The Mount Vernon City Council likely exceeded its authority in December when it voted to block the continued employment of five appointees of Mayor Richard Thomas, a state judge has ruled, Lohud.com reported.
- “The City Charter does not give its legislative body, the City Council, the executive authority to terminate the employment of the Mayor’s appointees,” state Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz wrote Wednesday in blocking the council and city comptroller from “disrupting, obstructing or interfering with” the appointees’ work for the city.
Friday morning Mayor Richard W. Thomas released a statement, discussing the decision;
STATE SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS MAYOR’S EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY TO MAKE STAFF APPOINTMENTS
FORBIDS MOUNT VERNON COMPTROLLER, CITY COUNCIL FROM “DISRUPTING, OBSTRUCTING OR INTERFERING” WITH MAYORAL APPOINTEES OR FROM WITHOLDING MUNICIPAL SALARIES
In a scathing decision just issued, New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz upheld the Mount Vernon Mayor’s executive authority to make municipal appointments, rebuking the City Council and the Comptroller’s continuing attempts at “interference” with the city’s executive branch operations.
In the ruling favoring the city’s Mayor, Richard Thomas, Judge Lefkowitz spotlighted a likelihood of success on the legal merits; irreparable harm by the council and comptroller against the employees and administration, as well as a clear balance of equities favoring the mayor. The decision barred the Council and Comptroller from “disrupting” and “obstructing” City Hall employees and the discharge of their duties.
On December 28, 2016, in the middle of the Christmas holiday, the Mount Vernon City Council proposed and adopted a new ordinance declaring five key mayoral appointee offices to be vacated, without the consent or knowledge of the mayor. They include: the City’s Corporation Counsel, Assistant Corporation Counsel, Special Assistant to the Mayor, Commissioner of Public Works and Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety. The council directed the City Comptroller to immediately terminate paying those workers’ salaries, healthcare and other employment benefits.
The litigation results from what the judge termed an “improper” attempt on the part of the City Council to interfere with Mayor Richard Thomas’ charter-derived powers. The litigation spells out that the city council was motivated by a desire for “political animus” against the mayor and that Mount Vernon had never previously abided by a residency requirement that it suddenly decided to invoke on December 28, 2016.
The judge found that the refusal to pay employees was illegal and had placed the council and comptroller under a restraining order until the payments were made. The actions rejected by Judge Lefkowitz’s ruling appear to be yet another rebuke to the political obstructionism that has impeded the city’s ability to effectively deliver crucial services to its citizens. These unlawful ordinances and actions have come close to completely paralyzing progress in Mount Vernon.
“I am grateful that the court recognized the illegality and harm of resulting from the City Council’s and Comptroller’s coordinated action. My administration works for the people of this entire city and as mayor, it is crucially important that I be able to hire the right people to accomplish our goals for Mount Vernon,” said Mayor Richard Thomas. “Despite continued political interference we are making great progress: crime is down 22 percent since 2012, the number of roads repaved has been doubled, and more and more business leaders are taking a serious look at investing in the future of Mount Vernon. If we can eliminate much of this political theater, there would be nothing that we cannot accomplish.”
The Lefkowitz decision comes on the heels of the United States Department of Justice’s order demanding Mount Vernon move quickly to address its leaking sewer system. A special meeting of the City Council is anticipated to be scheduled this week to address the DOJ’s mandate.
The lohud article stated the ruling does not end the lawsuit and Lefkowitz scheduled a conference on the case for Aug. 7. We have reached out to the City Council who are preparing a statement of their own, we will run it as soon as we receive it. Stay tuned to BW for more on this developing story
Below see the Judge’s decision in its entirety.