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Law firm retained despite 'illegal' meeting

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/08/22 15:27

Although its actions were called illegal and one of its members walked out in agreement with that charge, the Common Council voted Tuesday night to retain a law firm to represent the council in arbitration over the police contracts. The council also voted to recommend to the mayor that Vincent Leffredo and Gerald Daley, members of the council, serve as witnesses during the arbitration.

The language of both resolutions was softened from the original after questions of legality under collective bargaining laws and the city charter were raised. Instead of "appointing" council members as witnesses for the arbitration, they were "recommended" to the mayor. And instead of representing the city, the lawyer approved to be retained by the council will simply advise the council members that were recommended to serve as witnesses.

As soon as the night's special council meeting was called to order, it was declared illegal by Deputy Mayor Joseph Bibisi. Bibisi was acting as chairman of the meeting because Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano was absent in protest.

On Monday, Giuliano declared that everything on the agenda of the meeting was improper. The council does not have the power to appoint witnesses to the arbitration or retain a lawyer, Giuliano said.

Bibisi tried to block the meeting from going forward, citing that the mayor was not properly given notice, or served, making the meeting illegal.

If the meeting was illegal, anything decided in the meeting could be challenged by any member or the public or the police union, said Corporation Counsel William Howard.
Majority Leader Thomas Serra vehemently objected to this assertion and said the mayor had full knowledge of the meeting - that he, in fact, had told Giuliano of the meeting in person. Serra also cited an e-mail from the mayor's office to members of the council, about the meeting, sent on Aug. 10.

That Giuliano knew about that meeting wasn't enough to make it legal, Howard said.
"Notice has to be proper to make the meeting legal," Howard said. "This notice does not conform. The first thing anyone attacks is if the meeting was held legally."

Declaring the meeting illegal was called "pure and utter nonsense to circumvent the political process" by Councilman Vincent Loffredo. Thomas Serra called the actions of Giuliano and Bibisi attempts to shut the council out from negotiations and take away their fiduciary powers.

Despite Republican's protests, the meeting was declared legal by a vote and proceeded, although Councilman David Bauer, agreeing the meeting was illegal, walked out.

The proposed police contracts were voted down by the council in June in a 9-3 vote. The council called this meeting because its members wanted to have the voice of the nine that voted it down heard at the arbitration table, Serra said.


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