Breaking with tradition, and the city charter, Mayor Shayne Gallo has told city lawmakers that he will not present an annual state of the city message to the Common Council. Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1), meanwhile, saw his opportunity to present a message of his own to the council torpedoed when fellow Democrat Brian Seche (D-Ward 2) invoked a rule requiring unanimous consent of the caucus for the traditional and usually non-controversial annual address. The council’s sole Republican, Deborah Brown also indicted that she would not make an address to the council next month.
Gallo had been scheduled to appear at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting on March 4 to present the annual message. During the first two years of his administration, Gallo used the state of the city address to lay out priorities like his Midtown revitalization plan and tout his accomplishments. The address is mandated in the city charter, which reads: “The Mayor shall prepare and present during the first month of each fiscal year of the City an annual message to the Common Council.” The charter goes on to explain that the message should describe the “condition and state” of the city and identify issues that he believes should be taken up by the council in the coming year.
That’s what lawmakers were expecting until, according to Dunn and Council President Jim Noble, they were informed by City Clerk Carly Williams one day before the council meeting on Tuesday that Gallo would not be appearing and had no plans to reschedule the address. Noble said the mayor had not reached out to him to explain why he was skipping the address.
“I just know that Carly told me he was not going to do it, he might not do at all or he might put out a press release later,” said Noble. “I guess he’s bigger than the charter.”
In the past, the council’s majority and minority leaders have presented their own messages to the Common Council one month after the mayor’s address. Dunn said on Monday that he would present his own state of the city address next month. That plan was squelched, however when Seche, who challenged Dunn for the post of majority leader back in January, invoked the unanimous consent rule. Seche apparently brought up the rule at a Monday night caucus meeting and asked Noble to call for a vote on the issue at the next night’s meeting. Seche then cast the sole “no” vote among the council’s eight Democrats. Without a unanimous vote, Dunn was barred from presenting his address. When prodded by Noble to explain the vote, Seche replied that there had been “enough speeches.”
Later, Seche told the Kingston Times that he had nixed Dunn’s speech because he felt that the majority and minority leader’s state of the city addresses were “superfluous.” Seche was equally dismissive of Gallo’s decision not to offer an annual address.
“Everyone knows that it’s just another political speech,” said Seche. “So excuse me if I don’t get overwhelmed about not having to listen to that.”
Brown, meanwhile said that she was “relieved” that she would not have to make a speech as minority leader. She added that she did not have a problem with the mayor forgoing a state of the city address because “everything’s been said already.” Asked about the requirement for a state of the city address in the charter, Brown said that she had not thought about it before.
But Dunn said that he took a dim view of the lack of public outreach regarding the mayor and council’s agenda for 2014. Echoing Gallo’s own, frequent calls for “open and transparent government,” Dunn said that the public deserved to hear the mayor and the council’s goals for the year, in part so that they could see where the agendas conflicted or overlapped.
“Ultimately these speeches allow voters to hold their elected officials accountable for their promises,” Dunn wrote. “The public is not served when the message is silence.”
The mayor’s apparent refusal to appear before the council is in contrast to his predecessors James Sottile and T.R. Gallo (the present mayor’s brother). Seche, who served on the council during the first Gallo and Sottile administrations, said that he believed that both men had skipped at least one state of the city message. That’s disputed by Sottile (who served as alderman-at-large under T.R. Gallo) who said that he could not recall another instance of a mayor failing to offer up an annual address. Like Dunn, Sottile contrasted Gallo’s decision not to address the council with his previously stated dedication to more transparent and accountable government.
“His brother used the mayor’s message very effectively to relay his agenda and I certainly tried to do that,” said Sottile. “It’s disappointing that this new administration doesn’t want to obey the charter and let the community know what to expect.”
Gallo did not respond to requests for comment. When asked when or if a message to the council was forthcoming, his confidential secretary, Ellen DiFalco, said simply that the address was “not on the agenda” for the March 4 meeting.