Let’s go back to the early days of Mayor Frank Nicastro’s administration – but not literally.
When Nicastro claimed the mayor’s office in 1993, one of his first moves was to oust the longtime leader of the powerful Board of Finance, Dick LaMothe.
LaMothe had long used his perch to hold sway over many of the issues facing the city.
With LaMothe no longer in the picture, John Letizia stepped up to fill the seat, determined to maintain the tight-fisted tradition of the fiscal oversight panel.
For Nicastro, Letizia appeared too ready to try to become a rival power in city government. So when Letizia’s term expired, the mayor said he would not reappoint him.
The decision caused an outcry and a majority of the City Council, including then-Councilor Art Ward, refused to endorse a replacement for Letizia. They said they would not vote for anyone but Letizia to fill the seat.
For a year, Nicastro refused to reappoint Letizia and the council refused to give its backing to a successor picked by the mayor.
Until a replacement could be picked, officials agreed, the city charter was clear: Letizia could stay on.
One councilor, Joe Wilson, said he read the charter to require that councilors go along with whoever the mayor nominated for the finance board.
But others, of course, disagreed.
In the end, the city attorney, Richard Lacey, issued a ruling that said councilors had the right to vote for or against the mayor’s nominees for the finance board.
Lacey, after many hours poring over old city documents, concluded that finance board choices ''require both nomination by the mayor and concurrence by the city council.''
Lacey said in his legal opinion that early documents from the period when the finance board was created in 1932 show that officials ''placed great importance'' on maintaining the full membership of the oversight panel.
Initially, in fact, the finance panel itself could fill vacancies if the mayor and council failed to appoint someone to fill an empty slot.
Seven years later, changes were made so that only the mayor and council would have the power to fill vacancies and make new appointments.
“There was no intention to make appointments the sole prerogative of the mayor,'' wrote Lacey after studying a special committee's report from 1939.
The committee's recommendations that year were approved except that the council rejected a proposed two-term limit for finance panel members.
With nothing specific to bolster Wilson's contention, Lacey wrote, the normal legal rules for interpreting charters come into play.
And there, he wrote, the rule is that mayors appoint and councils confirm unless the charter specifically says otherwise.
With Lacey’s ruling in hand, and the impasse likely to linger unless someone gave in, Nicastro decided to endorse Letizia after all.
Why does it all matter now?
Because Ward, who is in his second term as mayor, has told two finance commissioners he won’t reappoint them. Their terms expire this month. He plans to nominate two replacements for Janet Moylan and Mark Peterson next month.
But councilors don’t have to go along with it. That’s been clear since 1995.
So if Ward nominates successors, the council is free to back them or not. If councilors want Moylan and Peterson to remain on the finance board, they can keep them there simply by following the lead that Ward helped establish 15 years ago.
If councilors don’t stick with Moylan and Peterson, it’s because they, too, want them gone.*******
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