City Ordinance About Mayoral Absence Being Drafted
By JENNA CARLESSO
May 25, 2010
HARTFORD The city charter is clear about what would happen if Mayor Eddie A. Perez were to be convicted or resign from his post amid his trial on corruption charges: council President Pedro Segarra would become the interim mayor.
But the question of what would happen if the trial keeps Perez from fulfilling his duties as mayor or if any future mayor were to be debilitated in some fashion is less clear.
The city council is trying to determine how much time the mayor can spend out of his office and in the courtroom before he is considered "absent" from his duties and when an interim mayor would need to be appointed.
The council sought legal advice on the matter in April, and last week learned that it must draft an ordinance that lays out a procedure for determining what constitutes an "absence" or "disability." Some council members said the charter doesn't adequately address what is considered to be an absence.
The panel is now working to draft such an ordinance. Segarra said members will analyze procedures that other cities have in place to deal with the issue, and determine if the methods could work in Hartford. They also plan to consult with government and public policy experts.
"This needs to be done. It can't fall to the back seat," Segarra said Tuesday. "These are important provisions of law that should have been there years ago."
The issue of the mayor's absence was raised last month after some council members suggested that Perez's trial on bribery and larceny charges is enough of a distraction that he should step aside until its conclusion. Perez has rejected that notion, and said his staff would help him run the city.
"He's been, of course, less accessible to council members and the public. He's not absent geographically, but he's absent from his job," said Councilman Larry Deutsch, who had introduced a resolution calling for the appointment of an interim mayor during Perez's trial. It was voted down.
"At this point, he's like a figurehead," Deutsch said Tuesday of Perez. "He's visible on weekends, but not in his office during the week."
Allan B. Taylor, the lawyer who was asked to provide a legal opinion on the issue, said the council needs to spell out what it considers to be an absence before deciding whether it should seek an interim mayor.
"The council's failure to have adopted an ordinance specifying the 'procedure for determining said absence or disability' renders moot the question [of] whether it could lawfully declare the mayor absent or disabled as a result of his obligation to attend his criminal trial," Taylor wrote in a letter to Segarra last week.
Segarra said there is no deadline to draft the ordinance, though he and others hope to have it done quickly.
"We want to create [an ordinance] that's balanced with the expectations of the public, while not being insensitive to things that could confront the mayor or future mayors," he said.
Segarra said when he joined the council in 2006, he assumed that such an ordinance was already in place.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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