Dover mayor says no to using veto, avoids ‘war’ with city council

DOVER — Mayor Robin Christiansen said Friday he will not veto city council’s most recent decision to reduce mayoral authority.

“I don’t want to go to war with council; I’m not going to veto their actions,” he said in an afternoon press conference. “But I’m calling upon them to review their actions.”

The mayor called the press conference to address his reaction to Monday night’s council meeting. That’s when council members voted 5-3 for a “do-over” to rescind their vote earlier this month that would have turned the office of mayor into a powerful chief executive of the city.

Two weeks ago, council voted to have all departments, except the city clerk’s office and the finance department, report to the city manager who, in turn, would then report to the mayor.

On Monday council rescinded that vote.

Instead, council members approved a motion that said all departments, excluding the city clerk’s office and the finance department, will report to the city manager. The city manager will report to council, who appoints the manager.

However, the mayor’s position would remain full time.

The mayor has the power to veto council’s decision, but council can override that veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen told reporters Friday that he doesn’t want a power struggle with city council over the role and duties of his office. Therefore, he said, he wouldn’t veto a council action that takes back an earlier vote to expand the mayor’s powers. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen told reporters Friday that he doesn’t want a power struggle with city council over the role and duties of his office. Therefore, he said, he wouldn’t veto a council action that takes back an earlier vote to expand the mayor’s powers. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

“I want to make clear to the residents that I feel the issue is not directed to me personally,” Mayor Christiansen said. “A veto by me will be interpreted as a power move, and that’s not my intention or purpose with the most sacred legislative tool that’s available to the chief executive of the city and that is the veto.

“It’s the responsibilities of the mayor and council to work as a team for the common good of our citizens …”

Council President David Bonar, who requested the change during Monday night’s meeting, applauded the mayor’s decision.

“I think the mayor is showing true leadership by deciding not to veto this decision,” Mr. Bonar said. “He had a lot to gain politically if he did choose to veto it, but it showed his true leadership skills by not just focusing on himself. It’s larger than one person.

“I think everyone on council feels we need to sit down and work together to figure out what needs to be done in order to clarify the duties of the mayor moving forward.”

Nothing personal

Mayor Christiansen said he believes council’s sudden urge to change the responsibilities of the mayor was due to former Mayor Carleton Carey’s alleged actions to influence the selection of a deputy police chief in 2014.

“I think that’s what has generated this whole situation,” he said. “We have been addressing the issues about the responsibilities and duties of the mayor for a long time.

There has been ongoing discussion since 1995, since the concept came about.

“I felt as though council reacted to the events that happened in April and May of last year and the upcoming election and felt they needed to take action to protect the taxpayers.”

Mr. Carey unexpectedly resigned last April amid controversy over the appointment of a new deputy police chief. City council demanded his resignation amid allegations that the mayor had pressured his newly appointed police Chief Paul Bernat to appoint Lt. Marvin Mailey, an African-American, as the new deputy chief.

Five officers filed grievances, asserting that they had been passed over for promotion because they were white. The city paid out $300,000 in settlements.

Mr. Carey now is campaigning against Mr. Christiansen in an effort to regain the mayor’s office. The election is April 21.

“We can’t have knee-jerk reactions to generate an entire change within a course of a month or two to the structure of the city of Dover government, but I empathize with their concerns,” Mayor Christiansen said.

Mr. Bonar disagreed.

“I don’t think that was the motivation behind defining the responsibilities of the mayor,” he said. “It had an impact on some council members, but for me personally that wasn’t the case.

“I know I made the request to change it because I got the impression that several council members didn’t understand the original motion that was made on March 9.”

Mr. Carey was unavailable for comment.

What’s next

Mayor Christiansen said changes to the charter must be made before anything will take effect.

The standard process for proposed changes first must be approved in council’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee.

The committee moves the proposal to the full council, which also must review, debate and approve the changes.

From there, under the state law, changes in any municipal charter must be approved by Delaware’s General Assembly, which may require additional changes.

“It has to be finalized, as there’s no timetable as to when that may be done,” Mayor Christiansen said.

“The changes that they have to make in the charter have to be very selective and deliberate. I looked through the charter and there are at least 16 to 35 changes regarding to the office of mayor and the responsibilities.

“It set the ball in motion,” Mayor Christiansen added. “I think we have a greater responsibility to the citizens to lay this all out before we make any definitive changes, but I came here to do a job and not look for a job, whether it’s part-time, full-time or whatever we end up doing.”

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