Chaos continues to reign supreme inside Mount Vernon City Hall, as the unprecedented controversy over who sits in the mayor’s seat rages into its second week.
Last week, on Monday, July 8, Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas pleaded guilty to fourth-degree attempted grand larceny and second-degree offering a false statement for filing. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to resign from office as of Monday, Sept. 30.
Two days later, on Wednesday, July 10, the Mount Vernon City Council unanimously voted on legislation to remove Thomas from office immediately, giving him 24 hours to vacate City Hall. City Council President Andre Wallace was named the interim mayor, while Councilwoman Janice Duarte became the council president.
Citing a section of the city council that calls for elected officials to vacate their office if convicted of a crime, the council also passed resolutions authorizing the city comptroller to stop paying Thomas’ salary, and he was ordered to turn over any city property that he possesses.
"Any officer or employee who willfully violates or evades any provision of law, or of this chapter, or by culpable neglect of duty allows any public property to be lost to the City, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, in addition to the penalties imposed by law, shall on conviction forfeit his office or employment,” the charter states.
However, Thomas has steadfastly refused to leave office, while Wallace has acted as the city’s leader, leaving questions abound for local residents.
“I am the mayor until I’m not,” Thomas said. “I’m going to keep doing the people’s business. To the City Council, stop the nonsense. I’m going to get back to work doing the people’s business and I hope you do too.”
The City Council has stood firm that Wallace is the acting mayor, though the city’s corporation counsels say that Thomas will remain in charge until his resignation takes effect in September.
“I represent the City of Mount Vernon. I represent the mayor, the City Council and all the other city entities,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Brian Johnson said. “It is our position that it is very clear that Mayor Richard Thomas is still the mayor. The City Council’s powers are legislative only. I understand making the arguments and about the charters, but it’s a failing argument.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Thomas said, ”the City Council's recent attempt to remove Mayor Richard Thomas from office and designate an acting mayor is contemptuous of the state Supreme Court's roadmap for an orderly transition of power, and it violates past Supreme Court decisions forbidding council members from interfering with the executive branch of government.
“According to the city charter, a mayor can only be removed from office by the governor and state attorney general. The New York Attorney General has already reached a resolution to campaign-finance matters that occurred prior to Mayor Thomas' mayoral term, and Mayor Thomas will leave office in the fall, near the end of his term."
It remains unclear how the situation will be resolved, though it may be heading to court. The City Council had a closed-door two-hour meeting on Friday, July 12, though details about what was discussed have been withheld by those involved. Thomas was due to leave office as of 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 11, but there have been no efforts to enforce that ban thus far, as Thomas continues to work in City Hall.
Running on the Republican line, Wallace will square off against Democratic primary victor Shawyn Patterson-Howard in November, who is expected to win due to the Democratic majority of the city’s registered voters.
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