Without approving Republican Mayor Erin Stewart’s controversial proposal to borrow $115 million to push city debt into the future, the City Council adjourned the third special meeting that Stewart had called for the Council to approve her plan.
The motion to adjourn the January 25, 2018 special meeting was made as the Council began consideration of a report, purportedly from the Council’s Bonding Committee, recommending approval of Stewart’s borrowing and refinance plan. The Council’s Majority Leader, Ald. Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. (D-5) said that the proposal was not legitimately before Council for consideration because the Bonding Committee had not held a legally convened meeting in order to refer the report back to the Council.
Under Stewart’s debt plan, city taxpayers would be making smaller payments on existing city debt in the current year and next eight years, with the largest saving being in the three years following the current year. After the year 2026, however, taxpayer payments on existing city debt would increase, becoming dramatically higher over the course of twenty-one years. The plan would add an additional ten years to the taxpayer’s payments on existing city debt, and, according to City Council members, would add over $69 million to city debt service and increase the city’s total debt obligation from $380 million to $449 million.
Many are calling Stewart’s tactics to pressure City Council Democrats into a quick approval of her plan heavy-handed. Stewart has repeatedly issued warrants for the Council to vote on her debt plan, rebuffing Democratic Council members’ calls for action to be delayed in order to consider options other than her $115 million borrowing plan. Council Democrats say that, despite the pressure, they have continued discussions, behind the scenes, between Council members, Stewart and others on the city’s finances.
When Stewart’s plan was first considered, on January 10th, the Council referred the proposal its Bonding Committee, also called the, “Bonding Subcommittee.” While initially welcoming further questions and discussion on her plan, Stewart called another special Council meeting to vote on the plan only one week later. Council Democrats, saying that their concerns about Stewart’s proposal had not been addressed, called for that, January 17th, Council meeting to be cancelled. Stewart called the January 17th special meeting to order, anyway, without enough members present conduct official business, criticizing Democrats for not voting on her plan.
Democrats also cancelled the meeting of the Bonding Committee that was to be held January 17th, before the Council meeting that night. But Council Minority Leader, Ald. Robert Smedley (R-4) attempted to convene that meeting with other Republicans, but without the Democrats, in order to send the borrowing plan back to the full Council.
At the January 25th Council meeting, Carlozzi said that the Bonding Committee did not have a legitimately convened meeting on January 17th because Smedley, as Council leadership, was not permitted to chair it and because it lacked a quorum to do business. Carlozzi said that two city Finance Commission members who Republicans counted toward the minimum quorum of five members in order to convene the Bonding Committee had not been legally confirmed as members of the Committee by the newly-elected Council.
The City Corporation Counsel, Gennaro Bizzarro, appointed by Stewart, disagreed with Carlozzi, saying that Smedley could call the Bonding Committee meeting to order and that the Finance Commission members were entitled to remain on the Committee as carry-overs from the last Council term.