Utica Still Without Top Threee Commisssioners
July 3rd 2012 · 0 Comments
During former Mayor David Roefaro’s final year in office, the City saw what was termed the “City Haul.” In January of last year, Roefaro abruptly fired Robert Sullivan as his Economic Development Commissioner, Sullivan’s sister and longtime Corporation Counsel, Linda Sullivan-Fatata, and then Codes Commissioner Robert Palmieri. Palmieri went on to win the Mayor’s seat in the November election.
Now, six months into his administration, the three vital positions remain unfilled. They were all budgeted for in the budget passed by Palmieri and the Council earlier this year, so taxpayers aren’t saving from the vacancies. Another initiative the Mayor set out to accomplish was his pledge for transparency and the creation of an Ethics Board. The Ethics Board was actually created by legislation of the Council in 1994, but has been inactive since. Palmieri said at the time he planned to have the board up and running by April “to make sure everything is on the up-and-up and it’s transparent.” He has made two appointments, but as of this article, the board is still not up and running.
It’s been a year without an Economic Development Commissioner and a year and a half without a Codes Commissioner and Full-Time Corporation Counsel.
Economic Development has been a mixed bag during the first six months of the Palmieri administration. With the good news of the sale of the long contaminated Bossert site, there’s the news of lost jobs and businesses closing. The unemployment rate in the area is at 8.6%, the highest recording since the state started keeping statistics.
Some have complained that Palmieri has been micromanaging City Hall. At the last Common Council meeting, Council President Bill Morehouse asked where the Mayor was and rhetorically answered his own question with, “He’s micromanaging the city, that’s what he’s doing.” This has been the reference to the Mayor’s ongoing “Street Sweeps” that he engages in every Wednesday. This reporter visited the Mayor and his Chief of Staff for comments on this story on Wednesday and was denied much of a comment and hurried out of the office as the pair left for one of these sweeps. Asked if he wanted to respond to any comments or issues, Palmieri seemed to get upset and responded, “We’re not talking about it or responding to any of that garbage.”
Councilman Frank Vescera, D-1, said he’s asked the Mayor at Council meetings and other public events about the progress of the appointments. ”As Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, not filling these vital positions demonstrates the inability of this administration to act responsibly on behalf of Utica taxpayers,” Vescera said.
Vescera sited the GroWest scandal, the purchase and demolition of the former Gaetano property on Bleecker Street and the former UCAI scandal as examples of, “what happens when Economic Development is left without proper management. It’s an example of the gross misconduct of taxpayer dollars,” Vescera said.
Councilman Joe Marino, D-4, says he’s not very worried about Codes and Corporation Counsel. ”I think the current leadership in Codes and the Corporation Counsel office are getting along fine,” said Marino. Marino said his biggest concern is with Economic Development. ”It’s a huge concern. We need a leader not just a planner,” Marino said. He added, “We need to solve our problems by growing our way out of them, not just taxing the people more.” Marino did say that his communication with the administration since taking office in January has been good.
Current part-time Corporation Counsel is Mark Curley. Longtime Assistant Corporation Counsel, Charles Brown, is set to retire at the end of the week. That will leave his position vacant along with an unfilled position in the budget.
Comptroller Mike Cerminaro says, from a financial standpoint, that his biggest concern is filling the position of Finance Director overseeing CDBG funds. Cerminaro said he has been working with the administration and has been assured that the position will be filled very soon.
With the current fiscal situation in the city, it will be interesting to see how the second half of Palmieri’s first year goes. The first budget was marked by major layoffs, spending down of the city’s reserve funds and Water Trust Fund, and still included a 10% property tax increase. Many are predicting a similar situation for next year’s budget. Cerminaro says the city is looking at possibly finishing the year with a couple million dollar gap.