He (She) who gets the council chair holds the power and the glory, and here’s why

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By Anna Howard

Niagara Falls – Since the Niagara Falls Reporter has gone on record in support of Kristen Grandinetti being elected council chairwoman we’ve been asked any number of times, “exactly what does a chairperson do that makes the position such a big deal?”

Few people are aware of the power and influence held in the hands of the council chair.

The facts of the matter are that the chairperson’s duties, while appearing to be rather mundane and ceremonial during the biweekly meetings, are in reality instrumental and key to the direction the city takes week to week throughout the year.

Who will be the next Niagara Falls Council chairperson? From left to right Kristen Grandinetti, Andrew Touma and Charles Walker.
Who will be the next Niagara Falls Council chairperson? From left to right Kristen Grandinetti, Andrew Touma and Charles Walker.

Principally, the chairperson is expected to run an orderly and legal meeting that proceeds from an adopted biweekly agenda. Ahh, but that’s only the most obvious and public part of the chairperson’s duties. The real grit of the job – the place where the gavel hits the dais – actually occurs behind the scenes in the lead up to that biweekly meeting. You see, the Chairperson has total control over what’s placed on the agenda. In this way the chairperson influences the public discussion, debate, and actual flow of city government. The council meetings and the council chambers are the domain of the council and the mayor is only a guest. And this is why so many covet the small wooden gavel…the control it brings. Understand this: even the mayor has to come hat in hand to the chairperson in order to place an item on the agenda.

Because the chairperson has full control over the agenda they are constantly being called, lobbied, cajoled, and searched out by everyone from the mayor to council colleagues to an astounding array of people seeking to do business with the city in a wide variety of ways. Never doubt the wide-ranging powers that the chairperson holds.

By the time a council meeting takes place you can bet your political bumper sticker that the agenda votes, the public statements from the dais, the back and forth between mayor and council majority, and the post meeting remarks made to the media by council members or mayor have largely been choreographed. As long as the mayor and council majority are on friendly terms the biweekly meetings are essentially rehearsed playlets.

The reader should also be aware that Mayor Dyster prefers to meet with the chairman and one other council member in his office the week prior to the scheduled meeting in order to discuss matters the mayor deems to be of importance.  Three council members simultaneously meeting together outside an official meeting date constitutes an illegal meeting. Of course rules are meant to be broken. Wink wink.

It’s at these “pre meeting meetings” that a mayor and council chairperson can cover a lot of ground as scripted playlets and a staggering number of items affecting the budget, property, personnel, and development are discussed and hashed out.

In short – and you should never discount or doubt the facts of the matter – the council chairperson sits in a key position of authority that determines, in many ways, the direction that city government takes.

And that my friends is the real reason why the position of council chairperson is highly coveted.

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