SYRACUSE -- An ongoing battle about whether city leaders should correct a mistake from the past continues to dominate work sessions in this community and has increasingly put Mayor Jamie Nagle at odds with some council members.
The latest chapter in the dispute over Title II of the city's code took almost two hours recently and put new Councilman Brian Duncan and Nagle at serious odds. Discussion of the issue has taken place in several work sessions for the past few months.
The basis of the dispute is whether city officials should revert back to the city's old Title I regarding the duties and powers of city officials, specifically the mayor, or simply revise Title II, which was approved to update those duties and responsibilities two years ago.
There is some question as to whether Title II was passed legally, because the mayor was not included in the vote on the ordinance.
"Let's put it on every work session. In my opinion we're wasting time and money. The city for the last two years, while operating under Title II, has done tremendous things. If there is an imbalance of power, why isn't it being found?" Nagle said.
Duncan, an attorney, claims because Title II was not legally approved, it does not exist. He wants to redo revisions of the city's old Title I, which led to the existing ordinance. He is unhappy specifically because the new title seems to shut the council out of oversight of city workers and leaves that responsibility totally with the mayor, working with the city manager.
"Please understand, I'm not going after Jamie Nagle," Duncan said.
He likened the situation to the federal government, where he claims Attorney General Eric Holder has no accountability to Congress.
"Under Title II, that we are currently operating under, no one in the executive branch has to account to us ... We are the oversights," Duncan said.
Nagle disagrees that the council has no oversight with city employees. She pointed out that, historically, under the old Title I, there were several incidents where council members gave directions to city staff -- in the development of Jensen Park -- only to create conflicting directions. She said the chaos led some staff members to fear for their jobs and resulted in the park project going over budget by $4 million.
One city employee, staff clerk Monica Whitaker, interjected during the work session that council members are in a position of power and anyone who works for the city would want to please them.
"I think it's a good idea city staff wants to please us. City staff needs to be saying, 'How do we keep the city council happy?' " Duncan said in response.
Nagle bristled at Duncan's comments.
"No, they shouldn't. It's the height of arrogance. They should be keeping citizens happy," Nagle said in response.
Duncan countered by saying Nagle may call it arrogance, but staff should be accountable to the council.
"There needs to be accountability," the councilman said.
The work session was held after the city's regular meeting and went on until almost 11:30 p.m. As the hour grew later, the back-and-forth between Duncan and Nagle seemed to increase.
"You sit there and pontificate. It's exhausting," the mayor told Duncan.
Councilwoman Karianne Lisonbee said Nagle's comments were inappropriate and that newly passed rules of order and procedure called for civility and respect among city officials in public meetings.
Duncan said city officials can revert to Title I, then work at tweaking the good things from Title II into a new code, outlining the responsibilities and powers of city officials, including the mayor and council.
"We have to do it right. If we don't change the power from the old council, we don't have to start from scratch," Duncan said.
City Attorney Will Carlson has outlined several options the council may consider in addressing the issue. Thus far those recommendations have not been put up for a vote by the council, and potentially the mayor, during a public session.