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New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio needs to back off when it comes to restricting access by City Council members to city department heads. As things stand now, inquiries from council members must go through the mayor's office. That means either the Finizio administration gets back to councilors with the information sought or, if a councilor wants to ask questions directly, the mayor's office will schedule the appointment as it sees fit.
While Mayor Finizio's motives are understandable, the current policy is heavy-handed.
As the first mayor under the charter change from a city manager system, Mayor Finizio rightfully wanted to set strong boundary lines to keep council members from meddling in the operation of departments. He is the CEO, elected by voters to run the city and implement policies set by the council. Department heads should take directions only from the mayor.
However, the administration should not attempt to block council members from getting their questions addressed as they go about their responsibilities of setting policy and representing the citizens. If that means directly contacting a department head to gather facts, so be it.
The city charter clearly draws this line.
"Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the mayor's office, and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the mayor either publicly or privately," it reads.
"Inquiry," is defined as, "a request for information."
So council members can inquire, but cannot direct.
The matter received recent attention when Councilor Martin T. Olsen, the lone Republican, sought to speak with police Chief Margaret Ackley, only to be informed by the chief that he had to go through the mayor's office. Mr. Olsen called it "outrageous." His distress is understandable.
Mayor Finizio predicts all sorts of chaos and disruption of work if council members are constantly calling department heads for information, or dropping by unannounced with their inquiries. This fear appears overstated. These top-level directors should be able to manage the occasional inquiries from the seven councilors.
To better reflect the charter's intent, the mayor should modify his directions to department heads. At the same time, councilors must avoid abusing this access and utilize council committees to gather most of the information they need.