Brennan: ‘Deep State’ succession on ropes
By Tom Brennan |
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has been trying to establish a “deep state” line of succession for the mayor’s job but the effort seems doomed to fail.
The coronavirus pandemic and the many people who are becoming too sick to work raises the question of who runs the city if the mayor and the municipal manager are incapacitated.
The municipal charter doesn’t spell out the line of succession at all, though it is widely assumed that the municipal manager would step in at the mayor’s office until the mayor is able to resume his or her duties.
The issue first came up in February when Mayor Berkowitz was thinking about the earthquake of last November 30, how the charter called for such an emergency to be handled and who would manage it.
One of the unresolved issues was how much time should pass if the mayor became incapacitated before someone is selected as a replacement. Berkowitz submitted a proposed amendment calling for replacement of an incapacitated mayor after 14 days.
It called for the line of succession to go from the mayor to the municipal manager followed by director of the Office of Management and Budget. The job would then fall to, in order of succession, the heads of the various departments with the municipal attorney last in line. The mayor’s proposal also spelled out in detail the responsibilities of the Office of Emergency Management.
Then on May 19, three members of the Assembly, John Weddleton, Felix Rivera and Crystal Kennedy submitted a proposed amendment that modified the timeframes for disaster declarations and filling of jobs left open.
It would obviously take a real catastrophe for the job to fall to anyone near the bottom of that long list, so it’s unlikely that need should arise. But the problem is that the list takes the line of responsibility away from officials elected by the public and gives it to the hired hands.
That, folks, is a classic deep state situation in which the inmates are in charge. The hired hands are in a position to make the key decisions on many things, including their own pay and benefits. They are essentially responsible first to their colleagues and, somewhere around the end of the line, to the assembly members and the voters that elected them.
Such an arrangement is a real danger in a democracy, where the key decisions are supposed to be made by elected officials, people responsible to the voters who elected them and who pay the bills for the expenditures they make.
While the issue was on the table, Assemblyman Chris Constant became concerned about the line of succession. Last week he got his colleague John Weddleton to join him in sponsoring a new amendment with the line of succession going from the mayor to the municipal manager, then to the chair of the assembly followed by each member of the assembly based on their time in that position.
The change was adopted by an assembly vote of 9-2, an overwhelming majority of the body recognizing that the city’s key decision-makers need to be responsible to the voters and not to fellow members of the bureaucracy.
The risk that such drastic changes would occur over a short time in municipal government is very low. But the dangers of a bureaucracy becoming ascendant in the city’s power structure can be very great and need to be addressed.
The measure will come to a final vote at the assembly’s August 2 meeting. With 9-2 members supporting it at this point, it seems certain to pass.