Column: Adding strength to the City Council

At midnight on Dec. 31, the unexpired council terms of Joe Sack and Catherine Parker will be vacant since they will have moved on to higher offices, mayor and county legislator respectively. Until then, there will be no vacancies to fill. That is why Mayor French correctly said in his Dec. 2 column, “Please forward your resume to the incoming council if interested in serving.”

Here is what the city charter, in section C4-5, says must happen to fill such vacancies.carey

“If a vacancy shall occur in the office of Mayor or Councilman, the Council shall, by a vote of a majority of the members of the Council remaining in office, appoint a person to fill such vacancy.”

It is important to note that it is the council that is to appoint the successor council member, not the council upon nomination by the mayor. Any member of the council, not just the mayor, may nominate a person to fill a council vacancy. Also of importance is that an appointee “shall hold office by virtue of such appointment until the first day of January following the first general election after the happening of the vacancy.” In other words, until Jan. 1, 2015.

We should not insist that any would-be nominee fill out an application or submit to an interview. There may be those fully-qualified candidates who would not care to make a spectacle of their desire to serve the community.

If I had anything to do with it, I would look for candidates with good manners. For instance, I would like to know if a candidate would raise her or his hand and wait to be given the floor by the mayor before speaking. For too many years, our meetings have seen rude interruptions, sometimes involving members of the public as well as council members.

I would look for candidates who could be counted on to do their homework and come to meetings prepared to express independently reasoned views on pertinent issues. When I say express, I don’t mean wrangle, but say clearly what is on her or his mind. If repartee follows, I would like to see mutually respectful and calm, clear expressions of views.

I would like to see candidates with experience in areas like civil engineering, personnel management and corporate finance and accounting, to name a few areas of expertise that would help the council do its work.

And I certainly want to see real scrutiny of complicated and vaguely explained plans put before the council, like those a) to hire, without competition, a headhunter firm to find a new top cop and b) to grant a tax exemption plus a payment in lieu of taxes to a for-profit company to run Rye Manor when its reason for wanting a PILOT is likely to be because it expects to otherwise be taxable for running a for-profit instead of a genuinely affordable residence facility. We need the ability to see through clouds of jargon and see clearly what is really going on.

One of my most-cherished memories of being mayor is when I proposed Edith Read to fill a council vacancy and, right after she was sworn in, proposed Jim Garrity to be Rye City Judge. His acceptance depended on Edith’s vote, and she came through without my having had to ask her for a commitment. Rest in peace to both those gallant people.