Saturday, January 23, 2021

On Eliminating Common Council Committees

At the organizational meeting of the Common Council on January 11, Council president Tom DePietro announced the elimination of all Council standing committees. At the Common Council meeting on January 19, First Ward resident Matt McGhee made a statement objecting to that action.
The covenant with the people of Hudson to support the Constitution of the United States (made by our aldermen) was broken last Monday, January 11, when the powers of the ward aldermen were abridged in favor of the alderman-at-large by elimination of Council committees, and funneling of motions through the alderman-at-large as Council chair.
Adherence to Roberts Rules of Order was referred to, but the duties to the Constitution neglected.
This handing over of power is a clear violation of Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to representative government.
Given the events of January 6, just days before, this latest action--which is a clear danger to local democracy--this might at least have been discussed. This did not happen. 
The limiting and disallowing of public participation is also very troubling, and brings up questions relating to our First Amendment rights.
This breach of the Constitution and public trust needs to be rescinded or acknowledged as being of no force.
Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution states: "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government." A republican form of government is one in which "power is held by the people and their elected representatives." (   

Responding to the criticism, DePietro asked "the aldermen who helped make the decision about committees" to speak. John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who called McGhee's objection a "ridiculous complaint," said eliminating the committees meant "opening the workload up to the entire Council" and claimed, "Communities of our size often do not have a committee system." Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) opined, "It will give us a fresh look." Jane Trombley (First Ward) called it an experiment: "If it's not an efficient way of operating, if it's not an efficient way of governing, we can change course." She added, "It makes our work very legislatively driven." Referring to department heads having to report to the full Council, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) said, "It gives everyone on the Council the same responsibility."

First Ward resident Ronald Kopnicki asked Jeff Baker, legal counsel to the Council, where the city charter gives the Council president "the power to suppress committees." Baker said committees were not mentioned in the charter. Actually, committees are mentioned in Article XII, Section 13, of the charter, and that mention seems to assume their existence. Kopnicki asserted that eliminating committees breaks with precedent and tradition; changes the balance between the aldermen representing the wards and the Council president, exalting the Council president; and eliminates public comment. Kopnicki envisioned a meeting that goes on for a very long time, with public comment relegated to the end, when everyone is tired and just wanting the meeting to be over.

Later that night, DePietro sent the following email to the aldermen, with permission to share it with "any interested constituents":
You were probably as surprised as I was to hear the accusation tonight that our realignment of committees violates the Constitution. The basis for the charge was Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." OK. So what is a "Republican form of government"? Generally, a republic is a system in which representatives are chosen by the citizens to exercise the powers of government. In other words, Hudson has a republican form of government, and you, the alderpersons, were elected to exercise the powers of government. That is all there is to to it.
Interestingly, the founders contrasted a "republican" form of government with a pure democracy. In the case of a pure or direct democracy, legislation is made by a primary assembly of citizens, as existed in several rural Swiss cantons and in New England towns. There is no guarantee of that in the Constitution, and yet the critics of our reorganization seem to want exactly that: they want to have input in all of our actions even though they are not elected officials.
On January 11, when he announced the elimination of standing committees, DePietro explained that all legislative initiatives would be "funneled" through his office, and he would determine if an ad hoc committee was needed "to shepherd them through." At Tuesday's meeting, DePietro named some of issues for which ad hoc committees would be formed:
Trombley added a tenth issue: alternate side of the street parking

Presumably the formation of these committees will be announced when it happens, and the notice will be made of meeting times.


  1. Did the Council's attorney, Jeff Baker, really say that committees are not mentioned in the charter when they are?

    This isn't a comment on what it means for committees to be mentioned in the Charter, but for what it would say of any city attorney who espoused on the Charter without knowing what's in it.

    If that's what Mr. Baker really said, then it's nothing less than scandalous.

    If not, he should defend himself against the public's loss of faith in his abilities.

    1. To be fair, nowhere in the charter does it say of committees anything like "There shall be. . . ." The section I cited does, however, seem to assume their existence.

      The charter was enacted in 1921 and amended in its entirety in 1973. If you check Common Council minutes you will find that there have been committees from at least as far back as the 1860s. That tradition may explain why committees are referenced but not specifically defined in the charter.

    2. Actually, but my question was simpler than that.

      For the sake of a thought experiment, let's say that "committees" were never mentioned in the Charter before 10 years ago. Of course they were, but let's just pretend.

      Did attorney Baker really say that committees are not mentioned in the charter when they are? That would be a terrible lapse.