New Rochelle, “WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
Walt Kelly was one smart man. All of the citizens of New Rochelle share part of the responsibility for the way out city government is run and the condition it and the city are in. So it is up to us to correct it and we should all do our share to help get it right for the future of this once fine city by the sound. New Rochelle City Government is the dysfunctional step child. You have to recognize and admit you have a problem to fix it and move forward toward recovery. What’s in your government? There are a million of quotes that can describe New Rochelle as it is today pick one. We need to fix that is a start.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. Front page article in the Journal News. Many have been saying the same thing about New Rochelle. For one, I have been saying this for years about New Rochelle, its City Council and City Staff. Read the Journal News article and it shows the dysfunction of a much larger scale. My concerns are not with what goes on nationally. My concerns are for what happens right here in River City or should I say, The Queen City of the Sound. I write this article because I have stated that we fail to communicate and that we fail to follow The City Charter as written. Now I feel it is time to put what I have to say and found in print. I have no political motive or agenda for doing this, just good timing.
Much has been said by me, others on this site, and others from New Rochelle and people from outside the city regarding The New Rochelle City Charter as it refers to the responsibilities of The City Council and the role and responsibility of the office of the Mayor. Strong Mayor vs. Weak Mayor, what type of government do we have here in New Rochelle? New Rochelle has an identity crisis because many have not yet accepted the fact that we are a city. New Rochelle is not a big city like New York, but a city just the same. So what type of government should a city like New Rochelle have? First we need to determine what our current government is and if it is the right type of government for a city like New Rochelle. As I believe we have a council–manager government style of government. Sometimes it is hard to tell.
I have done some research regarding the roles, relationships and responsibilities of the Mayor, City Council and City Manager, looked into the past history of the community's unwillingness to support a strong mayor position, and believe that the confusion, or unwillingness to conform to the Charter language has been instrumental in our judgment, causing many of the prime issues we experience as a community such as a city divided, lack of a direct focus on assessment and planning, inflated city budgets on exempt salaries, and insufficient accountability. The City of New Rochelle should consider developing a proper relationship with The City School District of New Rochelle as they are the largest portion of our taxes. Look at where we are going and where we have been, follow The City Charter and follow the 1996 Comprehensive Plan as it has been pretty much ignored. We have a road map to follow but never follow it nor ask for directions. New Rochelle does not have a GPS for what ails it.
First let’s describe what form of government we have in New Rochelle:
The council–manager government/Weak Mayor form is one of two predominant forms of local government in the United States; the other common form of local government is the mayor-council government/Strong Mayor form, which characteristically occurs in larger cities such as White Plains and Yonkers. See this link for more definition and detail:
Under the council–manager form of government for municipalities, the elected governing body or The City Council is responsible for the legislative function of the municipality such as establishing policy, passing local ordinances, voting appropriations, and developing an overall vision.
The legislative body or The City Council is voted into office by public elections, appoints a professional manager to oversee the administrative operations, implement its policies, and advise it. The position of "mayor" present in this type of legislative body is a largely ceremonial title, and may be selected by the council from among its members or elected as an at-large council member with no executive functions. We elect ours.
Under our council–manager government/Weak Mayor form of government, The City Manager position is like a corporate chief executive officer/CEO; he provides his professional management skills to The City Council. He is responsible making the major decisions, and wields representative power on behalf of the citizens.
I have looked at the Towns and Cities in our area for comparison. That was a tough one. There is no comparison as there are many hybrids of mayors, strong, weak or otherwise. Most of the communities outside of Yonkers and Mount Vernon are towns or villages so no fair comparison as New Rochelle is a city. Yonkers and Mount Vernon have a strong mayor with a common council. The position of mayor is individually defined in each of these communities by their own City Charters. Many would argue that New Rochelle does NOT have a weak mayor. In fact, New Rochelle has a ceremonial mayor whose defined duties are to represent New Rochelle for governmental purposes, conduct city council meetings and any other duties specified by the council. There is a specific circumstance by which the mayor could take control of the NRPD in the event of emergency and with the support of council.
