The April 14 Glen Cove City Council meeting began with a moment of silence, at Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi's request, in recognition of the passing of Patricia Campbell Horton. The mayor commended her years of important involvement in the Glen Cove area. He voiced on behalf of the community that she will be missed by many.
The Glen Cove City Council discussed three changes to the city charter again this week, which would create new departments and several new positions appointed directly by the mayor and council. Mayor Suozzi said that he proposed these changes so that the city could function better and address pressing needs in the community. Among the goals driving these changes, he included a "more robust" fight against illegal housing and other code enforcement infractions, a better, more streamlined building department and regarding the new personnel department, he said, "From the Girl Scouts to the White House," human resources is a basic need of any organization.
The mayor opened the topic to the public for debate and questions. Paul Meli asked if all three new department heads would, "Serve at the will of the mayor and council."
Mayor Suozzi said that was correct, they would serve by appointment.
Mr. Meli said, "Why not put their job descriptions in the charter," if they are to be hired and fired based on these descriptions, which have to go through the approval process of civil service.
The mayor asked City Attorney Vincent Taranto if civil service protection applied to all the new positions. Mr. Taranto said that actually, no, only one of the three would be protected by what is known as Article 75, which regulates how civil service employees are dismissed through a hearing process.
"The code enforcement and building administrator can be summarily dismissed," said Mr. Taranto, "While the personnel director can't be terminated."
Resident Glenn Howard said that in his opinion the personnel position should be protected under civil service. "The minute you put HR in and out at will, you create a vast psychological well for employees. They are supposed to manage people, not to be part of a political thing, where a new boss comes in and changes all the employees," he said.
Mr. Meli said the council should not vote until they rethought this. "Why should [the building department position] be different than the other?" he asked.
The city attorney said that in his opinion, "The building department is virgin territory. The city has never done this before. For the moment this allows the city some flexibility to see how the process will work." Mr. Taranto said that if the city went with the civil service protection for all three jobs, it would then have difficulty if the new positions were not working out. "We don't want to cause trouble," he said.
During the vote, the mayor later added, "It is easier to add protection than take it away... The detail about civil service doesn't affect the function of the jobs."
Mr. Meli responded during the vote, "My point is that it shouldn't have come up only after the question was raised... You should rethink it...before you vote." Later he added, "While other communities are tightening their belts, we are growing debts. If you can't answer simple questions about civil service, maybe you should take more time on this."
During the vote the city council members all voiced support for the changes to the city charter. Councilman Michael Famiglietti said, "These are major steps," that will help the city, "better serve constituents and employees."
Councilman Anthony Jimenez agreed. Councilwoman Delia DeRiggi-Whitton also agreed, saying, "Illegal housing and building is a concern to all people in Glen Cove."
Councilman Nicholas DiLeo said these changes were, "Important steps. When looking back, it will be proven that this was long coming."
Councilman Timothy Tenke abstained from voting on the Building Department restructuring, saying that he felt the question of civil service protection needed to be examined in further detail. He supported the other two changes.
The city will authorize the issuing of bonds not to exceed $2,500,000 for park embellishment. The mayor said that every year the city borrows money for capital projects. This year this would cover parks as well. Some work to be included will improve basic work like servicing and fencing, refurbishing, playground improvement, possible new benches and driving range improvements.
The city will accept $8 million for the Glen Cove Ferry project in money coming from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Paul Meli asked, "What portion of the project will that cover?" He said that originally the project was estimated to cost about $15 million. "To take this money, are you confident that you will have users for the ferry and get the rest of the money you need? What is the total cost of this project - will there be money left over? This project sounds very different than what was originally proposed. You should share that."
The mayor responded that the city is confident in the ferry project. "The demand is there," he said. "The original ferry was not a commuter ferry. This is." As far as changes to the plan, he listed some specifics but argued that the "mechanicals and the footprint of the building are there."
During closing public comment, Paul Meli again posed a question to the city regarding the 2008 budget. He said he estimated from city documents that the City of Glen Cove closed last year with expenses exceeding revenue by $1,262,911.26.
"I was originally told you would know more in one month. Later I was told that you wouldn't know until June," Mr. Meli said. "Aren't you concerned with how 2008 went while administering 2009? Shouldn't you be learning by mistakes? The city is in a terrible financial state."
Mayor Suozzi responded that a key factor in the 2008 budget on paper was the takeover of the wastewater plant. Because it was not possible to be perfectly timed it cost over $400,000 but he said the takeover will save $9.6 million over two years.
"Has everything you've planned come out perfectly?" Mayor Suozzi asked Mr. Meli.
"Not perfectly, no," he replied, "But I am not getting paid to run the city."
The mayor went on to say that a June audit will reveal the final 2008 numbers. The city was awarded money through New York State Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine and he said there was other revenue that could "offset" the loss number. He questioned the $1.26 million number, saying, "The ebbs and flows of day to day transactions are not something I track."