Councilwoman Robin Wentworth, D-1st Ward, said the framers of the City Charter never intended to give the mayor the authority to hire a city transit director without council review and confirmation.
But, as Wentworth and other council members discovered, the City Charter doesn’t acknowledge the transit department as a city department.
This issue came up this past spring when Mayor Dayton King used his executive authority to hire new Mobility Manager William Wallace at a salary of about $53,000 — much of it covered by a state Department of Transportation grant.
Wentworth said Monday it’s important to amend the charter to recognize the transit department as a city department subject to the hiring rules observed in the other departments.
A public hearing on a charter amendment will be conducted at 6 tonight at City Hall. Wentworth said the council may vote on the measure during a council meeting following the hearing.
But, City Attorney Anthony Casale said Monday his research has determined that an amendment of the charter to include a new department must be put up for a referendum.
“I want to make sure the proper process is followed,” Casale said.
Both sides are now awaiting an opinion from the New York Conference of Mayors.
Wentworth said her reading of the state municipal home rule law does not seem to mandate a referendum for an addition to a charter.
King could not be reached Monday, but Wentworth said the exclusion of the transit department from the charter did empower King to make the appointment unilaterally.
“We don’t want the city to be in that position again,” she said, stressing the need to amend the charter on this issue.
Wentworth said it is baffling that the framers of the charter adopted in the late 1990s did not recognize the transit department. The old charter preceded the creation of the transit department, which was founded in the late 1970s by former Mayor Louis Nicolella.
As part of the creation of the transit department, the council at that time adopted a number of resolutions to establish the city bus system.
“It was meant to be a department and it has been run as a department for many years,” Wentworth said, noting that the council reviews the transit department’s annual budget proposal along with those of the other departments.