September 3, 2010
What actually happened at last night's City Council session
At the start of the session, city Councilor Kevin McCauley said he would ask for a postponement of the vote on the proposed contract for the union representing the city’s “inside workers.”
“This is about courtesy,” McCauley said
He said the mayor provided information about the proposed deal only two days before the special meeting even though he’d signed the tentative agreement on August 2.
Some councilors, McCauley said, “felt strongly they just didn’t have enough time” to go over the material before Thursday night’s session.
McCauley said he told the mayor on Wednesday that councilors wanted more time.
He also said that the special meeting was slated for a time when two councilors, David Mills and Cliff Block, were out of town. Block, in the end, returned from Vermont for the meeting but Mills could not make it.
McCauley said Mills specifically asked for a chance to be heard before the vote. He said he wanted to give Mills that opportunity and to provide the entire council “the time to read through this information” before making a decision.
“I am speaking for my colleagues,” McCauley said.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said he agreed with McCauley. He said any other night this week or next would have been fine with everyone.
“I echo those sentiments,” added city Councilor Kate Matthews.
At that point, Mayor Art Ward said he asked the council in an email “a week ago” whether to hold the meeting on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Everyone said Thursday except for Mills, the mayor said.
“And me,” Block interjected.
Ward said he told Mills he would be happy to read a statement to the council if Mills wanted to write something up before he left.
Until 4:30 Wednesday, the mayor said, he thought things were fine.
Then McCauley came to the mayor’s office to speak to him.
According to Ward, the senior councilor told him, “I’m not here to piss you off. I’m just the messenger.”
He said that McCauley told him the council had reached a consensus to delay action on the proposed contract.
The mayor said he wondered “how did they get a consensus?” He said McCauley needs to explain how that could happen in the absence of a meeting.
Ward said there was no reason to delay because a decision was easy to make.
“It’s not rocket science,” the mayor said. He said that Local 233 is “trying to preserve jobs and work for the betterment of the city” by accepting a deal that is generous for taxpayers.
At that point, Cockayne leaped in.
Having tracked down Ward’s email on his Blackberry, he read the note the mayor originally sent to the council, which did not offer them a choice of days. It simply said the session would be held Thursday, Sept. 2.
Mills wrote back within hours to say he couldn’t make it that day, Cockayne said.
This past Monday, Cockayne said, he asked the mayor directly to make it possible for Mills to attend.
“Why can’t he have the opportunity to sit here like the rest of us?” Cockayne said.
McCauley told Ward that “I gave you the courtesy of walking into your office” to tell you what the council wanted rather than simply springing it on the mayor.
He said the two disagreed during their meeting and he walked out. The mayor argued immediately that in fact he had walked out on McCauley.
McCauley disputed it, then said, “I’m very disappointed in your leadership.”
He said he came to the mayor out of courtesy and respect.
“Next time you do that, it will be a first,” Ward fired back.
I need to interject here that, according to many people who attended, the council chambers were packed with union members and officials, many of them growing angry as the council argued.
McCauley referred to it during the meeting as “this dog and pony show that you created.”
Ward said he would file a Freedom of Information Act complaint against McCauley and the council for illegal collusion to reach a decision outside a public meeting.
“When I file the FOI complaint, we’ll deal with it,” Ward said.
“That’s your prerogative,” McCauley answered.
The council then voted to postponed the decision until next Wednesday.
On the tape, you can hear some people shouting but their words are unclear.
However, Cockayne and several others said that union leaders were yelling at McCauley such things as “you’re through” and “you’re all done.”
The mayor ignored it as he plowed into the next agenda item.
But Cockayne said there ought to be order in the room before proceeding and Ward called for quiet.
It’s not clear exactly what happened from the tape, but apparently McCauley got up to go into executive session on an unrelated issue before the council had officially adjourned from its public session.
Ward took note.
“Kevin, get back to your seat. We’re still in session,” Ward thundered.
And that was that.
After the meeting, however, McCauley and some union officials, including Mike Petosa, were going to toe to toe over the whole thing. A number of people told me they thought punches were going to fly because it got so heated.
But that didn’t happen.
Still, by all accounts, it was a brutal, ugly atmosphere.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org