With the start of Mayor Eddie A. Perez's corruption trial two weeks away, the council plans to ask an independent attorney to clarify whether the city charter adequately addresses what happens when a mayor is "absent or disabled."
The council voted Monday to seek the legal opinion. Members are hoping to gain a better understanding of what is considered an absence and when an interim mayor would be needed, council President Pedro Segarra said.
"What does 'absent' mean? Does it mean you're out from 9 to 5, or out seven days of the week, 24 hours a day? We want to get a better idea," Segarra said. "I think [the charter] could be subject to different interpretations, and we should get the best legal opinion."
Some council members have suggested that the mayor's trial on bribery and larceny charges is enough of a distraction that Perez should step aside until its conclusion. Perez has rejected that notion and said his staff would help deal with issues as they arise.
Councilman Larry Deutsch on Monday offered a resolution that called for the appointment of an interim mayor while Perez is on trial. It was quickly voted down.
Deutsch said the proposal wasn't intended to make an assumption about Perez's guilt or innocence, only to ensure that his responsibilities are covered.
"I wasn't counting on it to pass," he said. "I just wanted the issue to be raised. I think, at large, the city is for it."
The charter says that if the mayor is absent or disabled — and therefore unable to carry out his duties — the council president will take up the post but doesn't have the power to appoint or remove employees until the mayor has been absent for 30 days.
The council wants to hire a lawyer to determine what qualifies as an absence. Corporation Counsel John Rose will also give his opinion on the matter. Segarra said he expects to hear from both lawyers within a few weeks.
In the meantime, council members said they plan to keep an eye on the mayor's office when the trial starts May 12. If Perez is deemed unable to keep up with his responsibilities, Segarra said, an interim mayor could still be appointed.