Glen Cove City Council votes to block charter reform ballot measures


As he listened to residents voice their concerns about renewing the Glen Cove City Charter Review Commission, on which he has served for three years, Glen Howard let out a series of frustrated sighs.

The stakes were high. After three years of studying the structures of other municipalities, deliberating and debating the merits of important changes to city government — whether to implement term limits, or lengthen terms to three or four years, or stagger terms to avoid a complete turnover of the mayor and council in a single election — the commission was prepared to put these charter amendments up to a public vote, and let the people decide whether to change the structure of their government or keep it the way it is.

Resident Tip Henderson complained that the public wasn’t informed enough to weigh in on the proposals in November. “The problem is, I haven’t been persuaded,” he said of the proposed charter amendments. It was the commission’s job to spread the word, he said, and it had failed to do so.

Commission secretary Dave Nieri said that all of its meetings were open to the public, and that it had held two public information sessions. The Herald Gazette has reported extensively on the work of the commission, and has sought experts to weigh in on its proposals. Henderson insisted that the commission’s findings should have been presented to the public in a formal report.

The City Council voted 5-2 against renewing the commission, with Tenke and Councilwoman Pamela Panzenbeck voting in the minority. Once the votes were cast, Howard — a City Hall regular known for his deep knowledge of, and almost religious devotion to, parliamentary procedure — grumbled, not quietly, “Political bull---t.”

Later in the meeting, during the public comment section, Howard shared his displeasure with the council. “You didn’t give [the people] a choice,” he said. “You didn’t give them a chance to do what a democracy would do. You’ve denied the public the right to make a decision. . . . And as of tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I won’t be volunteering for anything that the city has.”

Under normal circumstances, New York state municipal law gives charter commissions the power to put amendments on a ballot measure without the governing body’s approval. But City Attorney Charlie McQuair — who, since the commission’s formation in 2015, had been advising it on legal matters — didn’t realize until late July that it had passed a two-year deadline to propose referenda, and would have to be reauthorized by the council if it were to exercise that power in November. That left just one regular council meeting, Tuesday’s, for the council to vote on the commission’s fate before an early-September deadline to submit ballot measures to the Nassau County Board of Elections.

In voting not to renew the commission, councilmen Joseph Capobianco and Mike Zangari said that it wasn’t the “right time” to do so. Others, including Kevin Maccarone and Marsha Silvermen, said that the survey put out by the commission — which received between 200 and 300 responses — did not demonstrate sufficient community engagement to justify voting to allow the group to complete its work. “I just don’t think the interest is there right now,” Maccarone said.

The vote came amid calls from another group, Reboot Glen Cove, for more than 20 charter amendments that include, but go well beyond, the amendments proposed by the Charter Review Commission, including the transfer of important mayoral powers to a council-appointed city manager, the geographic division of the city into council districts that would each elect their own representatives, and the restriction or abolition of the Glen Cove Industrial and Community Development agencies.

Philip Pidot, a Reboot organizer who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for City Council in 2015, told the Herald Gazette in July that the group was close to amassing the almost 600 signatures required to force the council to vote on its proposals. Although Reboot has met informally with the council and asked it to consider its proposals, it has not officially submitted them for consideration.

Citing Reboot’s supporters, and the commission’s surveys, Glen Cove resident Drew Lawrence asked, “When is enough enough? If there’s interest in changing the charter, the people should be heard.”