Monday, March 26, 2012

A Question of Eligibility

Last Thursday night, Nick Haddad was elected to fill the seat on the Common Council left vacant when First Ward alderman Larissa Parks resigned earlier this month. The next morning, he reappeared in City Hall as one of the members of the Historic Preservation Commission. Some assumed that serving as an elected official precludes a person from also serving on a regulatory commission, but apparently the charter is not clear on this, and Haddad is waiting for a decision from the city attorney before resigning from the HPC.

Article II, Paragraph C2-3 of the charter--a paragraph that was amended in 2006--states: "No person shall, at the same time, hold more than one of the offices created or authorized by this charter, except holding the office of Commissioner of Deeds or Superintendent of Cemeteries shall not disqualify any person from holding any other office hereunder."

That seems pretty straightforward, but it becomes unclear when you read Paragraph C2-1, which explains who the officers of the City are: "The officers of the City shall be a Mayor, a President of the Common Council, a City Judge, a City Treasurer, one Assessor, a Commissioner of Public Works, a Commissioner of Police, a Commissioner of Fire, a Commissioner of Youth, a Commissioner of Purchases, a Commissioner of Grants, a Commissioner of Aging, a Planning Commission of seven members, such members of the Board of Plumbers as are now or hereafter shall be provided by law, local law, or ordinance, a City Clerk, a Superintendent of Public Works, a Superintendent of Cemeteries, such number of policemen as the Commissioner of Police shall appoint, a Chief of the Fire Department, two Assistant Chiefs of the Fire Department, a Director of Youth, a Bingo Inspector, special policemen and, in the discretion of the Mayor, a City Marshal and such legal counsel as the Mayor may deem necessary or expedient for the preservation of the rights or the protection of the interests of the City." Aldermen and supervisors are mentioned in Paragraph C2-2, which identifies ward and district officers.  

Paragraph C2-1, which was also amended in 2006, makes no mention of the Historic Preservation Commission, which existed at that time--nor does it mention the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Board of Assessment Review. The only regulatory commission it does name is the Planning Commission. Given that, one would expect that members of the Planning Commission could hold no other city office, but that's not the case. In the early 2000s, the chair of the Planning Commission was also the Common Council president, and Cappy Pierro, who is now on the Planning Commission, was appointed to the commission by the mayor when he was the mayor's aide and is now serving out his three-year term while an alderman. So why the discrepancy? 

In Article XXV, which addresses the Planning Commission, Paragraph C25-2 explains: "There shall be appointed by the Mayor seven members, who together shall be the Commission, and, as nearly as possible, 1/3 of them shall be appointed for the term of one year, 1/3 for a term of two years and 1/3 for a term of three years; and at the expiration of such terms, the terms of office of their successors shall be three years, so that the term of office of 1/3 of such Commission, as nearly as possible, shall expire each year. All appointments to fill vacancies shall be for the unexpired term. Not more than 1/3 of the members of said Commission shall hold any other public office in the City of Hudson."  

It is not known what the framers of the city charter had in mind when they wrote Article XXV to allow two members of the Planning Commission to hold another public office, but with lots of qualified people in the city of Hudson these days, it may be time for that to change. It seems preferable for decisions that affect the community as a whole to be decided by many rather than few. So while the lawyers are parsing the articles of the charter to determine whether or not Haddad can be an alderman and a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, the people of Hudson should probably be asking their representatives for charter amendments to make it impossible for anyone to hold any two offices in city government at the same time. 


  1. And which "city attorney," one wonders, shall decide?

    Will it be the single attorney who serves on nearly every committee at the pleasure of the Mayor, and who also advises the legislative branch and the Common Council-as-SEQR-Lead-Agency in her heroic effort to preserve "the rights or the protection of the interests of the City"?

    I'm so heartened the the City of Hudson is doing everything it can to combat the appearance of conflicts of interest.

  2. "hear,hear!" this is a very timely point.

  3. DPW Superintendent Rob Perry, who used to be chair of the Planning Commission and also Common Council president, although I'm not sure if he held those positions sequentially and for a time concurrently, offered this clarification:

    Planning Commission verbiage in Article 25 of the City Charter is taken (almost verbatim) from Section 234 of General Municipal Law. Planning Commissions are in stark contrast to Planning Boards, where dual membership is prohibited.

    It is important to understand that Planning Commissions are created and receive their authority from the State of NY, which is why appeals to Planning Commissions must be made in a Court of the State of NY and neither the Mayor nor the Common Council has the ability to overrule/overturn Planning Commission decisions. The same is not true for the Historic Preservation Commission, where I believe the Common Council is the appellate body.

    Of course, I am not an attorney.