Friday, October 26, 2007

It Ain’t Broke, It’s Just Badly Bent

I really have to object to Bob Rayner’s Op-ed in the TD entitled “If the City Charter's Broken, Let's Fix It -- Starting Now.” Mr. Rayner places the blame for the recent chaos in and around City Hall on our City Charter. Mr. Rayner says,

“One clear perception emerged from the recent chaos: The city charter is profoundly unclear about the relationship between the council and the mayor. And that's a sure recipe for endless, distracting, expensive court battles.
Perhaps it's time for the General Assembly -- which oversees local governments -- to help Richmond write a new charter for itself. The mayor's public stance has eased, at least mildly, giving the City Council an opportunity to press for the creation of a city charter that works. Local legislators should offer their services, publicy or privately.
A fight is inevitable. Better to have it settled by the people's elected reprentatives than by the courts. If the rules don't make sense, write some new ones. The mayor, the City Council, and the region's delegates and senators need to sharpen their pencils.
It's time to lead.”

I wonder whether Mr. Rayner has actually read the Charter. I have, and I don’t see why it needs any changes. The people who drafted this charter were capable lawyers and, although I might have written it better, they clearly stated the relationship between the mayor and the council.

Chapter 4 of the charter deals with the City Council. Section 4.02 says,

“All powers vested in the City shall be exercised by the Council except as otherwise provided in this Charter.”

This sounds pretty clear to me. The City Council has the authority to exercise ALL city powers except when the charter grants those powers to someone else. Now who else might the charter grant powers to? How about the mayor?

Section 5.01 of the charter says,

“The mayor shall be the chief executive officer of the city and shall be responsible for the proper administration of city government.”

Section 5.05 spells out the duties of the mayor. The mayor has the duty to:
1- Attend meetings of the council (or send a delegate authorized to answer questions);
2- Keep the council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city, and make recommendations when necessary;
3- Oversee preparation of the annual city budget;
4- Perform such duties that the Code of Virginia assigns to chief executive officers of cities or that are assigned to the mayor “by ordinances adopted by the council.” (The mayor is given the power to veto such ordinances subject to override by the council.)
5- Issue regulations necessary to carry out the job of mayor.

I think it is clear that the charter creates a city government with two separate branches--the council and the mayor. The council is granted all powers of the city except those specifically given to the mayor (or his subordinates). The powers given to the mayor are clearly stated. Those powers are not unlimited. Clearly, the charter does not give the mayor the authority to ignore the laws of the Commonwealth or the ordinances of the City of Richmond that he does not agree with

The separation of powers in different branches has been a feature of governments in the Commonwealth since we evicted King George’s royal governor at bayonet point and emblazoned our flag with the words “Sic Semper Tyranis”. Separation of legislative and executive functions also exists in the Government of the United States and, I assume, in the governments of the other forty nine states. There are, of course, governments in the world in which legislative and executive powers are vested in the same person. We generally call those governments dictatorships.

But, argues Mr. Raynor,

“Wilder maintains -- not unreasonably -- that city voters overwhelmingly signaled that they want a strong mayor and that they want him to be that strong mayor.”

I don’t know how Mr. Wilder or Mr. Raynor determined that city voter overwhelmingly favor a “strong” mayor. All that is clear is that city voters approved the charter as written. That charter does not mention a “strong” mayor. It provides for a mayor who possesses only the powers specifically given him. All other powers are vested in the council.

There is chaos and dispute over the relationship between the mayor and the council in the City of Richmond only because the incumbent mayor asserts the authority to ignore the provisions of the charter. Mr. Wilder continues to operate under the charter that he wishes the citizens approved, one that gives him complete power. He refuses to follow the actual charter, which clearly limits the powers of the mayor.

So, Mr. Raynor, there is no need to go running to the wise General Assembly and ask it to fix the problem that we the naive citizens of Richmond have imposed on ourselves. The charter that we adopted is not broken. However, it has been bent by the actions of L. Douglas Wilder. Hopefully, in the next election we’ll choose a mayor who will obey the law.


Kamen said...

Nice Bluegrass reference!

Preston M. Yancy said...

This is an accurate assessment. And, this is Mr. Wilder's charter-sold to the voters by the Wilder-Bliley Charter Commission. Mr. Wilder should know what the charter says.
After Mr. Wilder was elected mayor, he requested and was given additional powers. NO MORE BAIT AND SWITCH!!!
Mr. Wilder is arguing that his actions are justified by his being the chief executive officer of the City. He claims yhat gave him the authority to evict the Richmond Public Schools from City Hall and that allowed him to ignore City Council ordinances.
This is nonsense!
Mr. Wilder knows better, or he has taken leave of his senses.
The voters of Richmond have elected the "clown prince" of politicians mayor. If they repeat this mistake, they deserve what they get.
Preston M. Yancy