In June, the Lackawanna City Council reduced Thomas N. Love’s salary to $10,000 per year in an apparent effort to force the city’s longtime publics works commissioner out of the post.
More than four months later, Love remains on the job at the behest of his biggest supporter, Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski, even as the Council threatens measures to slash his pay even further.
Szymanski views Love as a valuable asset who saves the city money, and he said the Council was trying to usurp the mayor’s authority on personnel matters.
Monday, Szymanski tried for the third time since June to amend the city’s budget to reflect full pay for the commissioner of public works at $58,000. But the Council, which controls the budget, ignored the mayor’s request.
“I pick the department heads, not them,” said Szymanski. “I’m telling them that right now this is who I want. That’s my pick for department head. In my view, they’re overstepping their bounds as a council.”
Instead of restoring the salary, some Council members went on the offensive Monday, citing Love’s frequent failure to attend meetings and asking City Attorney Norman A. LeBlanc Jr. to explore whether department heads who are required to attend Council meetings can be docked pay.
“This will be the 10th meeting he’s missed this year,” said Council President Henry R. Pirowski. “It’s frankly unfair, and it’s gotten to the point of being unprofessional to miss more meetings than attended.”
Department heads can’t be penalized for absences at Council meetings, said Szymanski, who defended Love’s work, including the public works commissioner’s recent efforts in preparing the city for potential damage from Hurricane Sandy.
Around the time his reduced salary took effect, Love took off several weeks due to an undisclosed health problem, before returning to work in September.
Love said he sometimes works seven days a week for his meager city salary and doesn’t need to attend meetings, especially when his department isn’t on the agenda.
Love, 59, was prepared to leave the position, but a transition period was necessary so a successor could be properly trained, he said.
“The issue here is that they’re not funding the position. They have to do that first,” he said.
Pirowski said the Council would provide funds in the budget once it has a succession plan from the mayor, allowing the city to prepare for the future.
“We have had those discussion, and unfortunately they have not progressed,” he said.
Love didn’t know exactly when he would be leaving.
“There’s numerous projects up here,” he said. “If I walk tomorrow, where does this get picked up at? What happens if I quit tomorrow, and we get hit with a major snowstorm?”
City resident Dennis Mulqueen, chairman of Lackawanna’s Republican party, chimed in Monday with his criticism of Love’s absences.
“I think we need to start holding him accountable,” Mulqueen said during the public comment session of the Council meeting.
Love suggested the Council was out of bounds in discussing his attendance at meetings during public session.
“How can they talk about personnel on the floor? They’re not supposed to do that,” he said.
Love, who has 38 years as a city public works employee and served in the mid-1990s as 3rd Ward councilman, also worked for many years as a corrections officer with the state Department of Corrections, until his retirement in 2009.
His state pension for 2012 was listed at $84,389, according to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, which maintains a database on state pensions.
Until July 31, when the Council voted to slash his pay, Love also was receiving an annual salary from the city of $30,000 – the maximum amount he could earn under the state’s pension laws.
If the pay for the public works post were amended to $58,000, Love would receive just the $30,000, but the full salary would be in place for his successor, said Szymanski.
“He is a tremendous savings to the city,” the mayor said. “And that’s a lot of experience they’re throwing out the window.”
The mayor said he may pursue legal action against the Council to resolve the matter. But Pirowski said the Council has done nothing wrong.
“It would be a frivolous lawsuit and a waste of money,” he said.