City Council President Aidee Nieves had no authority to unilaterally expend public funds, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, to support various social service and non-profit organizations in the city, according to a legal opinion written by City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer who had advised her in the past it was not legal but she continued to carry on the practice.
Meyer writes “While we engaged in discussions earlier in 2021, the first time that the City Council President was advised verbally by this office that she lacked legal authority to expend appropriated supportive contribution funds was not until on or about November 2021.”
The genesis of this issue was advanced by City Councilwoman Maria Pereira who also filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission charging Nieves had doled out thousands of dollars to constituency groups in her district while running for reelection in 2021.
From Pereira’s complaint:
In May, City Council President Nieves began to repeatedly direct City Clerk employee Mike Boyer to process invoices against the City Council’s Legislative Department “Other Services” Budget to disburse thousands of dollars to organizations and non-profits which overwhelmingly benefit the voters/constituents of her district to bolster her and Valle’s re-election efforts. Not one of these “supportive contributions” was authorized by the full City Council as required.
… In addition, she is utilizing taxpayer funds to influence members of the 137th Democrat Town Committee to vote to endorse both she and Valle at the DTC Convention scheduled on July 26, 2021. City Council President Aidee Nieves is violating campaign finance law by utilizing City Council appropriated funding for the City Council’s use under the “Legislative Department” “Other Services” line with $60,000 appropriated July 1, 2020, and another $65,000 appropriated July 1, 2021, to achieve re-election.
In her defense to support needy organizations with taxpayer dollars Nieves has cited the past practice of former City Council President Tom McCarthy during the mayoral administration of Bill Finch.
Meyer contends past practice is not a salient argument. He also affirms City Council members are elected officials who are not city employees, therefore have no authority to direct municipal staff to carry out expenditures.
Perhaps a fix is the entire legislative body voting to approve line item goodwill expenditures in conjunction with the executive branch to process payments.
Nieves and Meyer have butted heads over several legal issues leading to this opinion. Nieves has attempted to assert the legislative body’s role as an equal branch of government including calls for its own legal counsel separate from the executive authority.
Nieves critics maintain there’s already regulations on the books to do that without reliance on the executive branch. They also claim she fails to understand the respective roles of the executive and legislative bodies, including a misread of the City Charter.
So how does this stuff work? Nieves contacts the City Clerk’s Office that serves as a support arm of the council to process payments. It goes to the Finance Department for sign-off. During her time as council president, according to sources, it’s amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Based on Meyer’s ruling this practice must cease to exist.
Meyer announced weeks ago that he will retire from city service. He’s likely to finalize his time in June.