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Published: 10/2/2009

Finkbeiner rails against council for voting maneuver

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two councilmen used that political maneuver Tuesday that stripped the mayor earlier this week of a potentially tie-breaking vote to increase the city's monthly trash collection fee.

Councilman Frank Szollosi refused to remain in council chambers and vote Tuesday night, which prevented a likely 6-6 tie on an ordinance that would have increased the fee and simultaneously establish a recycling incentive program that offers coupons and gift certificates for groceries and other goods.

Councilman D. Michael Collins joined Mr. Szollosi in leaving council chambers when the time finally came to vote on the trash fee increase.

"Let's not duck our responsibilities by simply either not showing up for a council vote or running out of the chambers to prevent a vote from taking place," Mr. Finkbeiner wrote in a memo to council. "That's just plain inexcusable. I would urge censure if such action occurs in the future."

The mayor, who has for many months asked council to hike the fee, casts a tie-breaker in the event of a 6-6 tie.

Council rules require seven affirmative votes to approve a measure.

With Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Collins gone, Council President Joe McNamara demanded the legislation be sent to council's finance committee without a vote.

On Friday, Mr. McNamara told the mayor his request was out-of-bounds.

"Let me remind you that as mayor, you are head of the executive branch of government," he wrote back to the mayor. "It is a complete violation of the separation of powers doctrine, not to mention Section 35 of the [city] charter, for you to suggest disciplining a member of the legislative branch."

The council president also wrote: "Your inappropriate meddling in the legislative branch of government will not be entertained, condoned, or tolerated."

On Sept. 1, council voted down the trash fee increase, with five in favor and six against. Voting in favor of the trash fee increase and rewards program were Mr. McNamara, Wilma Brown, Phillip Copeland, George Sarantou, and Steven Steel.

Voting against were Mr. Collins, Tom Waniewski, Lindsay Webb, Michael Ashford, Mike Craig, and Betty Shultz.

Mrs. Shultz said Tuesday night she intended to change her vote to yes, which would have made the split six in favor of the increase and six opposed. She said she did not think through the increase when it came up for a vote four weeks ago and also that she did not want to leave a legacy that included a "bankrupt city."

The change would have granted Mayor Finkbeiner's long-standing request to increase the refuse fee to $10 a month from $8.50 for those who don't recycle and to $7 a month from $1 for those who do recycle.

It also would have required creation of a recycling rewards program by April 1.

Mr. McNamara said he supported the fee increase to help reduce the city's deficit, which currently stands at about $7.8 million with just three months remaining in 2009. If the fee had been increased, it would have generated an additional $363,000 through Dec. 31 and a total of $8.2 million for 2010.



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