I received some disturbing phone calls on late Friday afternoon about a decision made by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs that is in clear violation of the City Charter. The City Charter is a state document, state law, that governs the type of government we have in Plainfield; it lays out, in clear and unambiguous language, for the most part, what elected officials can and cannot do. The City Charter is a road map that guides many of our decision and actions as government officials.
Former City Administrator Eric Berry submitted his resignation to the Mayor and Council effective September 23, 2013. On September 24, 2013 Mayor Robinson-Briggs submitted a letter to the City Clerk informing him that “pursuant to Section 2:5-3 and 2:3-4 of the Plainfield Municipal Code, please be advised that as Mayor, I do hereby appoint myself as Acting City Administrator for the City of Plainfield effective today, September 24, 2013 until October 6, 2013.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mayor reportedly sent a letter to the City’s Payroll Clerk directing her to pay her acting pay as Acting City Administrator in addition to paying her as the Mayor of the City. Therein lies the problem. It’s one borne of selfishness and greed, and it is in clear violation of the City Charter. Section 3.2 of the Charter specifically says that the Mayor’s “compensation shall be fixed by ordinance and may not be increased or decreased during the term for which he was elected.”
By directing the Payroll Clerk to pay her acting pay in addition to her mayoral salary, Mayor Robinson-Briggs is arbitrarily increasing her compensation during the term for which she was elected, in clear violation of the Charter and the municipal ordinance that set her compensation at $35,000 per year.
How can the Mayor direct the Payroll Clerk to break the law by giving her excessive compensation? Section 3.7 of the Charter states that “In the event of an emergency which represents an immediate, clear and present danger to the public health, safety or welfare, the mayor may assume the personal direction of any department, agency or instrumentality of the city government as may, in his (her) discretion, be necessary to alleviate the emergency; and he (she) may take such action as he (she) may deem necessary or desirable to that end.”
Given that there is no current emergency as described and defined in the language from the Charter, it is my position that the Mayor cannot appoint herself as the Acting City Administrator. No emergency exists.
Furthermore, although Section 3.7 of the Charter is silent as to whether or not the Mayor can be paid for acting as a department head in case of an emergency which is defined as a “clear and present danger to the public health, safety or welfare,” the Charter is crystal clear in Section 3.2 which, again, states that the Mayor’s “compensation shall be fixed by ordinance and may not be increased or decreased during the term for which he (she) was elected.”
In light of the very clear and compelling language in the Charter, I urge Mayor Robinson-Briggs to reverse the misguided direction she gave to the Payroll Clerk, and that she be guided by the letter and the spirit of the Charter. Furthermore, I urge the Payroll Clerk not to issue any additional compensation to the Mayor in violation of the Charter or the local salary ordinance.
Finally, I say to every employee of the City of Plainfield, you must ignore all directions that will cause you to knowingly break the law, regardless of the source of the direction.