Mayor seeks power over commission

November 11, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins plans to introduce a bill that would give him the power to dismiss members of the Historic District Commission, a panel with which his administration has had disagreements in recent weeks.

Mr. Hopkins wants the HDC to approve reconstruction of the city's historic Main Street, but a squabble between city officials and historic preservationists threatens to delay the project well past its January start date.

The mayor's proposal states that every member of the city's historic preservation board would serve "at the pleasure of the mayor," meaning he could fire any member at any time without proving misconduct or inefficiency.

The bill, which also would expand the HDC from five to seven members, was set to be introduced at Monday's City Council meeting, but Mr. Hopkins said he would hold the measure until the next meeting.

He would not say why he postponed introducing the bill.

HDC allies say the proposal saps the panel of its strength and its independence.

"If the mayor doesn't like one of the commission's decisions, he can just fire the members," said Ward One Alderman Louise Hammond, who represents residents in the city's historic district.

Ms. Hammond questioned the timing of the proposal, which comes at the height of the Main Street controversy.

The city's $5 million project would rebrick the roadway, bury overhead utility lines and rebuild the sidewalks for the entire length of Main Street.

City officials have argued that, if construction is delayed, the new governor could decide not to release more than $1 million in state funds already promised to the city.

Mr. Hopkins says the measure has nothing to do with the Main Street debate, but is a proper application of his powers as mayor.

If he can appoint the HDC members, he says, he should be allowed to fire them. After all, he argues, he already can dismiss other political appointees such as department directors and members of his personal staff.

Mr. Hopkins said he would use the dismissal powers prudently.

"I wouldn't just fire someone without cause," he said. "I would give a reason."

Currently, the mayor appoints HDC members to three-year terms. By state law, can he dismiss them if they demonstrate misconduct in office, inefficiency, insubordination or malfeasance.

The bill would extend the mayor's dismissal powers only to the HDC. Members of other commissions, such as the Board of Appeals, the Planning and Zoning Board and the Housing Authority, would remain protected from firing without proof of poor performance or wrongdoing.

Mr. Hopkins said he might fire an HDC member over "ethics" and conflicts of interest. Members of the public group should be careful about lobbying for private causes on the side, he said.

"If you're a member of the HDC, you're welcome to join any organization, but be careful," Mr. Hopkins said, "you may be expressing an opinion that you'd have to vote on as a member of the HDC."

More than half of the HDC's members belong to the Ward One Residents' Association, which is composed of historic district dwellers who have fought the city's Main Street plan.

HDC Chairman Donna Ware said the mayor's bill is poorly timed.

"We'd like to see the changes done as part of a package, not as an individual act out of [the city's] frustration with a project," she said.

Ms. Ware also questioned whether the measure violates state law.

"We have to look at what kind of evidence can be brought to bear before the mayor can fire someone," she said. "I don't know if it's legal."

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