WESTMINSTER — April 22 is not only the date of the public hearing on the city's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but also an anniversary of sorts.
Events surrounding last year's hearing triggered the deteriorationof relations between the City Council and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown.
The budget deliberation in 1990 was largely overshadowed by the sideshow feud between the council and Brown, which included the mayor storming out of the hearing and a subsequent council resolution demanding he resign.
Brown refused, and in protest, abandoned his seat at the head of the council table during meetings. The mayor opted instead for a center seat in the front row of the audience for the semimonthly meetings.
And though it seems hard to imagine that it has been nearly a year since Brown has been watching council meetings fromthe crowd, the beginning of the budget process for fiscal year 1992 looms just around the corner.
At Monday night's council meeting, Brown addressed the council on the coming budget process. He brought up last year's scrapping and expressed hope that this year could be different.
"April 22nd is fast approaching," Brown said.
It was on Friday, April 19, last year when the mayor ignited the firefight byreleasing to the media copies of the proposed budget -- which included a property tax rate he did not support -- three days before the hearing.
Brown said he thought the public should have a chance to review the budget information beforehand in order to offer meaningful input at the hearing.
He told the council Monday he'd like to see the information made available in advance again.
"My conviction is absolute that the public has both a right and a need to see the (budget) information prior to the hour of the hearing," the mayor said.
Despite the fireworks Brown's actions unleashed last year, council members say they didn't necessarily object to the budget information being disseminated.
What rankled them, they say, was that a first-term mayor, acting unilaterally, released copies of the proposed budget without alerting city staff or council members.
"What we had a problem with was that the mayor released it without even a courtesy call to the finance committee chairman (Councilman William F. Haifley)," Council President Kenneth J. Hornberger said yesterday. "That
was the problem, how it was done.
"It was a breach of protocol, a serious breach of protocol. It's Mr. Haifley's committee, and Mayor Brown doesn't seem to understand that."
Councilman Samuel V. Greenholtz agreed.
"Obviously, the people are entitled to the information," he said yesterday. "But that type of release I don't approve of. I hadn't even seen the (proposed) budget, and I had people calling me about what was in it. We deserve the right to know what it looks like when the press does."
Relations plummeted after Brown released theproposed budget and remain cool. Brown vetoed the $5.05 million budget, but the council overrode him.
How the information about the budget will be handled this year remains to be seen. As finance committee chairman, it's up to Haifley to decide when the material will be released.
Haifley did not respond to Brown's comments Monday, and was unavailable for comment yesterday.