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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Simmering Conflict Breaks into the Open in Stone Harbor Council Meeting

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Stone Harbor Logo

By Vince Conti

STONE HARBOR – For several weeks, a conflict has been brewing between the three members of the Stone Harbor Council Administration and Finance (A&F) Committee and Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour. 
Previously, it was most visible when council members fired former Administrator Robert Smith at an open meeting in early February. The action came while Davies-Dunhour pleaded for a closed session on the personnel action.  
What followed later in the month was a legal review of the Stone Harbor form of government, a review announced by Council member Jennifer Gensemer as chair of the A&F Committee. 
The purpose of the review was to better understand the duties and authority of the mayor in the borough form of government. Gensemer repeatedly asked borough solicitor Marcus Karavan if Stone Harbor was a “weak mayor and strong council” form of government. 
The council is at odds with the mayor on several issues, including issues of personnel and organizational structure. That was dramatically on display at the May 2 council meeting when an absence by Clerk Kim Stevenson required the reappointment of the deputy clerk who had been removed from the deputy clerk role by the Interim Administrator Manny Parada on the Friday before the Tuesday council meeting.  
Davies-Dunhour and the council members on the A&F Committee had a prolonged public exchange about A&F Committee plans for restructuring parts of the borough administration. 
While others on council ended up supporting some of the restructuring, it was clear that leadership was coming from A&F Committee whose members include Gensemer as chair, Council President Frank Dallahan and Council member Reese Moore.  
One thing that came out in the discussion was the need, according to Gensemer, to reduce positions in order for the borough to stay below the appropriation cap on the budget. This was a matter that got very little discussion during the budget presentations given by Chief Financial Officer (CFO) James Craft. A review of the budget documents shows that the nearly $20 million borough budget is under the 2.5% state appropriations cap by only $130,000.  
Davies-Dunhour then said the A&F Committee was acting too independently and needed to better integrate their deliberations into the discussions of the whole council. Gensemer fired back that the committee was “not hiding anything.” 
In response to the mayor asking the status of the administrator position, A&F Committee members said that it was their intention to bring forward a resolution for the appointment of Parada as the permanent administrator at the next meeting. No advertising or search would be necessary. Support for Parada on the council was strong. There was no discussion of whether he would also continue on a permanent basis to hold the dual position of director of Public Works. 
Later in the meeting, an issue was discussed concerning potential parking privileges at the 96th Street offices of Cape Physicians. The issue had been previously discussed at a separate meeting. The medical group had asked for dedicated parking spaces for patients, many of whom have mobility problems.  
Dallahan elected to poll the other council members on their level of support for the request. When Council member Bunny Parzych asked for the recommendation of the A&F Committee, Dallahan said he would make his views known after the poll was completed.
No recommendation was brought to council by A&F Committee. It turned out that even the A&F Committee members had no idea where Dallahan was going with the issue since they reacted with surprise when he said the physician’s group should get two spaces at no charge. The resolution of the parking request was not formally settled.  
Even for a work session where discussion is the norm, the meeting surfaced a struggle between a seemingly empowered A&F Committee and a visibly embattled mayor, a struggle that has recently become more visible and more public.  
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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