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Republicans say Charter is clear; Democrats beg to differ

By Mike Pettinella

As one might expect, City Republicans and Democrats are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the section of the City of Batavia Charter that deals with the appointment of a City Council ward representative when a vacancy occurs.

Due to the pending resignation of longtime Sixth Ward Council member Rose Mary Christian, there will be an opening on the governing body. Christian is moving out of the southside district (sometime this week, she said) and no longer is eligible to serve in that capacity.

Before looking at the differing viewpoints, here is the wording of Chapter 3, Section 3 of the City Charter:

“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.”

The appointment of the next person to fill the Sixth Ward seat – at least until the next election – has become a sticking point due to the fact that Christian was a Democrat when last elected but switched to the Republican Party around a year and a half ago.

Richmond: Charter is Very Clear

City Republican Committee Chair Rich Richmond (photo at right) told The Batavian today that the matter is cut-and-dried: Christian’s successor should be a Republican.

“The charter is very clear,” he said. “It's very concise, and to the point … since she is a Republican, then the Republicans make the appointment. Furthermore, it’s a non-partisan issue, and some people are trying to make it one.”

When asked if his committee is moving toward finding a replacement, Richmond said a few people have expressed interest in the position.

“Yes, we are. And I might add that if she (Christian) were a Democrat, then the Democrat should make the appointment and I would accept that as a valid appointment,” he said.

Richmond’s comments echo those of City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr., a Republican, who said the fact that Christian is a Republican now determines the path of the one to replace her.

DiSalvo: Time Frame Isn’t Specified

On the other side, Sammy DiSalvo (photo at left), a member of the City Democrat Committee, pointed out today that the Charter doesn’t specify what time frame it is referring to, “which leaves the interpretation up to whoever is reading it to add their own time frame.”

“This section of the Charter says nothing about when they were elected nor does it say anything about at the time the Councilperson left office,” DiSalvo added.

He took exception with Jankowski’s contention that the Charter is “pretty specific.”

“Jankowski's statement is largely inaccurate,” DiSalvo said. “There is no time frame specified. I find Jankowski speaking as if there is no debate about a time frame that is not listed in the Charter as disturbing -- that the President of Council would interject his own opinions rather than listen to those who wrote the Charter, and the lawyers who must interpret the Charter.”

Speaking of lawyers, City Attorney George Van Nest gave no response when asked by The Batavian about this situation prior to Monday night’s City Council meeting. An email seeking clarification was sent to him this afternoon as well. DiSalvo said that he placed a phone call to Van Nest last week, which went unreturned.

According to DiSalvo, wording and intent need to be considered – a point brought up in a memo from city resident John Roach to City Council. Roach was involved in the drafting of the Charter some time ago.

Rewriting of Charter May Be in Order

“Where wording is not explicitly clear, intent is the default by which we must abide,” DiSalvo said. “It is not up to the interpretation of elected officials, and it is not up to those who have political gain to make such a decision or to speak with such authority as if they are not to be questioned. For those with direct gain from this situation to make decisions about this situation is irresponsible and an abuse of our political system.”

DiSalvo said that regardless of the outcome, this part of the Charter “must be rewritten for clarification purposes.”

Erica O’Donnell, City Democratic Committee chair, said her group believes that a Democrat should be appointed since that was the party the voters of the Sixth Ward chose to represent them when Christian was first elected.

“We also are consulting with an attorney to help us interpret the charter,” she noted.

Reason for Changing Affiliations

Christian has said that she changed parties after not receiving the Democratic endorsement due to her right-to-life stance.

“That was her party for her whole life,” Richmond said. “For the nomination, they gave it to her and then they took it away. She went out and got her own signatures and got on the ballot.”

He said that Republicans didn’t always agree with her, but emphasized that “there is room in our party for differences of opinion.”

“It appears to me that they didn't give it to her because she has a heartfelt stance on abortion. I can very well understand why she switched.”

Jack Dorf

Seems pretty clear to me what it says. It doesn't say your party when
elected. I guess when you don't like the outcome just change the rules of the game.

Nov 10, 2021, 4:29pm Permalink

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