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Lockport Council to consider revising City Charter to speed up mayoral succession

LOCKPORT – Voters are likely to have their say this November on a revised City Charter provision that governs midterm mayoral succession.

The proposed amendment will be the subject of a public hearing and a Council vote March 16, but no voices have been raised against the change in Council work sessions.

It would alter the charter provision that gives the Council president the full remainder of the mayor’s term in case of the death or resignation of the mayor.

Generally in New York State, when a local elected office becomes vacant before the full term is up, the governing board appoints a successor, and that person serves until the end of the year, while an election is held in November to fill the rest of the term.

But according to a state law passed in 1980, that’s not the case for the mayor in any city that has a charter provision that predates 1975 and calls for some other way to fill the vacancy.

In Lockport, since 1911, the Council president automatically becomes mayor and serves the rest of the previous mayor’s term, no matter how much time is left.

That’s what happened in February 2014, when Mayor Michael W. Tucker resigned with more than 22 months left in his term. Anne E. McCaffrey, who was Council president at the time, automatically became mayor and didn’t have to run in the November 2014 election. She held the post through the end of 2015, and she won a full four-year term in last November’s election.

Lockport mayors served two-year terms until 1998, when voters passed a referendum to lengthen the term to four years.

But the rules on succession were not altered – or even discussed – at that time.

Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, is sponsoring the charter change to require the incoming mayor to run for the unexpired term that same year, as long as the vacancy occurs before Sept. 20, which is the normal cutoff date to place a vacated office on the November ballot. However, a few details remain to be worked out, with discussion expected at a Council work session Wednesday.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said he drew up a proposed law that would have the fill-in mayor serve until Jan. 1, but Mullane told him to change that date.

“Anita wants the (election winner) to take office right after the election in November, as soon as the election is certified,” Ottaviano said Friday. He still thinks Jan. 1 is better, noting that “sometimes elections are challenged.”

Mullane said, “We discussed it briefly last week and determined that the Board of Elections should have input on it, as to when an election becomes certified.”

She added, “I don’t believe it will be a big issue one way or the other, but I can’t speak for my fellow Council members.”