At its May 24 meeting, the City Council, by a vote of 6-1 (Councilmember Bill Henderson again exhibiting thoughtful common sense in opposition), adopted Humpty Dumpty’s memorable line, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean”, as its mantra. They decreed that the word “may” in the proposed tree law legislation, which had been presented to the community in the public notice required by New York law, could be changed to “shall” without further notice to the public, because they felt, in context that “may” and “shall” meant the same thing.
In objecting, I inquired of one of the proponents of equating “shall” with “may” whether she saw any difference between “I may kill you” or “I shall kill you”. No answer.
I then recommended the Council go back to the drawing board, review and recast the proposal to “shall” and present the revised proposal to the community. In brief, observe the law.
Arguing the sub-committee had spent a lot of time on it, the Council rejected my proposal and substituted “shall” for “may” in the proposed legislation, and then went forward and passed the legislation in Orwellian fashion.
Early in grammar school, I was told time spent didn’t matter. The issue was “Did you get it right?”
The Council didn’t.
Since no notice of the change was given to the community, passage of the amended legislation is invalid because it fails to comply with the legal requirement of the Open Meeting Law. If the legislation is attacked, it may result in needless and costly legal proceedings for the City.
In response to my question to Kristen Wilson, Rye’s Corporation Counsel, as to her opinion on whether, in context, “may” and “shall” mean the same thing, responded “yes”, without checking the law as to whether the substitution required a new notice.
I recognize that Councilmembers serve without pay, devote a lot of time to the job, and should be cut some slack. They also should be held to some reasonable standard as to their actions, including compliance with the law.
Rye deserves better.
Cancel the legislation. Draft new tree legislation which responds to issues raised at the meeting, including one raised by a Council member as to the location of trees in affected space. Then, present the modified legislation to the community in accordance with the requirements of the Open Meetings Law, and make sure that the Corporation Counsel has reviewed it and that it follows New York law.