All that being said, I have gone back and reviewed Article III Section 10 The Mayor from 1967 City Charter. Having also looked at the documents related to both Charter Changes for salary increases in 1996 to $63K and in 2007 when the mayor’s salary went up to $89K. It was clear that the position of mayor was recognized as ceremonial a 'Weak Mayor', not a strong mayor.Brian Sussman has corrected me on some facts and said that several attempts were made to change this style of government but failed. New Rochelle has had a 'Weak Mayor' form of government since 1933. Prior to that, the Mayor ran New Rochelle, and there were no City Managers. Also I found out that The Charter League and Citizens Council of New Rochelle, the organization that brought council/manager form of government to New Rochelle over 80 years ago still supports professional city management and have successfully fought several challenges over the years to maintain it, as have many others.
New Rochelle had two referendums for 'Strong Mayor' in the 1990s, and also another referendum in the 1990's to determine how many City Council Districts there would be, following the failed first 'Strong Mayor' referendum. These three referendums originated with a Mayor's Commission and with City Council legislation.
There was a citizen's petition in the 1980's, regarding a referendum for 'Strong Mayor', but it failed to result in a referendum due to an error of the City Clerk at that time. So there actually was no mayoralty referendum in the 1980's.
Under a 'Weak Mayor' form of government this raises a legislative question about the need for a City Manager, a Mayor with a large and well paid administrative and support staff. Both of whom get full time vehicles.
Considering the value of these perks along with a salary of $89K, It raises the question whether the mayor is correct in saying he is one of the lowest paid mayors in the Westchester County Area. The correct question might be is he one of the highest paid ceremonial/part time mayors in the area. If you refer to Article III Section 10, The Mayor from 1967 City Charter it reads:
The Council and Mayor
Section 10. THE MAYOR. At the first election, and at each alternate election thereafter at which members of the Council are elected, there shall be elected a Mayor who shall serve for four years from the 1st of January next following his election.
He shall preside over Council
He shall be recognized as the head of City government for
All ceremonial purposes, by the courts for the serving of civil processes, and by the Governor for purposes of military law. In time of public danger or emergency the Mayor shall, if so authorized by vote of the Council, take command of the police, maintain order and enforce the law. During his absence or disability his duties as Mayor shall be performed by another member of the Council appointed by the Council.
The Mayor shall possess such powers of appointment as are hereinafter provided.
In 1995 -1996 this section of The City Charter was amended to read as follows:
Local Law – No.10 – 1995
Section 1. Section 10 of Article III of the Charter of the City of New Rochelle is hereby amended in its entirety to read as follows:
The Council and Mayor
Section 10. The Mayor
At the general city election held in 1995, and at such election in each fourth year thereafter, there shall be elected a Mayor who shall serve for four (4) years from the first of January following his or her other election.
He or she shall preside over the Council, represent the City in intergovernmental relationships, present an annual State of the City message, and perform other duties specified by the Council as allowed by the Charter.
He or she shall be recognized as the head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes, by the courts for the serving of civil processes and by the Governor for purposes of military law. In time of public danger or emergency, the Mayor shall, if so authorized by vote of the Council, take command of the police, maintain order and enforce the law. During his or her absence or disability, his or her duties as Mayor shall be performed by another member of the Council appointed by the Council.
Following the salary increases and Charter amendment in 1996 there was only one change to that section referring to the mayor and that was the following paragraph:
“He or she shall preside over the Council, represent the City in intergovernmental relationships, present an annual State of the City message, and perform other duties specified by the Council as allowed by the Charter”.
In an e-mail I asked New Rochelle Corporate Council Kathleen Gill;
Is there a way to find out the legislation information on how, when and why this was added? Who requested the additions and any other documentation pertaining to the addition of the paragraph?
Responding to my e-mail question about the added paragraphOn Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM, Gill, Kathleen wrote:
Here is local law 10-95 with the Council minutes. As you can see, the language regarding “intergovernmental relationships” was added in that enactment. In the absence of legislative history, I can only surmise as to its meaning. This suggests that the role of the mayor was intended to be expanded to give him the responsibility to represent the City in negotiations with other governmental entities, including the county, state and other municipalities”.
