Acrimony between Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and a City Council majority Tuesday marred a plan to keep Acting City Administrator David Kochel on as a consultant when his term ends next week. At issue is whether the mayor will allow Kochel to meet with the governing body’s Administration & Finance Committee to discuss fiscal matters.
A tortuous discussion on amending Kochel’s proposed contract to add such interaction led to the mayor declaring she was withdrawing the entire resolution. She then left the meeting, saying the resolution could be reintroduced at the Nov. 14 council meeting.
Faced with the prospect of having neither a city administrator nor a consultant in place on Nov. 7, the council members pondered the options and ended up amending the resolution with no guarantee that the mayor would enact it. The council had already approved another resolution that would have paid for Kochel’s consultancy and which included $3,000 that the mayor wanted to add staff to her office.
Only four of seven council members were voting Tuesday, with Council President Annie McWilliams taking part by telephone and members Rebecca Williams, Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp in City Hall Library. Councilwoman Vera Greaves was absent due to oral surgery, City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh said, and Councilman William Reid and Councilwoman Bridget Rivers were absent with no reasons given.
As Plaintalker reported previously, Kochel is completing an extended stint as acting city administrator and under terms of the contract in question would stay on as a consultant for 100 hours between Nov. 7 and Dec. 21. The discussion revealed there is no named successor to Kochel to be in charge of day-to-day operations of the city, although Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the mayor had about half of a 90-day acting term left from when she named herself acting city administrator in April.
Williamson said it was his opinion that the mayor could name herself to the post for the balance of that term.
That information brought a retort from Williams: “May I say God save us if that happens.”
The last name mentioned for the post was Eric Berry, a former Trenton business administrator who has since taken a state position.
The council’s Administration & Finance Committee is headed by Mapp, who lost a June 2009 mayoral primary to Robinson-Briggs and who has been a fiscal watchdog since taking office on Jan. 1, 2009 representing the Third Ward. The city did not have a chief finance officer from January 2008 to January 2011, and as a certified CFO himself, Mapp has consistently pointed out fiscal lapses such as the administration allowing a non-certified person to sign off on availability of funds.
In the face of shrinking revenues and tighter state rules, the committee has advocated a 3- to 5-year budget projection for better use of resources, and that was one item for which the committee wanted Kochel’s advice. Storch said he thought it might take only about 10 hours of consultation, but Mapp wanted a more open-ended relationship with the committee.
The mayor said she had suggested that the committee attend daytime cabinet meetings with Kochel and the administration, but Storch said members with jobs could not attend.
The resolution authorizing the mayor to offer Kochel a contract was finally amended to read that Kochel would “be allowed” to meet with the committee and that he would be allowed to “provide any support requested from the council.” But as Williamson pointed out, the mayor can still choose not to offer the amended contract to Kochel.
The meeting also included passage on first reading of a package of ordinances aimed at limiting influence on government through political contributions. If passed on second reading, the measures could be subject to a mayoral veto and then five council votes would be needed to overturn the veto.
The council will hold another special meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 to conclude its investigation into the expenditure of $20,000 for an Aug. 1, 2010 "town meeting" on gang violence that featured an appearance by The Rev. Al Sharpton. The meeting was advertised in advance and broadcast live on radio station WBLS. The administration declined for a year to explain the payment, leading the council to invoke its subpoena powers under the city's special charter to hold an investigation. A report is expected by December on the council's findings.