There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George asks his neighbor Newman, a mailman, why he’s not at work.
“I called in sick,” Newman says. “I don’t work in the rain.”
“You don’t work in the rain?” George replies, incredulous. “You’re a mailman. ‘Neither rain nor sleet nor snow…’ It’s the first one!”
The latest mayor-council flap reminded me of this scene. Last Tuesday, Mayor Hayward sent a memo to council members directing them not to communicate directly with city employees:
To improve the efficiency of City operations, and to ensure complete communications and follow up among City Council members, departments, and the Mayor’s Office, I request that all future communications and dealings between the individual City Council members and City employees be done through the Mayor.
There’s a story about the memo in today’s PNJ, “Councilwoman threatens Hayward with lawsuit over communication policy.” As the article describes it, the mayor’s memo was just a reminder of what the charter says: “Neither the City Council nor council members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.” Councilwoman Sherri Myers is mad about this, and she’s retained an attorney to represent her in the matter. Yada yada yada.
Except, to my knowledge, no council member was trying to “give orders” to city staff. If they were, then the mayor is quite right to put a stop to it, and there’s a good conversation to be had about the importance of insulating employees from political pressures. But if we’re looking to the charter for guidance, there’s another important passage that delineates the council’s right to request information from staff. Here’s the full section 4.04(b), “Interference with Administration”:
Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations made in good faith, the City Council or Council Members shall deal with the City officers and employees, who are subject to the direction and supervision of the Mayor, solely through the Mayor. Neither the City Council nor Council Members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately. It is the express intent of this Charter that recommendations for improvement of municipal governmental operations by individual Council Members be made solely to and through the Mayor.
“Except for the purpose of inquiries…” To paraphrase George Costanza: it’s the first part! That’s the part that council members say conflicts with the mayor’s memo. That’s the phrase at the crux of Councilwoman Myers’ complaint. Yet when the PNJ story quotes the charter’s “parameters for council members’ dealings with employees,” that passage is curiously omitted. There’s a reference to it deep in the story, but instead of quoting the charter directly, it’s mentioned as the opinion of Alistair McKenzie, Myers’ attorney: “McKenzie said he agrees that the charter does not allow council members to give orders to city employees. But he said council members still have the right under the charter to make ‘good faith’ inquiries to city employees — something he said Hayward’s policy prevents.”
Oddly, when the PNJ story was first published yesterday (“Councilwoman threatens legal action against mayor“), it contained a direct quote of the relevant passage. By the time it was printed in the physical paper (and republished online this morning), that passage was gone.
Sometimes stories need to be trimmed for print, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Yesterday’s story was only 377 words, while today’s version is 834 words. Yet the six words that are arguably the most relevant to the issue — “Except for the purpose of inquiries” — were completely buried.
In other words, they yada yada’d over the best part!