January 26, 2011
Lawsuit response splits mayor, council
Mayor cancels meeting requested by aldermen to review city’s legal filing to rental permit suit
Mayor Susan Feiszli canceled tonight’s special session of the city Common Council because the deadline for modifications to the city’s response to a lawsuit brought by local landlords has already passed.
In an e-mail to the council Tuesday afternoon, Feiszli said Acting Corporation Counsel Meira Hertzberg filed amended papers on the lawsuit Monday, which included issues raised by Alderman Brian Tobin (D-4th Ward) last week.
“The response was given in the 11th hour prior to the meeting,” Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) said. “I think she realized she left something out.”
Michales said the corrected response might not have covered everything the council wanted to discuss. He said he still planned to bring it up at the Feb. 1 council meeting.
The lawsuit challenges the city’s rental permit program, and calls into question the existence of the city’s “three-unrelated law,” which prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single dwelling unless they live as a functioning family.
Feiszli said Hertzberg told her no additional modifications can be made within the next few days, and said there was no reason to have the meeting.
Tobin would not clarify what the issues with the city’s response were, but said he believed the council had until Thursday — 20 days from the Jan. 7 filing.
Tobin said one of the three questions he raised was answered, and was told Hertzberg would address the other two in executive session, which was the reason Tobin and Aldermen Stephanie Hayes (D-2nd Ward) and Michales called for a special session on Tuesday.
“We’re not trying to micro-manage, we were looking for information on what moves were made and why,” Tobin said.
The response filed Monday had two differences. It takes one claim, which says the law requires owners to consent to warrantless inspection of their property in order to obtain a permit, and moves it from the section denying sufficient information to form a belief to the section denying all allegations.
The new response also included a verification section with a sworn statement by Hertzberg.
Feiszli said she was not told of Tuesday’s session ahead of time, and since she could not attend a meeting that day, scheduled the meeting for Wednesday.
Michales said the council was not consulted on the date change and said Feiszli changed the meeting date to Wednesday knowing that some of the council members could not show up.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Michales said about the meeting being canceled.
“We’re trying to do what’s best for the city, and sometimes we have our hands tied behind our backs,” Michales said.
“It is obvious that we had a severe breakdown in communications on this and that this needs to be corrected,” Feiszli said in the e-mail.
On Monday, Feiszli claimed the council did not follow proper procedure to call the meeting, since only the mayor can call for a special session. The aldermen interpreted the City Charter differently, and believed three aldermen could agree to call a special meeting.
The charter states, “The Mayor, or in his absence, the Acting Mayor or any three Aldermen may call special meetings by notice in writing served personally or delivered to the Aldermen’s’ residences not less than 24 hours in advance of the special meeting.”
Feiszli said she would add the topics for the special meeting onto the agenda for the next scheduled meeting on Feb. 1.
The items on the agenda included discussions on the position of city judge and corporation counsel, as well as an executive session, which would likely deal with a discussion on the lawsuit brought by landlords.
“This will give us sufficient time to prepare and, hopefully, have a more constructive discussion,” Feiszli said.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe