Gloversville Mayor Dayton King is threatening to veto a proposed local law passed last month by the Common Council in an effort to put a second referendum before voters in November that would make over local government.
The law he wants to veto was passed July 22 and would revise the city charter to allow for a city manager form of government, so long as voters approve the change. King said the proposed revision was politically motivated and unlikely to happen, but expressed support at the time for the public’s right to decide the issue through a referendum on the November ballot.
Previous councils have discussed the change, and it was proposed anew several months ago by First Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth, but King has said Wentworth is simply trying to wrestle power from him after she lost a run for councilwoman-at-large last year.
If approved by voters, the change to a city manager wouldn’t occur until King’s term expires in 2018.
In May, King publicly applauded Wentworth’s efforts to seek a better form of government and recommended an option to eliminate ward restrictions on the Common Council, which would open seats up to candidates from any part of the city.
On Friday, he said he is now threatening to veto the city manager proposal after it became clear to him the council would reject his proposal for citywide council elections. That change in government would also be subject to mandatory referendum. If they’re going to let one go to referendum, King reasoned, why shouldn’t they let the other?
“I have a bargaining chip now to say, ‘Look, if you want the city manager issue on the ballot, then you’ll allow this on the ballot, too,’ ” he said. “I’m hoping the council members stay true to what they’ve been saying — that they want the best people representing their government and that they want the people to get a vote.”
Citywide council elections would prevent council members from being elected and re-elected by family, friends and neighbors, King said. Council seats should be decided in the same way most school board, town and village seats are decided, he said — by all voters, not just those from a particular ward.
“Council members may disagree with citywide elections and tell you that ward representations are needed,” King wrote in an email Friday. “I would agree with them if we were talking about a city such as Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester or certainly New York City. In Gloversville, the issues are the same throughout our city.”
King said Wentworth and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio stated they would vote no on citywide council elections.
“Right now, they have a majority who would vote no with them,” he said.
But both Wentworth and Anadio disputed King’s description of their motives. They said they never told anyone they would vote no on the issue and, they claim, King had barely ever raised the issue until now.
“It’s never even been brought up,” said Wentworth. “Well, he mentioned it one time. Once. But he never did the work. He never drafted a proposal. He brought it up at a meeting, maybe twice. It wasn’t up for a vote. Is it going to affect the councilman-at-large? We don’t even know what it would look like.”
Anadio said she just received a draft of the proposed local law Friday afternoon and hadn’t had time to read it thoroughly. She said a quick glance through it left her confused, however, since it seemed to contradict the proposed city manager law.
“Honestly, I have talked to quite a few of my constituents, and they are not for [citywide council elections],” she said. “They like the idea of being able to go to a representative for their ward and talk to them about issues in their ward. I don’t know. I’m confused by his proposal. I wouldn’t vote for something I don’t understand. It’s pretty sad he’s holding us hostage.”
King said he will make it clear at Tuesday’s council meeting that he wants both issues on the ballot in November. An item on the agenda for that night calls for scheduling a public hearing on a proposed local law to allow citywide elections for all members of the council.
That hearing could be held as soon as Aug. 26, with a vote that night by the council to put it to referendum.
“We need to allow the opportunity to have the best possible elected officials operate our government,” King wrote. “If the voters decide that is also by changing our city government to be operated by a city manager, I will respect that decision and do everything in my ability to prepare that person to take over the administrative duties come January 1, 2018. However, the decision has to be made by the people, not council members who may want full legislative and executive power.
“I hope that you can agree that if we’re going to allow the public to vote on one of these issues, we need to allow them to vote on both.”