When Hartford voters approved a strong-mayor
form of government, they didn't intend for the city council to become
the mayor's doormat.
Unfortunately, council members' ineffectiveness
was exposed last week when they approved a four-year labor contract
that was handed to them by the mayor's office moments before their
Council members were told that if they didn't approve the agreement
immediately between the city and the union representing 67 professional
employees, including health inspectors and accountants, the pact
automatically would become binding five days later. And, if they
rejected the deal, it could go to arbitration, where the end result
could be disadvantageous to the city.
After first turning down the contract
by a 3-2 vote with four abstentions, the council reconsidered and
passed it 5-0 with four abstentions. Some of those who approved
the contract said it was justified because the settlement is favorable
to the city. The council then asked its president, John Bazzano,
to send a strongly worded letter to the mayor, telling him that
such last-minute deals are unacceptable.
The contract approval is only one example
of the council being hurried or essentially ignored by Mayor Eddie
Perez. In one case, the council interviewed a department-head candidate
a month after he moved to Hartford and started his job. The council
also took no part in screening candidates for police chief.
The mayor's office had plenty of time
to deliver the contract to the council before the meeting so that
members could have at least read it carefully before a vote. City
officials finished negotiating the labor contract on Jan. 6 and,
by law, council members had 44 days in which to act on it.
The council should have received copies
of the deal right after it was reached. The excuse for the delay
- that union members didn't vote on the contract until Jan. 31 -
is weak and suggests that Mr. Perez's office has little regard for
the council's oversight role.
Rushing to get the contract approved
also cut off the opportunity for public comment.
Mr. Perez should, as a matter of courtesy
and good management, make sure that council members are given a
reasonable time in which to read and understand anything on which
they will be asked to vote. The presentation of this contract at
the last minute was highhanded and undermined good government.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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