With Rose Mary Christian stepping down after a nearly 30-year career as a member of the Batavia City Council, the question becomes, “Who is going to replace her, even if it’s on a temporary basis?”
Speaking by telephone following tonight’s City Council Business Meeting, Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. believes that Chapter 3, Section 3 of the City Charter is clear: Christian’s seat should be filled by a Republican who lives in the Sixth Ward (southeast portion of the city).
Batavia resident John Roach, however, in a memo dated Nov. 5 to City Clerk Heidi Parker – and obtained by The Batavian – said he believes that the person should be a registered Democrat. Roach was involved in the drafting of the City Charter several years ago.
A call to City Republican Party Chair Rick Richmond was not returned by the time of the posting of this story.
The reason for the difference in opinion is because Christian was a Democrat when elected to her most recent term and then changed her affiliation to a Republican.
For the record, the City Charter reads as follows:
“Pending such election and qualification of a Council member to fill a vacancy, Council shall fill the vacancy temporarily by appointment of a qualified person who shall be of the same political affiliation as the Council member whose place has become vacant and, if he or she was a ward Council member, a resident of the same ward.”
Jankowski emphasizes the part where it states “of the same political affiliation …” as the basis for his belief that a Republican is next in line.
“And that's pretty specific,” he said. “It tells me, what are you now and your seat just became vacant. It doesn't say what you were five years ago when you ran one time? It doesn't say anything like that. It doesn't say the party of which you are elected under. She has been a Republican for the majority of her recent term.”
Roach’s memo indicates that “the intent of the Charter was that the affiliation at the time of taking office should be the one to make the temporary appointment, and that would be the Democrat Party. Unless there is a NY State law that states differently, I think the intention of the voters two years ago should prevail.”
That’s just a citizen interpreting the Charter, Jankowski said, “but he (Roach) has no authority to interpret the charter to do anything about it.”
“He's just an outside observer who once worked on the commission that says he thinks this is what the intent was,” Jankowski added. “But that doesn't say that. Our marching orders are pretty specific. It says replace them from the party of which they were when they left. It's pretty specific. It doesn't talk about in the beginning of their term; it talks about what they are today when they resigned.”
Most likely, this issue will be the topic of debate in the near future as Christian said she hopes to relocate this week, making tonight’s meeting her last. City officials previously announced that a farewell party for her will take place from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Nov. 22 at the City Hall Council Board Room.
When it comes to Christian’s contributions to city government, Jankowski said he admired her tenacity despite not always seeing eye-to-eye on the issues.
“She'll be missed. I mean, she's a big advocate,” he said. “She's my ward councilperson … and she’ll be missed by the Sixth Ward. She's been a fighter for our ward for as long as I could remember. And she's always done her best to represent the public and to, you know, do her best on Council. So, she'll be sorely missed.”
When asked if he was going to miss the times when they butted heads during the meetings, Jankowski said, “I will, because I like a spirited debate.”
“I think it's a good thing if people disagree and respectfully hash it out. I don't have a problem with that part of the process. I welcome that.”
Pressed about the fact that he has had to rebuke her at certain times, Jankowski said it was his job to keep the meeting moving in the right direction.
“Sometimes things get off track and you've got to bring it back. I understand and I respect her opinions, but if it’s not appropriate at the time, and if it's not on the agenda, I mean, we’ve got to move forward. We can only go so far. We've got to come back to the meeting.”
Photo: Rose Mary Christian, right, speaks with Assistant City Manager Jill Wiedrick, left, and Council member Kathleen Briggs prior to tonight's City Council Special Conference meeting. Photo by Mike Pettinella.