An outside lawyer for the City Council Thursday said a series of changes made during the printing of the City Charter illegally transferred power away from the Council.
Paul D. Weiss told the Council many changes submitted after January 1996 to the Florida publishing company hired by the city to combine and reprint the new charter adopted in 1985 and the existing 1916 charter resulted in an "incremental taking of your authority."
Council Chairwoman Connie M. Lozinsky said the Council would review Weiss's findings and recommendations before deciding on a course of action. The Council hired Weiss's law firm, Weiss, Stocker & Felle last November, after then-Chairman Vince V. Anello said he had found a number of discrepancies between the document adopted by voters and the reprinting submitted to the Council for approval. The Council refused to accept the document.
Weiss said he found many of the changes were submitted through handwritten notations in the margins of the draft codification, many of them consisting of crossing out the word "Council" and substituting "mayor." Some of the changes cited by Weiss sought to transfer to the mayor control of city parks, control over the rules and regulations of the Police Department, receipt of reports from the Police and Fire departments, and the decision on whether to appeal lawsuits.
The latter has led to a particularly bitter dispute between Mayor James C. Galie and the City Council for Galie's decision to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a lawsuit brought by the union representing fired sanitation workers. Council members believe the suit should have been settled and that it will end up costing taxpayers more by drawing it out.
Weiss said his investigation could not determine who was responsible for the changes -- "the office of corporation counsel either acted alone or at the behest of the administration . . ."
"The question is who would benefit from it. The Council didn't benefit. The administration did," Weiss said.
City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino said neither he nor Galie had any role in the changes that were submitted. Robert P. Merino, who was corporation counsel at the time, said the codification was assigned to former Assistant Corporation Counsel William W. Zarr, who had worked on the drafting of the 1985 charter. Zarr now is living out of state.
Councilman Charles A. Walker thanked Weiss for his work, saying "we knew we had a problem." He asked, "What would you recommend to bring quick closure to this as peacefully as possible?"
Weiss recommended that the Council recommence the codification process using an outside attorney to ensure that the same problems don't arise again. He said the process could be expensive but much of the preliminary work has been completed and the Council already has invested time and money as has his own law firm. Weiss said he could not say how much his work has cost or how much his firm would charge to complete the codification. An initial authorization of $3,000 was used up in May. The Council then authorized Weiss to continue the investigation at a rate of $125 an hour.
Weiss's second recommendation was to ask the state attorney general for an opinion on whether there was any wrongdoing involved.
Council members John G. Accardo and Barbara A. Geracitano, both of whom are running for mayor, said they favored a review by the attorney general. Both cited the appeal of the sanitation workers lawsuit as potentially costing millions of dollars, the city would have been spared if the Council could have ended the lawsuit.
"This borders on being criminal," Accardo said.
Anello, who precipitated the investigation, said, "I think it's important for people to realize this is the rule book we go by and somebody was changing the rule book without the approval of the people. I just hope we can put this behind us because it's not fair to the taxpayer to not be able to go to the book and read the same thing I'm reading."
Ms. Lozinsky and Restaino agreed that the city needs a single, definitive source of all of its laws otherwise things become subject to interpretation. Restaino said the charter should go back to what the people voted on.