The Council did not address any legislation at its regularly monthly meeting Thursday about the issuance of subpoenas for next Thursday’s public hearing centering on two controversial demolition projects.
In fact, it never voted to conduct any investigation, which started earlier this week with the testimony of former City Engineer Russ Reeves and his assistant Barbara Tozzi. In the past 36 years, both similar investigations were kicked off by the Council first passing legislation approving a probe.
According to the City Charter:
“This Council may make investigations into the affairs of the City and the conduct of any City department, office, or agency and for this purpose may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require the production of evidence. Any person who fails or refuses to obey a lawful order issued in the exercise of these powers by the Council shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”
I’m not trying to interpret the Charter, I’m just going by past practice and the guy who wrote the initial clause, which was updated in 2003, told me that’s what it means.
No, the Council didn’t pass legislation before issuing subpoenas to Reeves and Tozzi, but they were willing participants. Something tells me members of the Executive Branch will be less so.
By not passing formal legislation, the Council gives the next round of witnesses – which could include Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, Fire Chief Tom Garrett, Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan or even Mayor Lou Rosamilia – an easy out.
In fact, I think Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, who is tight with Rosamilia, set the stage for the procedural fight when she mentioned the Council should have passed legislation before issuing subpoenas to Reeves and Tozzi.
Council President Rodney Wiltshire took note of Kopka’s objection and, based on what he said was advice from counsel, went ahead with the hearing anyway.
The only thing I can think of is that Wiltshire didn’t propose legislation - which would guarantee avoiding a hitch in what has so far been an enlightening inquiry - is that he is daring members of the administration to say “we aren’t coming because …” That would not look good at all. In other words, Wiltshire – who is proving himself a pretty savvy politician – could be giving them just a little more rope. Wiltshire certainly has the votes if he chose to go the other route.
Regardless of his game plan or his end game, you have to give Wiltshire credit because, so far, the inquiry has been, as I said, enlightening. And, so far, has been handled with dignity and decorum. We’ll have to see how round two goes and/or if the FBI steps it up a notch.
And before you ask, the Council does not have the authority to call attorney Don Boyajian, who owns the King Street buildings, anyone from M. Cristo Construction, the company that tore the buildings down, or J.R. Casale, who tore the buildings down at the King Fuels site. Casale spoke at the first hearing but it was voluntary and, more than likely, ill advised. The Council’s authority only extends to city employees and city departments, so I’m told.