Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski has dropped a lawsuit against the City Council that might end up costing taxpayers as much as $50,000 in legal fees.
Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr. announced during Monday’s meeting that Council members “won” the lawsuit filed by Szymanski last December in State Supreme Court.
A judge never ruled on the case, in which Szymanski complained that the Council tried to usurp his exclusive powers as mayor when members cut the annual salary of the former public works commissioner to $10,000.
But after the meeting, Pirowski said that a court clerk considered the case frivolous and without merit. A stipulation of discontinuance with prejudice was issued, in which the mayor agreed not to sue the Council again and not to rehire Thomas N. Love, the public works commissioner he had wanted to keep in place. Love quit the post several months after the Council lowered his salary.
The Council, in turn, agreed to raise the salary for the post of public works commissioner to $60,000, and the mayor quickly appointed Anthony DeSantis, a longtime foreman in the department, to take the job.
Council members, who have control of the city’s purse strings, voted, 5-0, Monday to add $50,000 to the budget for the post.
The court case has been a sore spot for months between Council members and the mayor.
Despite the deal, frosty relations between Szymanski and some members of Council don’t appear to be thawing.
“It was a giant waste of taxpayer money,” Pirowski said.
The Council was billed about $24,000 by Hiscock & Barclay, the law firm hired to defend members, Pirowski said.
The mayor hired the Bouvier Partnership when then-City Attorney Norman A. LeBlanc Jr. said that it would be a conflict of interest for him to represent the mayor because the city attorney also handles legal matters for the Council.
Pirowski estimated the bill for the Mayor’s Office was roughly the same. City Comptroller Peggy Bigaj Sobol said after the meeting that she did not have a dollar amount because she had yet to receive invoices from the Bouvier Partnership.
Pirowski accused the mayor of suing “simply out of spite.”
But Szymanski said in an earlier interview that Council members were the antagonists by trying to dictate who the mayor hires as department heads.
“Ten thousand dollars was not legitimate for anybody. It’s below minimum wage. They wanted him out,” he said. “In my view, I didn’t start this whole nonsense.”
While the court case was being settled, Szymanski and the Council continued to spar over pay raises for city department and division heads, who generally are political appointees.
The Council unwittingly gave pay raises to those employees in June when they approved a new contract for police officers, because a 2009 city ordinance linked police pay increases to corresponding wage increases for nonbargaining employees.
After learning what they had done – and blasting current City Attorney Antonio M. Savaglio and other department heads for not explaining the full fiscal impact of the vote on the police union contract – they voted on Sept. 3 to rescind the raises for the nonbargaining group, which includes Savaglio.
The mayor then promptly vetoed the Council’s rescind ordinance, and he defended the 2009 ordinance as a sensible way to reward hardworking employees.
“The very purpose of this section was to remove petty politics and discrimination from implementing a salary raise,” Szymanski said in his veto letter.
The five-member Council can override the veto with four votes.