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May 11, 2011

 

Mayoral rivals jockey for control of panel

Strategic Planning Committee comes under fire as mayor says it was never officially formed

By JEREMY HOUGHTALING
Staff Reporter
jhoughtaling@cortlandstandardnews.net

The city Strategic Planning Committee, its progress halted after questions arose over its inquiries into city departments, faced more questions Tuesday about its official status, membership and future.
Mayor Susan Feiszli notified the committee that it had never received official approval from the city Common Council.
Although approval had been discussed, it had been tabled twice last year.
A proposal to officially create the committee will likely be on the council’s May 17 agenda.
Appointments to the committee would then come from Feiszli, and need council approval.
Feiszli said she planned to post the committee’s mission statement online, and people would be able to apply to be appointed. She said she would also contact the people who were on the original list for the committee to see if they would like to join.
Mayoral candidate Gerry Ruggiero was at the meeting and expressed interest in joining the committee when it is officially formed.
“I have the right experience to help this committee, and I choose to help,” Ruggiero said, adding that he is a certified public accountant with over 22 years of experience.
Feiszli said she would ask the city Law Department about residency requirements for committee members, since Ruggiero lives in Cortlandville.
“I’m just glad that the topics of consolidation, shared services, and government efficiency, which I’ve been working on for a while now, are being picked up by others,” said Alderman Brian Tobin (D-4th Ward), the chair of the committee. “I feel that it reinforces that I’ve been on the right track all along.”
Feiszli, Tobin and Ruggiero have all announced themselves as Democratic mayoral candidates, and will face off in a primary in September.
Former Mayor Ron Walsh, who also served as Feiszli’s corporation counsel before being asked to step down last December, was also at the meeting and said it would be hard for the committee to get anything done in the short period of time before the Democratic primary election.
The collection of information by two SUNY Cortland interns has stopped, as the questions, drafted by the interns and revised by the committee have yet to be approved by the Law Department.
At the May 3 Common Council meeting, Corporation Counsel Patrick Perfetti told Tobin and the council that the questions were not on his prioritized list of things to do.
Feiszli said she believed the students were working on a research paper for their class, and not for the committee. She said several of the questions raised “red flags” regarding the amount of detail sought.
Perfetti had advised Feiszli and the city department heads that the questions should be screened first, which Feiszli said she agreed with.
The interns were not at the meeting, because the semester is almost over, although Feiszli asked for copies of their papers.
Feiszli said the intent of the committee is fine, but the lack of communication as to what the interns were doing was the problem.
“So you plan to increase communication by bringing all of the questions to corporation counsel?” Walsh responded.
Feiszli said the questions need to be checked to protect the city from any other potential litigation. She used the Housing Committee as another example, since she said it too was never officially formed.
The Housing Committee helped draft the rental permit program, which was challenged in a lawsuit along with the city’s “three-unrelated” law by a group of local landlords — including Ruggiero. The three-unrelated law prohibits four or more unrelated people from living in a single dwelling unless they are the functional equivalent of a family.
Walsh pointed out that an alderman has power, granted by the City Charter, to ask questions of the department heads. He said the interns should have the same right since they were authorized by Tobin.
Tobin said he would follow up with the questions once the committee is officially formed.
Gene Palmer, who is also on the city’s Finance Advisory Committee, said he did not believe any of the questions inquired about anything that should be confidential and wondered why the official status of the committee had not been brought up until recently.
The questions, broken down by department, mostly ask about agreements with other municipalities, how the departments’ services benefit residents outside the city, what each department does and staffing levels.
The committee’s goal has been to look for ways to decrease the city’s tax burden, while still providing services city residents need.
Feiszli said she had been to an informational meeting Tuesday with Bond, Schoeneck & King, a Syracuse law firm, which focused on shared services and intermunicipal agreements. She said she plans to invite the firm to a future committee meeting.
Feiszli said she also plans to invite the state Comptroller’s Office in for a presentation.

 

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