At this stage, the Hartford Charter Revision Commission is mostly doing what some would call nitpicking. I found myself wishing that my students had been in Council Chambers last night because the need for precise language was actually demonstrated outside of the classroom. When does exact wording and comma placement matter? When one is dealing with politicians! Loopholes are created when the wording is not as clear as it could be, or when a missing comma means the difference between a mandate and a mere suggestion. In this case, it was the difference between The Mayor having the option to serve on the Board of Education, and being obligated to serve on the Board of Education. We know how politicians like to play dumb and equivocate. Move the comma, take care of the problem.
The commission clarified the role of Corporation Counsel. If you were wondering, the half dozen lawyers on the commission explained that the advice given from Counsel to the Mayor or City Council is not legally binding. It’s advice. That’s all. Just as some members of the commission were confused about Counsel’s role, so too was it suggested of some of the current politicians.
Another item of confusion was about the Mayor’s authority to lay off employees during fiscal crisis. It was argued that there were already contingency plans devised long ago for fiscal emergencies, and so there was no need to give the Mayor additional powers. In case anyone had forgotten, this is not the first time the United States has found itself in an economic crisis. It’s not even the second time. Surely, it won’t be the last. But the last thing we need is to grant excessive power to one branch of government when we find ourselves panicking. We saw how well that worked post-9/11 when the Executive Branch of the Federal Government was not kept in check.
But the most memorable part of what was a lowkey-but-productive evening was when the Chair posed this idea in response to Commissioner Rowtham-Kennedy’s how long does the city have to wait for an election if the mayor is incapacitated and so much of the Council is legally compromised performance, reminiscent of Lady MacBeth:
If eight Council were hit by a bus tonight…
For those of you just tuning in, Commissioner Rowtham-Kennedy is married to Councilman Kennedy. Many politicians aspire to be mayor. Rowtham-Kennedy seemed preoccupied with the “what if” question regarding the current series of fiascoes in City Hall. I’m all for planning, but methinks the lady doth push the agenda too much.
Perhaps most useful, besides imagining the need for a plan of action should awful carnage and chaos of a bus accident take down eight politicians, was the language added to the section of the Charter dealing with Corporation Counsel and ethical obligations. This section references Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct., Rule 1.13 which spells out that Corporation Counsel is to serve the organization (Hartford) and must put the interests of the organization before any of the individuals involved in said organization.