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Power struggle at City Hall

November 14th, 2012

Mayor Judy Kennedy and Councilmen Cedric Brown and Curlie Dillard, irked by City Manager Rick Herbek’s decision to include raises for several of his department heads in the 2013 budget, have formulated a plan to demote City Engineer Craig Marti, Water Superintendent Jeff Winan and DPW chief George Garrison and hire a structural engineer at $105,000 a year to supervise the three.

Mayor Judy Kennedy, left, has a plan that she says can pull the city of Newburgh out of the doldrums. Councilmen Curlie Dillard, center, and Cedric Brown, right, have supported Kennedy’s concept that calls for the demotion of three department heads and the appointment of a structural engineer who would oversee all three departments.

Kennedy, during an interview this past Friday, insisted the moves weren’t “demotions” because the three “won’t have their pay cut.” According to the plan promoted Thursday night during a City Council work session, Marti, Winan and Garrison would lose raises that the city manager included in his 2013 budget.

Marti was scheduled to receive a $13,803 raise from $86,889 to $100.692, a move that Herbek said he had promised when Marti was hired. Prior to Marti serving as city engineer, the City contracted for engineering services at a much greater cost.

Another part of the Kennedy-Brown-Dillard plan is to impose a $20,000 cut in pay for Herbek. Councilman Brown called the attempt to give the department heads raises “insubordination,” saying the council had given the city manager a direct order not to raise salaries.

At that time, Brown, who said he “hasn’t seen $150,000 worth of work” from Herbek, added that he wanted to cut Herbek’s salary to $80,000. On Friday, Kennedy said that Councilman Brown couldn’t legally impose that much of a cut.

Herbek declined public comment on the budget restructuring Thursday night, but said he’d have much to say about it at a later date.

Kennedy suggested that she has been forced to take drastic action because the city manager has repeatedly refused to act on the council’s wishes.

“Pieces of this have been forming for some time,” she said. “We’ve wanted to get an internal demolition team inside the DPW and getting an engineer over that … I started talking about that in early spring,” she said.

She said she wants to be able to “use our CDBG money more effectively, stop spending so much time … we didn’t get anything done this summer except take down those two houses.

“And here we are in mid-September before those two houses come down, spending $300,000 to take three houses down.”

She said she has been looking for ways to do that “in some different way.”

“I and others looked at the Middletown model. They take some down. I’ve been told our houses are different than theirs. Montgomery County has a whole certified team and they actually outsource their people to other places.”

She said that she began looking at that concept early last spring.

“Last spring, we talked about getting an HR (human resources) person and getting performance reviews. When I ran for office, I talked about getting formal performance reviews.”

Recommendations for the creation of a human resources director position were made by City Manager Jean-Ann McGrane but quashed by a previous City Council.

Mayor Kennedy said she was disturbed by “the whole police thing.”

“We need police officers,” she said.

“When the budget came out, the city manager’s tentative budget came out, I looked at it and said, ‘well, there’s nothing in here that’s going to take us in a new direction. I’ve got a deputy fire chief, I’ve got a fire chief, but I don’t have police officers. I have all this stuff in a BAN (bond anticipation note) that shouldn’t be in a BAN.

“I began to say, ‘what can we do?’

“What can we do that will really take us in a new direction?”

She said that Councilman Brown started saying the same thing.

He said, “This is not going to work. We need to get much more creative.”

One of Brown’s creative ideas is to sell off some of the department of public works “assets.”

When told that the plan appearing suddenly out of nowhere with three council supporters smacked of backroom politics, she denied that she, Brown and Dillard had ever discussed the matter as a group.

“Cedric and Curlie started talking; Curlie talked to me; it was just back and forth. That’s why it’s taken us forever,” she said. “I just started collecting all the ideas.”

Kennedy said that “this is actually what I do as a profession: I evaluate ideas, looking at the holistic problem and trying to come up with a plan.”

Councilwomen Regina Angelo and Gay Lee complained Thursday night that they had never been consulted about such a drastic concept. Lee said she had no idea Kennedy and the others were about to spring their plan. She suggested the plan would result in lawsuits.

Interestingly enough, a new position added to the budget in the plan is for a part-time legal counsel for the council at a salary of $30,000.

Other proposed budget changes include keeping Fire Chief Michael Vatter’s salary at his 2012 level of $103,839 (from planned raise to $110,483) and making the community development director a half-time position and keeping an economic development specialist at half-time.

The Kennedy-Brown-Dillard plan would also chop $783,508 out of the current BAN. Most of those cuts would be realized by eliminating a new pumper truck for the fire department ($400,000) and a sanitation truck ($222,000.) Their plan also cuts two pickup trucks and a flatbed truck ($144,000 total) that had previously been included.

Councilman Brown said that including money for 15 computers should not be included in a BAN.

Pay increases scheduled for non-bargaining unit employees would be eliminated in their plan. Those pay raises were intended to return pay to workers who had taken cuts several years ago when the city was close to failing to make payroll.

City Manager Herbek has said that it isn’t fair to deny non-bargaining employees what was promised to them while bargaining-unit employees get scheduled raises.

Mayor Kennedy said she planned to force a vote on the plan at Tuesday night’s council meeting, but indicated it might come in several pieces in order to allow the council to pick and choose. The meeting was too late to meet the deadline for today’s Mid Hudson Times.

By ALLAN GAUL
agaul@tcnewspapers.com

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