Is consolidation a dead issue?
City Council President Charlie Mallow thinks so.
He thinks so after, for a second time, the council tabled "indefiniately" a resolution to hold a public hearing on a proposed joint charter review commission.
“It’s a political maneuver to kill something permanently without actually going on the record and voting against it," Mallow said after the meeting. "We’ve had things in the past, you know, we’ve had all this controversy about that slumlord act that was tabled indefinitely. It’s killed. It means you voted against it but you don’t want the public to recognize it. That’s what happened here tonight.”
The resolution, while moving forward the idea of consolidation of the city and town of Batavia, would hardly have committed either community to joining forces in a single municipal body. It would have simply allowed a joint committee to come up with a plan of what a consolidated Batavia might look like as a legal entity.
It was clear from the motion of of Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian that at least some of the council members who voted to table the motion did so as a maneuver to block further consolidation talk.
"I have a problem with it simply because once it takes effect, there’s no turning back," Christian said. "The fact is that consolidation is good, but, I don’t see why we can’t have shared services. We can share facilities. We can share equipment. Why do we need consolidation?"
Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said after the meeting, however, that most of the council was focused on language in the resolution that would have had the city council president
sitting on the committee, and many council members think that job should go to the new council president, whomever that might be, once Mallow is out of office and a new council is seated among a group of people who would appoint committee members. They want the new council president, whomever that might be, be part of that process.
City Manager Jason Molino told the council that Town of Batavia officials are interested in revising the resolution anyway to clarify some of the language and add a little more substance.
"They want to add more specifics on the parameters of what committee with do," Molino said.
Councilman Frank Ferrando didn't sound hopeful that consolidation would move forward.
“I hope that there’s support, because that’s an important move that this community has to make," Ferrando said. "Right now, it’s hard to read."
It was Ferrando who requested the resolution be placed back on the council agenda after it was tabled two business meetings ago.
"When you table something, you don’t table it into perpetuity. It has to come back again," Ferrando said. "I haven’t heard a good reason yet as to why we’re not moving forward."
Ferrando indicated that he'll take the next opportunity -- the next conference meeting -- to get the issue before the council again.
Councilman Bob Bialkowski raised the first procedural question after Ferrando finished speaking. He seemed to think that tabling it previously killed it. City Attorney George Van Nest said there was no procedural reason -- nothing in Roberts Rules of Order or prior council practice -- to prevent the council from taking action on the resolution.
Councilman Bill Cox also raised procedural objections.
Mallow was having none of it and accused his fellow council members of being cowards for not taking a yes or no vote on the resolution. He said killing consolidation without a vote was a waste of state taxpayers money (a state grant paid for the consolidation study) and that council members owed it to citizens to give them at least a chance to discuss the idea.
"If you don’t want this, vote against it," Mallow said. "Vote against it. We owe that at least to the members of the public, but you don’t even want to give the members of the public and the people in this city the right to even talk about this issue? That’s stealing the state’s money. That’s stealing taxpayers money. Let them talk about it. Let them come up with a proposal.
"Fear of change," Mallow added. "We all have little seats here on council. Maybe they don’t like us. Maybe they don’t like the idea that we have a city council. Maybe they’ll change it. Maybe they’ll give us a mayor. Who knows what they’ll do? That's the fear. That’s the fear of the unknown."
Christian's motion to table, passed 6-3, with only Mallow, Ferrando and Councilwoman Marianne Clattenburg voting to keep the issue alive.