Schenectady will have a new City Council president next week — and that may mean an end to the Democrats’ closed meetings.
Councilwoman Margaret King, a Democrat, is expected to be elected president at the council’s committee meeting Monday. The entire council appears to be supporting her bid.
The council’s current informal policy is to elect presidents for two consecutive years, but President Denise Brucker said she didn’t want to continue as president for a second year.
King plans to lead the council to compromise more, putting an end to the 3-3 deadlock votes that scuttled several pieces of legislation last year.
“I’d like to see if we can build consensus with all the council members, including Mr. Riggi,” she said, referring to the only non-Democrat on the council.
King added that she hopes to avoid closed-door meetings, at which the public and Riggi are not allowed.
“I can’t say I won’t ever do it, but I’ll try hard not to,” she said.
Under Brucker, the Democrats on the council began holding closed-door meetings to discuss crucial issues without Councilman Vince Riggi, who was elected a year ago.
Riggi objected to being shut out of critical meetings on the budget, but Brucker said the Democrats could not speak frankly about the budget in public.
Legally, the Democrats are allowed to hold private meetings if they call them a “caucus,” a political meeting in which members of one party discuss their votes and strategy in private.
They cannot keep out the public if they allow Riggi to attend the meetings. Riggi said he believes they were trying to keep issues from the public, not from him.
They have spoken to him privately about the issues they discussed at their closed-door meetings, he said, but since he was not allowed at the meeting, he could not offer proposals or compromises during their discussion.
King said that should change.
“Vince Riggi is a reasonable person,” King said. “We can try to approach issues from a ‘what’s best for the city’ basis — respect each other’s differences of opinion but try to compromise when we can.”
She added that party politics should force a closed-door meeting only if the council must appoint someone to fill a vacant seat.
Currently, Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard is recovering from a stroke, and she may not be able to return to the council. The Democrats, since they hold the majority of the seats, would be able to select her successor if they could all agree on the same person.
An appointment last year was held up for months because council members could not agree. Riggi cast the deciding vote.
But in most other issues, including the budget, the Democrats should not need to hold secret meetings, King said.
“Most of the issues have not been based on party influence,” she said. “We’re really all individuals.”