Facing a legal challenge that some felt would be hard for the city to overcome, the City Council has backed away from in a proposed consolidation move with the School Department.
In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the City Council rejected a motion that would have placed a series of City Charter changes on the ballot for voters to approve in November. The proposed changes would have removed all references to the personnel director's job, .
In the suit, Bello, whose position was "de-funded" in a budget move earlier this year in an effort to save about $100,000, argued that the City Council overstepped their authority and effectively tried to terminate her without due process. The position is a mayoral appointment and by de-funding her position, she said, the council is usurping the mayor's executive authority.
In response to the suit, Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter issued a temporary restraining order, forcing the city to keep her on the job for the time being.
The charter changes would have undermined Bello's argument. As City Council Lawyer Patrick Quinlan , the changes would give the administration more flexibility in determining how to assign personnel duties to city staff, or to the school department.
The changes were approved by the Finance Committee in a 3-1 vote, with Councilman Paul Archetto casting the lone no vote. But on Monday, the measure failed to garner the five votes required to pass the full City Council.
City Council President Anthony Lupino said in a telephone interview that he voted in favor of the consolidation at the Finance Committee meeting, but changed his vote on Monday after talking to constituents amidst increasing concerns that the city would lose the lawsuit.
Lupino also said that the charter changes could be perceived as a legal tactic and not necessarily in the best interest of the city. And changes to the City Charter are serious, he said, and there are concerns that the public might not know exactly what they were voting on when they head to the polls in November. That concern was evidenced when people who spoke about the issue Monday night addressed the issue as if it were just about getting rid of the personnel director and not necessarily about changing the charter.
"I wasn't getting good vives about the success," Lupino said. "And I don't think [the charter changes] were going to be presented in the right format."
Lupino noted at the meeting that even if he were to vote in favor of the measure, it still would have been one vote shy of the five votes needed for passage, despite reports that he cast a swing vote, tipping the decision.
Proponents of the measures said the whole point is to save taxpayers money. It was suggested that consolidating the city's personnel department with the school district would save $100,000.
Archetto said in an interview that he thinks the proposed charter changes on the agenda Monday night were an attempt to "save face."
"They dropped the ball on the suit and there's a strong case against the city," Archetto said. "Now the city has to hire an attorney, it's going to cost us money at a time when we don't really have any extra money."
The proposed charter changes were an "attempt" to "erase a mistake and get the voters involved in changing the charter," Archetto said.
Archetto noted that the consolidation idea is risky because it turns over the city's autonomous entity known as the Personnel Department over to the school department.
"It's now in the hands of the superintendent and we've just increased the power of that entity," Archetto said.
At the Finance Committee meeting, Councilman Jim Donahue said the charter changes are simply to "give the mayor flexibility how he chooses to fulfill the personnel administration functions. . .and the school district would likely be the partner in that."
And "hopefully it will save the city $100,000 or so in the meantime," Donahue said.
Voting against the proposal Monday night were Councilmen Archetto, Lupino, Richard Santamaria and Councilwoman Maria Bucci. Voting in favor were Councilmen Donahue, Steve Stycos and Michael Favicchio.
Councilman Emilio Navaro and Leslie-Ann Luciano were not present at Monday night's meeting.