Lackawanna’s mayor has followed through on his threat to sue the City Council, and now what was already a mess has turned into an even larger one.
The issue is the huge gash the Council left in the salary for the public works commissioner. Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski has filed a complaint in State Supreme Court claiming the Council has usurped his exclusive powers as mayor to hire and fire department heads.
He’s also hired outside counsel, the Bouvier Partnership law firm, to represent his administration in the legal action. Let’s just say, for the record, this cannot be a good use of taxpayer money.
Rather than the two sides working out their differences, the public is getting another installment of the bickering between the Council and the mayor.
Szymanski has vigorously argued against Council efforts to slash the salaries of Public Works Commissioner Thomas N. Love and Comptroller Robert Marciniak. But back in June the Council cut the two salaries from about $30,000 each to just $10,000, in an effort to get them to quit.
Love resigned in mid-November. Marciniak submitted his resignation, but the Council later agreed on a deal that would extend his stay long enough to train his successor. Smart move, given that the city would have been without a fiscal officer legally able to move money between accounts.
Both Love and Marciniak will be fine. Marciniak spent 39 years as a city employee and earns a state pension of more than $40,000 a year. And the man in the crux of the lawsuit, Love, with 38 years as a city employee, is 59 with a state pension for 2012 listed at $84,389.
Neither man can earn more than $30,000 in city pay, the maximum allowed annually under state pension law. But the irony here is that these men actually saved the city money by working for $30,000. Hiring qualified replacements will cost the city far more than the $30,000.
The Lackawanna mayor promoted longtime public works employee Tony DeSantis to temporary commissioner of public works, but that appointment is only for 10 days. The Council and mayor need to return to solid ground and figure out a long-term solution – preferably one that does not involve them suing each other.
And the city’s budget should reflect $58,000 as the full pay for the public works commissioner, as the mayor requested months ago. Lackawanna is going to need that full salary in order to attract a competent commissioner.
A similar dispute is taking place in Niagara Falls. The City Council took an ax to Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s proposed budget, blocking what would have been an 8 percent tax hike and restoring half of the two dozen jobs that would have been cut from city government.
In the process, the Council cut the salaries of the city administrator by $40,000, to $70,000, and city engineer by $18,000, to $77,000. While the move makes the budget look healthier, it does not ensure the current officials will stay at the reduced salaries, or that the city will be able to attract anyone else to the jobs.
These questionable decisions by the two city councils are puzzling at best, hurtful to taxpayers at worst.