Plattsburgh Common Councilors chose a mayor pro tem Thursday evening. The vote had been postponed following testy exchanges and a deadlocked vote the week before.
According to the Plattsburgh City Charter, the common council must choose a councilor to serve as mayor pro tem at the first meeting of each year, or as soon thereafter as possible. The mayor pro tem fills in for the mayor in the event of illness or absence, but cannot make appointments, veto council action or cast tie-breaking votes.
Four votes are needed from the six councilors to approve the selection of a pro tem. Last week one councilor was absent. Two nominations were put forth but an antagonistic debate between Democratic councilors Becky Kasper and Mike Kelly led to a deadlock.
Kasper: “Mike with no respect to your comments I would ask you not to point a finger at me any longer when you have something to say.”
Kelly: “Oh I’m going to point fingers Becky as long as you keep being a divisive…”
Kelly: “…force in this council then I’m going to point fingers. You can count on that.”
Thursday night, all of the councilors were at City Hall as nominations opened again for pro tem. Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong offered what she hoped would be a compromise. "As a way of trying to arrive at a compromise I felt like it was a good idea to nominate Peter Ensel for mayor pro tem, an independent voice, someone over this year who’s been very active in the council and also someone willing to listen to both sides. I think in some cases we’re you know a little bit divided. As an independent I also rely on his approach to being independent.”
Ward 2’s Kelly had nominated Armstrong for the position the week before. “There are two camps in our city council currently. There’s no denying that. There’s a group of us that feel very strongly that the mayor has a good agenda and we want to move it forward. Another group believes the status quo that you know has guided the city for many years is okay. That’s my assessment of it. Peter Ensel is a man of compromise. He tries very hard to get along with everybody. Both of those groups I just mentioned he’s well liked in both of those. I like Peter Ensel. I think he’ll be a great mayor pro tem.”
Ensel, the Ward 4 independent, says Councilor Armstrong had approached him to see if he would be willing to serve as pro tem. “There is somewhat of division at times within the council and I think I have the ability to work with both those sides. I’ve always been a person to look at an issue and vote based on its merit and with my conviction. And I really have no allegiances except to the citizenry of the city of Plattsburgh and to serve their best interest and that’s my only allegiance.”
Ensel missed last week’s meeting because he was caught in the Boston blizzard. He was taken aback when he viewed the archive of the meeting and it reinforced his goal to improve relations between factions in city hall. “Certainly one of my goals is to improve communication between the council and the mayor and the mayor and the council. When I say that I don’t want the public to think that there’s this huge chasm because that’s certainly not the case. I think each and every councilor on the board is looking at serving the best interest of their constituents and the entire citizens of the city of Plattsburgh. I have no doubt about that. I have no question about that. I think part of the issue, again, comes down to communication and I think improved communication can go a long way towards mending the divide.”
Councilors voted unanimously to approve Peter Ensel as pro tem under Mayor Colin Read.