As you can see, this new paragraph does not make the position of the mayor strong or even Simi-strong. The position of Mayor remains that of a ceremonial position. The only difference is that we now pay the mayor’s position a much greater salary with several perks and benefits which many people looking for full time employment would jump at. $89K, administrative staff, support staff, life time benefits and of course, a car.
Here is some other interesting reading:
New Rochelle's "Full-Time" Mayor Moonlights His Way to Six-Figure Income
By Robert Cox on Thu, 02/26/2009
Article from New York Times:
IN PERSON; Perched at the Top, a Mayor Surveys the City of His Birth
By ELSA BRENNER Published: January 8, 2006
“Mr. Bramson, who as a full-time mayor is the chief legislator of the seven-member City Council, said he would keep a watchful eye on new construction to ensure that the city provides the financing and legislative cooperation necessary to support the new economic progress”.
JN: Retired or Working, Part-Time City Council Members, Family and Spouses Get Free, Full-Time Taxpayer-Funded Health Insurance
By Robert Cox on Sun, 06/13/2010
Mystery Solved: Noam Bramson a Part-Time Mayor
By Robert Cox on Thu, 03/12/2009
New Rochelle's Mayor Moonlight #1 Individual Recipient of Lowey Largess
By Robert Cox on Fri, 03/13/2009
More people like the few that speak at Citizens to be Heard, those that write their feelings on Talk of the Sound and the new comer to the city, “United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle” must work together to achieve balance and growth for the future of New Rochelle.
For those of you that don’t know who United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle are yet, United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle is a non-political/bipartisan group of New Rochelle citizens with various economic, ethnic, and professional backgrounds. They support transparency and fiscal responsibility in government. The group’s eight founding members consist of two Republicans, three Democrats, and three who are not registered with any party. Many are from the North End of New Rochelle and have supported and do still support current sitting members of The City Council. United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle is open to all citizens who seek to improve New Rochelle, anyone may join.
Here is their web site and a recent press release:
Start your own group or re-energize your current association, it is time to put some effort and energy back into The City of New Rochelle. Whether personal, business or government all systems and relationships need constant review and updating. We can’t afford to leave it up to the other guy because you don’t think your voice is heard. Our voices are being heard now more than they had in the past and we must grasp at the ring while it is in front of us because the carousel may not make it around for another turn. In the words of recently retired New Rochelle School Board Member Mary Jane Reddington,” Change Things and Continue to Change Things”.
I would be glad to hear any facts and information that anyone on this site would like to share. Write your own thoughts on this subject; let’s make this a community effort. Feel free to join in the conversation by correcting some of what I have written such as dates or definitions etc… if necessary. Much of my information comes from reviewing text, talking to several longtime residents; people involved with past dealings with the charter and several city staff members. If you see something say something, I would like to see and hear what facts or example you feel show that we do or don’t follow The City Charter.
Now is the time to have this conversation because the next mayoral election is in 2014/15. The conversation, dialogue needs to start and information should be shared to get everything on the table. No idea is too small; New Rochelle has so many smart people that do want to share their thoughts and Ideas. It could be moved to get a new referendum on the ballet to clarify the roles and responsibilities of The Mayor and The City Manager. It could also be brought up to change the form of government once again if so chosen. That is opening up a whole new can of worms and I am not saying one is better than the other.
I plan to keep speaking at Citizen to be Heard, writing what I can and working with groups such as United Concerned Citizens of New Rochelle to continue to get the message out. Our lives, our families, our homes, our taxes and The City of New Rochelle are what count most. Local issues and problems must always come first. City, County and School taxes are burying us!
Let’s put the need for a new vote on the Weak Mayor VS Strong Mayor referendum out there and make a new start with clear and defined roles, relationships and responsibilities of the Mayor, City Council and City Manager once and for all!
“Common Sense for the Common Good”