Mount Vernon — Mayor Richard W. Thomas held a press conference, Monday to talk about the termination of Public Safety Commissioner Robert ‘Bob’ Kelly. During the presser at 1 minute and 14 seconds in, Mayor Thomas mentioned, “At this point and time only one councilman, that is playing politics with public administration…”
At 5 minutes and 37 seconds into video of press conference, answering a question from News 12’s Ty Milburn, Mayor Thomas replied; “I can’t speak to rumors and innuendos, I know we made a decision, my position is clear and we have a process in place with prominent community members we have council members, multiple council members who are in support of this decision and we’re moving forward.”
The presence of Councilman J. Yuhanna Edwards, the lone councilperson standing with the mayor did not paint the picture of the support of the council the mayor described. But the mayor’s comments made it seem like the highly publicized Civil War inside City Hall was just a personal vendetta Councilman André Wallace (the only councilman, that is playing politics with public administration…) had against him. Instead of answering the questions asked by the press on the firing of Kelly, the Mayor choose to take a few shots at Councilman Wallace. Whether this was an effort to change the narrative of the story or to distract the media that he had not officially addressed the questions, either way we are not getting the whole story.
In our effort to get to the heart of the matter, BW reached out to Councilman Edwards who stood with the Mayor to see if he could shed some light on the matter. Councilman Edwards explained to BW that the council has no power or authority over the Mayor hiring and firing commissioners.
The support of the council on his decision to fire a commissioner and saying you have their support at the press conference was not only unnecessary but also not 100% truthful.
“When you are the mayor and you’re dealing with individuals in your department, they had to satisfy you and your needs and it doesn’t seem that all needs were satisfied as far as Mayor Thomas is concerned,” City Council President Pro Tem J. Yuhanna Edwards tells BW. “I did request some information on why he [Mayor Thomas] fired him [Commissioner Kelly] and he gave me enough to satisfy saying OK I support you going forward, that’s all I’m saying I support you going forward.”
Other than Councilman Edwards, most of the other individuals that stood with the mayor at his presser, were commissioners who serve at the pleasure of the mayor and may have stood there so it will continue to be the mayor’s pleasure for them to serve, not prominent community members as he stated.
City Council Acting President Pro Tem Roberta L. Apuzzo was not pleased with the Mayor’s statements, when she watched the BW video coverage of the press conference and reached out to us, “I watched that video last night and I don’t know what he feels the majority means.” She explained the Mayor has the right to hire and fire so to get a majority of the council to support it is a non issue. In our conversation Councilwoman Apuzzo wanted to make it clear; “I did not support it, I don’t know anything about it. In order for me to support something, I have to know the facts. I don’t know the facts. The council is a fact-finding body. His statement is disingenuous. ”
Going back to the mayor’s comment that multiple council members are in support of his decision to Offboard Kelly as commissioner as he referred to it, we reached out to Council President Marcus A. Griffith to get a quote from him and his response did not appear to be one of support for the mayor’s decision either.
“I am unclear as to why the Police Commissioner was fired,” Council President Griffith tells BW. “The Press asked valid questions regarding the termination. What is most concerning is the abrupt turn of events in such a short period of time. The Council was impressed with Kelly’s approach, plan, and regard for policy. It is hard to believe Kelly could have done something, that conflicting, to deserve termination.”
BW had no way to reach Councilwoman Lisa A. Copeland for comment on this story, by time of posting. Councilman André Wallace who has been described as a political adversary of the mayor decided to defer to his fellow council members and decline the request for comment at this time but reserved the right to possibly speak on the matter at a later date.
Councilman Edwards who currently chairs over the Police Department added, “I think the council has asked for Advise and Consent authority which we would have to have legislation passed and to change our charter, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So of course we don’t have that, the closest thing to advise and consent is allowing one member of the City Council to be on the panel for the next selection [of a new police commissioner] and I will report back to the council to give us an opportunity to have some sort of advise and consent so to speak.”
The City Council of the City of Mount Vernon consists of five representatives, one of which is the City Council President. Each council member is elected at large and therefore, represents all of the citizens of the city. The City Council is known as the Legislative Branch of Government, the Mayor is the Executive Branch of Government. While our government is built on a system of checks and balances, it only works when the branches actually work together. BW will continue to cover the rocky relationship between the two branches.
About Advise and Consent: In the United States, “advice and consent” is a power of the United States Senate to be consulted on and approve treaties signed and appointments made by the President of the United States to public positions, including Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, United States Attorneys, and ambassadors. In the City of Mount Vernon, Advise and Consent authority would give the Council the power to vet and approve potential appointees of the Mayor.