BATAVIA – It took weeks for a divided City Council to agree on filling the long-vacant position of assistant city manager. Now Gretchen DiFante’s first assignment has sparked another controversy.

Because the city is a recipient of state Community Development Block Grant funds, it must have a fair housing officer. That role has been filled by City Manager Jason R. Molino.

At a conference session Monday, some Council members wanted DiFante to fill the role and ease her boss’ work load. DiFante still has not started but is spending time preparing for her new role.

The proposal failed on a 7-2 vote, and Molino will continue as fair housing officer.

In a similar move the Council will appoint Dawn Fairbanks, a human resources specialist, as coordinator of the Americans with Disabilities Act responsibilities, again a mandated state overseer.

Much of the Council’s attention centered on proposed state legislation to speed action on vacant and abandoned housing. The state failed to act at this year’s session on an Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act.

The proposal, called the “Zombie Law,” would pressure banks and other mortgage holders to speed the cumbersome foreclosure process and maintain the properties. The latter responsibility now falls to the city to protect neighborhood appearances.

It is estimated there are up to 50 abandoned properties throughout the city, with maintenance issues ranging from unmowed lawns to broken windows and feral cats. An added problem is the difficulty in finding absentee landlords and collecting maintenance fees for city cleanup work.