In Soundview Rising, March 1, 2013 issue
During the New Rochelle City Council meeting on February 19, 2013, Mayor Noam Bramson made a startling statement to the Council members. He said if the Council members did not want to change the assistant police commissioner positions from civil service to appointed positions, they should fire the City Manager. Did this mean that anytime a majority of Council disagrees with the City Manager's proposals he should be fired or was his a glimpse at how Mayor Bramson reacts when several of his Democratic Council members do not agree with him?
The City Manager is appointed by a majority of Council members. The Democrats have had the ability to "rubber stamp" any Council actions proposed by one of their members, including the Mayor. However, there is an important issue here: should the Council have the ability to decide how managerial services are staffed? Many jobs are civil service positions. However, after taking a test for a position the person chosen must be selected from one of applicants whose test scores are in the top three. All police department employees except for the Commissioner and one assistant, are filled through the Civil Service process.
Scenarios of why appointments by Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll would be better than civil service appointments were discussed. Carroll insisted not using civil service would make it easier for him to work with the officers he selected. Councilman Albert Tarantino expressed misgivings about the proposal because there were assumptions made but there were no facts to back up these assumptions.
There is a deeper, more troublesome issue here which cannot be overlooked. Was Mayor Bramson concerned because he no longer had a rubber stamp majority on Council or was there a more complex problem? The City Manager under the New Rochelle City Charter has the power to supervise all employees and appoint non-civil service and especially management level employees. Other organizations differ. For example, the New Rochelle Board of Education votes to approve all persons employed whether civil service or any other category. While the majority of appointments are uneventful, occasionally there is a public disagreement such as was evidenced at Trinity School last year.
Similarly, this could happen at New Rochelle City Hall and the resolution to remove the police positions from civil service is a good example. Still puzzling is why the mandatory retirement age of 62 recently was not enforced by the City Manager. One possible explanation expressed was that New Rochelle had voted several years back to reject the strong mayor form of government. However, was Bramson trying to operate as a strong mayor when he suggested firing the City Manager? What type of City Manager did he think the City Council would pick if that happened? Further is that the way Mayor Bramson perceives how the city government should be run: fire anyone with whom you do not agree? Several days ago in Mount Vernon when Mayor Ernest Davis fired the Police Commissioner, the Council President, Yuhanna Edwards objected because he felt the Council should at least have advisory status for the decision.
The whole New Rochelle City Council must evaluate the City Manager's performance, not just the Mayor. New Rochelle City Council should seriously entertain a charter revision which would enable them to approve all hiring decisions, similar to the way the Board of Education does. The City Council in making this decision to leave the assistant commissioners as civil service appointments did not second guess the City Manager as Bramson had suggested. Rather they were giving serious thought to how assistant police commissioners are chosen before they voted.