairmanship of the Legislative & Ordinance Committee,” Brown said.
Chairmanships and committee assignments are generally based upon experience, expertise and performance of council members. Typically, new council members are not assigned to major committees, such as Finance or Legislative & Ordinance, or to chairmanships.
Brown said that the Law Department’s ruling also prohibits a councilor from resigning from a committee.
“So, as of tonight’s L&O meeting, (At Large Councilor John J.) Beltrandi is back on the committee and Ann Callahan is no longer a voting committee member,” Brown said.
“We have to see where we are so we can make changes to the rules to establish checks and balances,” Brown said.

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