LOCKPORT – The Common Council decided Wednesday to vote next week on a Youth and Recreation Department makeover that would include abolishing the job of Director Melissa I. Junke.
Next Wednesday’s Council agenda will include a recommendation from Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey that the city’s youth programs be placed in the hands of a part-time program coordinator and a variety of not-for-profit agencies, who McCaffrey said are willing to help out.
Junke, who was the focus of a probe over alleged misuse of a city credit card given her by former Mayor Michael W. Tucker to pay expenses for a golf tournament, would be out of her $48,000-a-year job. The coordinator would be paid hourly and earn about $25,000.
Junke’s attorney, George V.C. Muscato, charged that the city is trying to “circumvent the disciplinary process” by cutting Junke’s job instead of bringing charges against her in the golf case.
“If they had charges they thought they could sustain, they should bring them. Obviously, their action indicates to me as her attorney that they do not,” Muscato said.
“I disagree,” McCaffrey said. “We’re making decisions that will maximize youth services and control costs, and this is the way to do it.”
Junke has been off work since January, when she went on worker’s compensation after injuring her back in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside her department’s Altro Park headquarters.
Her department’s only other full-time employee was laid off at the start of the year, leaving Youth and Recreation with only one part-time worker.
City financial records published in February by The Buffalo News show that Junke ran up $9,080 in expenses on Tucker’s city credit card for a golf tournament last June that was organized by Lock 34 Bar & Grille, a Lockport restaurant owned by Junke’s brother.
The tab included costs for airfare to fly in six former pro athletes, and in some cases their significant others, to attend the tournament. It was supposed to raise money for Junke’s department, but the event ran in the red.
Junke, who is Tucker’s cousin, filed a notice of claim against the city May 1, complaining that the city violated privacy laws by allowing Junke’s name to become public in connection with the probe and defamed her by claiming, falsely according to Muscato, that the city received no money from the tournament.
The Council learned in April from Brian D. Doyle, the attorney hired for $200 an hour to investigate the golf tournament matter, that Tucker had placed Junke’s department off limits to financial scrutiny from the city Treasurer’s Office.
Abolishing her job would make the disciplinary issue moot, but McCaffrey said she is merely completing a package of Youth and Recreation reforms she suggested last November, when she was still Council president.
Some of them were included in the final 2014 budget, such as laying off Junke’s second-in-command and making cuts in youth programs and city marina expenses.
But at the time the Council and Tucker wouldn’t go along with laying off Junke.
McCaffrey said, “I believe it would be to the city’s benefit to have a collaboration with not-for-profit agencies.”
She said the Lockport Public Library already has agreed to hold a Monday story hour, and Christopher Parada, executive director of Historic Palace Theatre, is working on movies for kids and a summer theater program in the parks.
“The goal is, anything with the not-for-profits is no cost to the city,” McCaffrey said, adding that she is talking to other agencies about more summer programs.
Recreation programs in Outwater, Dolan, Kibler and Altro parks are to begin in late June. Alderwoman Kathryn J. Fogle said there will be one summer recreation leader in each park.
“This is the best route for the city to go,” the mayor said. “We want to keep the parks open, keep the pool open, but at a reduced cost.”