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Common question re: Props 2 & 3


“The language of the two propositions sounds great.  It refers mostly to the powers to appoint staff. How does that lead to the conclusion that citizen boards (BPW and Fire) are stripped of their authority and rendered advisory only?”


The two local laws that were enacted by Common Council in June – and which are the subject of the ballot propositions #2 and #3 – include the repeal of Charter sections C-59 and C-98 and the enactment of a new Charter section C-22. C-59 and C-98 set forth the jurisdiction of the BPW and the Board of Fire Commissioners respectively in the oversight and management of the Supt. of Public Works and his department and of the Fire Chief and his department. In contrast, C-22 puts oversight and management authority over all department heads, including the Supt. of Public Works and the Fire Chief, in the Mayor subject to the “general legislative authority” of Common Council.

The problem is further complicated because there remain in the Charter two other sections (C-61 and C-96) that describe the duties of the BPW and the Board of Fire Commissioners, including oversight and management responsibilities of their respective departments. So, there is a conflict between the remaining old sections and the new section C-22. Under a legal principle that is sometimes referred to informally as “recency is primacy”, the new C-22 trumps the old C-61 and C-96. In other words, the oversight and management authority of the department of public works and the fire department is taken from the citizen boards and given to the Mayor. The citizen boards become “advisory” boards. This power shift is the unintended consequence to which I refer in my article that was  published in the Ithaca Journal on November 3, 2011; the text is available on this website at Propositions would alter balance of power in Ithaca.

Unfortunately, the language of the ballot propositions does not even refer to this perhaps unintended – but very real – consequence.

Ray Schlather
November 4, 2011

2 comments to Common question re: Props 2 & 3

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