Resident questions city on lack of manager plan

BRIAN QUINN/DAILY NEWS Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski, seated, has help from three employees, who are sharing assistant manager duties.

BATAVIA — With the city manager’s chair vacant for nearly two months, Grandview Terrace resident John Roach wanted to know when lawmakers are going to hire a new one.

Roach said Batavia should hire Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski, who was assistant city manager from August 2019 until becoming the interim manager June 20.

“What’s it say if you say no? Your assistant isn’t any good? You think you’re going to find somebody better out of town?” he asked.

Another resident, Sammy DiSalvo, had the opposite thought on where the Council should find the next manager.

“I would just like to mention briefly that I support holding a faithful search for a new city manager. Nepotism is not a way to run a city,” DiSalvo said.

Apart from comments by the two community members, there was no Council discussion on the plan for a new city manager.

“We all knew — obviously, you knew — the (city) manager was leaving because you offered him a package. He said it was mutually agreeable. That tells me that you all knew it. You talked. You had meetings,” Roach said, referring to former City Manager Martin Moore, who left in June. “Here it is, months later, and you still haven’t decided even what you’re going to do about replacement.”

“It seems kind of silly. Once he was leaving, you should have had a meeting and said, ‘OK, what’s the plan? You talked about having a plan, talked about looking at a plan,” Roach said.

The Grandview Terrace resident said Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. may have mentioned costs associated with a search, such as costs to bring candidates in for interviews and paying moving expenses for a city manager the city chooses.

“Save a little money. Save a little time. Make a decision. It’s kind of embarrassing that it’s been months and you haven’t decided what the plan is,” Roach said.

With the assistant city manager’s position vacant, though, the Council, after some debate, approved stipends for three employees who are taking on more work.

With Tabelski as the only person in the city manager’s office, the assistant city manager position she held part of the time Moore was with the city is vacant. There was a resolution before the Council at both its Conference and Business meetings to approve an additional $750-per-month stipend for Human Resources Specialist Dawn Fairbanks, Deputy Director of Finance Lisa Neary and Confidential Secretary to the City Manager Lisa Casey. Each would receive the stipend until the city manager and assistant city manager posts are filled.

In a memorandum to the City Council, Tabelski said the extra duties the three employees will share include managing and implementing a new, $750,000 Enterprise Resource Program for software applications; a $390,000 information technology hardware project and Windows 10 upgrade; seeking a request for proposals for a project to connect all city facilities to a fiber network; and assisting Tabelski with bond anticipation notes for upcoming capital projects.

Council member Rose Mary Christian, who voted against the stipend along with Council member Bob Bialkowski, asked how many months Tabelski was referring to for the stipend.

“I wrote the resolution very similar to the one that you guys passed when the former manager, Jason Molino, left — until the duty of manager and assistant manager are filled, these staff members would continuing to take on those additional duties.”

Christian asked how many hours Fairbanks, Neary and Casey work in a day.

“They’re salaried employees, so except for the confidential secretary, could work anywhere from 7.5 hours a day, which they must minimally work, to 10 to 15 hours a day,” Tabelski said.

Council member Paul Viele said he supported the stipend.

“I am all for it and thank you for stepping up to the plate. I’m sure the city appreciates it, too,” he said.

Council member Kathy Briggs said she supported it as well.

“We did this in the past when we were going through the city manager seat, so I support it 100 percent,” she said.

Councilman John Canale said this is a situation in which the city has asked the three employees to do part of the work of another office.

“There’s a lot of extra work that these folks have to do. As much as I want to keep an eye on how we spend taxpayer dollars, we also have to keep an eye on, ‘Are we paying our employees the proper amount for the job that they’re doing and they are now doing an extra job that they weren’t required to do prior to this,” he said.

Council member Bob Bialkowski asked, “When we started with all this IT change, wasn’t the county providing some people to assist with this?”

Tabelski said the city had a small consulting contract of about $15,000 with the county, but that the city hasn’t used any part of the $15,000 contract.

Bialkowski asked, “Couldn’t that alleviate some of this supposed extra work>” Bialkowski asked.

Tabelski said it would be difficult for the city employees to use the county the way they utilized her or Casey, who would lodge IT complaints.

“That job acts as a liaison between the IT firm and our employees and tries to prioritize all the different things we have going on,” she said. “You really do need an internal manager to juggle all of the different departments’ IT projects.”

Bialkowski said there is an unsual precedent here.

“We have other employees that are salaried department heads and boy, they work a lot more than 40 hours and they don’t come in and ask for more money ... When you sign on to a salaried job, it’s whatever needs to be done,” he said.

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