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Hartford Council Fails To Restore Its Budgetary Subpoena Power

JEFFREY B. COHEN

September 23, 2009

HARTFORD - The city council Tuesday fell one vote short of overriding a mayoral veto of a resolution that gives it subpoena power over budgetary issues.

But Councilman Pedro Segarra, whose frustration over insufficient cooperation on budget matters from the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez led to the current spat, said the issue isn't over.

"This doesn't mean a darn thing with respect to our ability to issue subpoenas," Segarra said after Tuesday's council meeting. He said the mayor's "improper" veto can't change the law.

Segarra and others on the council were frustrated earlier this year because they felt they weren't getting the kind of information and cooperation on budget issues from Perez's staff that they sought, so they voted to give themselves subpoena power.

Since then, city staff has apparently been more cooperative. But now the question isn't whether the council should issue subpoenas, but whether it has the power to do so at all.

The city's attorney, Corporation Counsel John Rose, says the council doesn't have subpoena power, and the mayor agreed vetoing its resolution. The council's own attorney, Allan Taylor of the Hartford firm Day Pitney, says it does in fact have subpoena power.

On Tuesday, the question was whether to override the mayor's veto. Seven votes were needed; the override got six.

Segarra, a Democrat, and his supporters cast the issue as one of existential importance for the council as it flexes, and protects, its powers in a strong-mayor form of government. Democratic Councilman Kenneth Kennedy spoke of the "stone wall" that goes up at city hall when information is sought that is not perceived as being in the mayor's best interests.

Democratic councilmen Matt Ritter and Jim Boucher said the council's legal authority to issue subpoenas is clear, and voted in favor of the override. Working Families councilmen Larry Deutsch and Luis Cotto also voted in favor.

But Democratic Majority Leader rJo Winch and Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson called the subpoena power unnecessary now that the council is getting better cooperation. Council President Calixto Torres said that the city's staff works for the mayor, not the council, and that "this is a strong-mayor form of government."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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