The City Council Tuesday put off hiring outside attorneys to complete the codification of the City Charter until it receives an opinion from the city's lawyers on whether they can finish the process in-house.
Acting Corporation Counsel Timothy G. Bax said he would give the Council a written opinion on whether his office "feels comfortable" taking the findings of outside lawyer Paul D. Weiss and completing the combining and printing of the 1916 and 1988 charters.
The Council hired Weiss's firm, Weiss, Stocker and Felle last November to research discrepancies that Councilman Vince V. Anello found in what was to be the final printed version of the compilation. Weiss found 80 changes, some of which would have shifted power away from the Council to the mayor, had the Council accepted the document. The changes were apparently made by the corporation counsel's office and sent to Municipal Code Corp. of Florida. Although Bax was not corporation counsel at the time, it raised questions about whether his office could investigate the discrepancies.
Council Chairwoman Connie M. Lozinsky and Councilman Anthony F. Quaranto asked if the Law Department couldn't complete the work now using the documentation Weiss's firm provided.
Both said they were concerned about spending any more money on the process, which should have been completed in 1989, according to state law. Bax produced figures from the city controller's office that showed that, in addition to the $10,000 charged by Weiss's firm for its research, $36,534.48 was spent on the process since 1990. The cost included the printing of 300 copies of the document, which had never been adopted by the Council, Anello, Bax and others said. Former Corporation Counsel Robert P. Merino had said the process cost $20,000.
"OK, the changes have been identified. We got what we paid for," from Weiss's work, Lozinsky said. "Tim, can you give us an opinion of the Weiss findings. Can you speak to Municipal Code Corp. to correct these changes that were erroneously made and just reprint it," Lozinsky asked.
Anello said he would withdraw his resolution to hire Weiss "if Mr. Bax can give us an opinion that he can do it without a conflict."
Anello said the process might not be as simple as just correcting the changes because in addition to the printing, the codification company has to make certain the charter is in compliance with all state and federal laws. In the past 10 years, laws may have changed, Anello said. He also asked Bax if there were a New York State firm that could do the work.
Lozinsky said she invites Weiss's firm to submit an estimate on how much his firm would charge to do the work. Anello's resolution was to pay Weiss the rate of $125, but did not set a limit on the number of hours or amount of money.
Anello also withdrew a second resolution to hire Weiss' firm at the same hourly rate to draft correspondence to the state attorney general seeking an opinion on whether there was any wrongdoing involved in the changes.
Lozinsky said Councilman John G. Accardo had taken a copy of Weiss's findings to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer two weeks ago. Spitzer, a Democrat, had endorsed Accardo in his successful bid to unseat Mayor James C. Galie in last week's Democratic Primary Election. Accardo said Spitzer had assured him he would look at the document.
Anello said asking the attorney general to look into the matter was not as important as getting the charter process completed so that there is a single definitive place where elected officials and citizens can go to find out what the city's laws are. The existence of two separate charters plus the printed but unadopted compilation leads to confusion and leaves things open to interpretation, officials say. There have been several disputes between the two branches of government that ended up in lawsuits because of differing interpretations of the charter.
In another matter, the Council approved a $14,540 change order on a $273,450 contract with Yarussi Construction Inc. for new sidewalk installation on Porter Road in conjunction with the location of the new high school next to the city's golf course.