Column: Changing the guard at Whitby Castle

careyAccording to a story in euronews, Queen Elizabeth was annoyed when royal police officers supposedly helped themselves to nuts from bowls at Buckingham Palace. So, it takes more than a fancy uniform or title to keep people scrupulously honest when they see a chance for a bit of easy larceny. There needs to be something inside that says no.

When new “guards” take over at Whitby Castle, we hope they will be vigilant enough to spot anything like what we have been hearing about there. We do know at least that the new chief elected official, Mayor Joe Sack, is a former prosecuting attorney who will know what actions are appropriate.

The new mayor’s term will start at the moment he is sworn in on Jan. 1, 2014. If the swearing-in can take place just past midnight, there will be no gap between mayoral terms and all us citizens can sleep peacefully until a public ceremony later on. There must not be any gap, between the French mayoralty and the Sack mayoralty.

Whenever Mayor Sack is sworn in, preferably just after the ball comes down at Times Square, his seat on the City Council will be vacant. Any time after that, any council member, not just the mayor, can nominate someone to fill the vacancy. The appointment is by the council according to the city charter, not by the mayor, and any nomination must be put to a council vote.

Whenever Catherine Parker is sworn in as our new county legislator, her resignation as a member of the Rye City Council will be expected. Then her former council seat will be vacant, to be filled in the same way as the Sack seat.

They say that a new broom sweeps clean, suggesting that a newly elected mayor can clean house to whatever extent he or she may wish. But there are limits, especially those imposed by civil service laws. The old saying that “to the victor belong the spoils” has little practical application today beyond the inner circle surrounding an elected official.

I recall that when I was appointed by the first Gov. Cuomo to the New York State Supreme Court, it was made clear to me that there was a defined pool of legal assistants from which it was traditional to make the selection of one’s law secretary. Instead, I chose an applicant from the law school, NYU, where I had been a graduate student and teacher. He is still a close friend of our whole family who once again spent Christmas Eve with us this year.

Those who will be serving in the 2014 Rye City Council will have the privilege of guiding an important municipality out of some shadows and into the bright light of public scrutiny, confident in the knowledge that the new guards at Whitby Castle and elsewhere in the city government will be alert and ready to blow the whistle without any hesitation on questionable activity.