On February 23, 2017, The Advocate published a letter composed by the anonymous “Friends of the Greenway” that encouraged trustees to overturn my veto of a resolution passed at the February 1, 2017, meeting. That resolution, passed by four out of five trustees present for the meeting, did not include language recommended by the village attorney, and instead, included more restrictive language requested by the CCDC, Clifton Commerce Development Corporation, who wish to donate property to the Village of Clifton.
At last month’s meeting, faced with two resolutions that appeared identical, I heard one of the trustees say, “I don’t see what the difference is,” and I’ve spent the last month pondering exactly how to explain the difference between the two resolutions so everyone can recognize what is at issue. Here is the shortest example I can think of:
Can you make a New Year’s resolution for your children?
Every year, on January 1st, many people resolve to do something different in their lives, whether to quit a bad habit or to start a good one; to add quality experiences to life, or reduce negative ones. Whatever they choose, New Year’s resolutions are always chosen for themselves. But can a person make a New Year’s resolution for his or her children?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “Resolution” is “A formal expression of the opinion or will of an official body or a public assembly, adopted by vote as a legislative resolution.” The dictionary further notes that “The chief distinction between a ‘resolution’ and a ‘law’ is that the former is used whenever the legislative body passing it wishes merely to express an opinion as to some given matter or thing and is only to have a temporary effect on such particular thing, while a ‘law’ is intended to permanently direct and control matters applying to persons or things in general.”
Therefore, a resolution is no more than the consensus opinion of a public body at the time of its passage. It is not a law, as an ordinance would be (and note: ordinances are revocable by a majority of a board). For this reason, the passage of a resolution can not legally limit the action of future boards.
So just as none of us would make a New Year’s resolution for our children because we could not impose that condition on them, so, too, a public body passes a resolution for itself and cannot impose conditions upon its successors.
Further, passage of a resolution with an expectation that it can limit the action of future boards is not only erroneous but misleading. The vetoed resolution contained language that would mislead future leaders that they must abide by the no-transfer or sale terms, which is unenforceable, and that perception will inevitably lead to conflicts and bitterness in the future. The only guarantee that such a resolution will make is the guarantee that future village leadership will be villains when they make decisions about the Greenway that do not fit with the intentions of the current board. As the resolution represents only the opinion of the current board, those future leaders will be able to make such decisions legally, but in the court of public opinion, they will be open to criticism for failing to honor the promises of their forebears.
The request to include language limiting the terms of transfer or sale was not recommended by the village attorney, whose recommended wording for the resolution included only the intention of the current board; however, that recommended language was ignored by this board, who moved immediately upon being informed of the recommendation to approve the more restrictive wording requested by the CCDC.
It is my belief that donations should not have strings attached to them, and if a donation has such conditions, then it is advisable to decline the donation. If the CCDC requires conditions limiting the transfer or sale of the donated property, the Village of Clifton has no legal authority to accept such conditions through resolution, and the CCDC should look elsewhere for a recipient with the authority to make such guarantees.
I am asking the board of trustees to let stand the veto of the Greenway resolution and instead pass the draft resolution recommended by our attorney that presents our intentions for the Greenway and that recognizes the legal durability of a resolution to control future leaders of Clifton.
For those who are interested, the following is the February 1, 2017 justification for my veto of the resolution:
In this instance, I am unwilling to accept conditions on a donation that restrict the transfer or sale of the donated property into a future that none of us can foresee.
As the Village of Clifton has not pursued the donation of Greenway parcels from either need or advantage, there is no obligation to accept the more restrictive language requested by the CCDC.
I support an agreement that includes the village’s intention to maintain the property as it is and not sell or transfer it, but I am unwilling to accept any resolution that binds or limits future leaders of the village to represent the best interests of the community, whatever those future interests may be.
I therefore veto the resolution approving the donation of the Greenway area from the Clifton Development Corporation.