48 Hour Coup Crumbles
On Friday the 13th a caucus of four council members tried but failed to change council leadership.
During the past three years members of council have experienced at various times public frustration with each other and with members of the administration as they tried to cope and understand the nature of the legislative role.
This time four of the members targeted their anger at council leadership. Ryan Demro (Ward 2), Kevin Butler (Ward 1), Edward Fitzgerald (at large) and Michael Dever (at large) determined that council president Robert Seelie (Ward 3) was using his power to stymie or even prevent members from dealing with issues they felt were important. Their solution was to elect a new president, then reassign the positions of chairman of the committee of the whole and finance committee chair, all positions which are currently held by Seelie. Their perceived authority to do this was in the charter which prescribes the procedure for organizing council and for a majority to call for a meeting.
Members Nickie Antonio (at large) and Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4) were not participants in these efforts at this time.
Also, noticeably absent in these machinations was the subject, Seelie himself. The four seeking Seelie’s ouster have all publicly denied any connection with Seelie’s absence and a hastily called meeting.
The call for a meeting was finalized on Thursday afternoon with the meeting time set at 5:30 P.M. on Friday. Upon hearing of this action Law Director Brian Corrigan advised that proper notification procedures according to open meetings, the charter, and state law had not been complied with. A posting under meeting notices went up on the city’s website but efforts of wider public notifications and by whom are unclear.
At 5:30 the six members and an audience of about 30 assembled in the council chambers. After waiting for the arrival of a few members, Dever called the special meeting to order and called for the clerk to take attendance. Noting a non response from Seelie, Madigan made a motion to excuse his absence. Seelie, she said, was out of town on a preplanned trip. His absence was excused.
Council member Butler then took the floor and described the serious financial crisis that the city is going to face. He then pointed out the difficulty council had during budget hearings in trying to cope with that issue. He ascribed that difficulty to Seelie who he contended cooperated too much with the administration, thereby thwarting councils’ responsibilities.
Demro was next up and outlined many of his efforts to bring budget awareness. He also revealed the unraveling of an apparent agreement prior to the meeting to have four votes to remove Seelie as president. He did this by indicating that one of the four, without identifying the individual, had been “gotten to, by people in county government.”
Fitzgerald then recounted his actions over a three year period to put his stamp on the budgeting process and how he felt that council was not able to fulfill its duty because of heavy handed suppression.
That, then, was the case as presented by Butler, Demro, and Fitzgerald.
Nickie Antonio asked to take the floor. To the issue she said “This is the most incredible piece of theater I’ve seen in my lifetime.” She indicated further that they are approaching the end of their terms and can elect new leadership next year. She then asked, “So now if we elect new leadership we will all of a sudden be able to work together? It’s still the same seven of us.”
Antonio directly asked Dever what his intentions were. He replied “I believe in giving people a second chance.” Apparently that meant he was no longer going to vote for Seelie’s removal as president.
Fitzgerald then nominated Butler to chair the committee of the whole. Calls came out from the audience requesting public comment. Dever ignored the request and called for a vote on the motion to name Butler as committee of the whole chair. The vote was Butler, Demro, Dever, and Fitzgerald yes, Antonio abstain, Madigan no. Dever banged the gavel and the four yes votes departed from the council dais and the chambers.
Antonio and Madigan remained to listen to citizens who felt they had a right to be heard.