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Mayor goes after Mullane, O’Shaughnessy over ethics concerns

Mayor goes after Mullane, O’Shaughnessy over ethics concerns

by Joseph KisselFebruary 9, 2017
Alderman counters: there's nothing inappropriate regarding effort to save city money. “So please don't tell me as an elected official I can't reach out to my county legislators and ask them if this is something we can pursue.”

“I have a matter I wanted to bring to the council,” said Mayor Anne McCaffrey at last week’s common council work session.

“So I wanted to speak for a moment about civil service and the civil service commission, specifically a few things that have come to my attention.”

“Just for the public’s information and the council’s information, we have a civil service commission, a three-member panel, that is appointed and works on behalf of civil service laws for the City of Lockport. In addition to the commission we have a civil service director who’s an employee of the city and is shared with the city school district. We receive half of her salary from the school district. This process and setup of civil service commission and a civil service director has been in place for decades. Pushing 100 years.”

Alderwoman Anita Mullane

“During our budget process, specifically Alderwoman Mullane, asked should we have this? Should we share it with the county? Should we look into that? Some discussion ensued; the council decided to not do anything with that. And really there are many aspects to it why it was set up and why it benefits the city to be that way. But one of the things that I think is most important. It is financially to the city’s benefit to structure it this way.”

“We have one full-time employee,” the mayor said. “We get half of the salary back from the school district. If we did not have that person or that position, we would need a human resources or personnel person. So we would need another full-time employee that’s not paid half by the school district. So the way it is set up now works and works quite well.”

“Despite the conclusion of the council to not do anything differently during the budget process. This week I was informed that Alderwoman Mullane, that you reached out to Niagara County to try and come up with some shared services ideas.”

“In addition to that I was informed that Mr. O’Shaughnessy, that you contacted one of the civil service commission— I’m sure — in an effort to intimidate in some regard — he called me very irritated.”

“So there’s a few things that I bring forward. First of all, we got an email from one of the civil service commissioners back in December.”

“I want to share this because he states it very well: ‘Gentlemen and ladies, I watched the December common council work session and public meeting with great interest. And I was dismayed at what I heard. I would like to clear up some misconceptions held by one or more of your council members. As you know I am and have been a commissioner on the City of Lockport’ s Civil Service Commission for a number of years. I along with my fellow commissioners serve for no pay and no political agenda. We give of our time for the betterment of the city and to make sure that civil service law is followed by the City of Lockport government. Our only objective is to make sure that laws are followed in the hiring and terminations along with job specifications are followed in a correct and fair manner. We exist to make sure nobody is hired who is not qualified to hold a position on the city payroll and to make sure that job specifications are not tailored to help one individual obtain employment over another. We act or make a ruling on a particular job spec when asked to do so by a department head or an entity such as the fire board or police board acting as a department head for that specific entity.”

‘If we have specific questions as to why we are being asked to make a change. We may to ask a department head or the fire chief or police chief and ask them to explain why they are seeking a change in job specs. If the change is being requested by the fire board or the police board we may ask to meet with that board to determine why a change is being requested.,’” said McCaffrey as she continues to read the letter.

“‘When we have a specific question we may even ask the NYS civil service commission on an issue. We do the utmost to be thorough, honest and above board on all matters that come before us. At no time does politics ever enter the picture. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know the party affiliation of my fellow commissioners.”

“I take exception to the statement made by one of you that alluded to the fact that politics may be affecting our ruling. Nothing could be further from the truth. And to make this statement is very misleading to the public and flat-out wrong. I would be more than happy to address the council at any time to answer your questions or explain the function of the service civil commission. Further, lastly let me state as a commissioner I feel very fortunate to work hand in hand with Mary Pat Holtz, who we feel does an outstanding job of running the office of civil service for the city,” said McCaffrey, concluding reading the letter.

“And this was signed by one of civil service commissioners,” she said.

“So I guess what it brings me to today is I have a very upset commissioner, who could file a complaint. I don’t know what the motive is if it’s to try and negotiate some deal on behalf of the city that the rest of the common council did not support. And I believe that it is overstepping your authority to interrogate commission members or to try to negotiate something with Niagara County. And just to remind the council that the common council members function as a body, as a team. Not individually, and you cannot negotiate on behalf of the city as an individual member.”

“I encourage you to take actions that are open and transparent, ethical and in line with purview of what your positions are,” said McCaffrey.

Alderman Joe O’Shaughnessy

Alderman Joe O’Shaughnessy raises his hand to speak.

“I take exception to this, Mayor. Mr. Agronin and I are neighbors. Bill lives right across the street from me. We get along well. The only reason that I called up Bill was … “
The mayor interjects: “He’s not the member who called me.”

O’Shaughnessy: ”You addressed my name, and I’m going to clarify all of this.”

“So the bottom line of this whole thing is I called up Mary Pat and all I asked was ‘Do you know when the assessor’s exam is?’ She said, ‘Joe, I haven’t gotten to that yet.’ And I didn’t know she was going in for surgery. So she didn’t know how long she was going to be out.'”

“Bill was out in his yard; I was in my kitchen. I called up Bill and said, ‘Bill do you set the days for the exam?’ He said no. I said, ‘Bill, thank you.’ That’s as far as it went or any abuse that I ever gave to my neighbor period. And that’s all I asked Bill. And if you have a question with this, then we’ll bring Bill in and him and I will talk with him face to face.”

Mayor: “He’s not the person who called me with the complaint.”

“I’m just saying what I did,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Niagara News Source reached out to Mayor McCaffrey to provide the name of the civil service commissioner involved in this dispute but has not provided any additional information at this time.

“Mayor, I’d like to address this,” said Alderwoman Anita Mullane.

“With all due respect, you were not here last week, and our director of finance made the comment that the money we are collecting from the school district for Mrs. Holtz’s salary was being collected illegally, and that we were not doing it properly.”

Director of Finance Scott Schrader: “At no point did I say it was illegal.”

Mullane: You questioned the legality.

Schrader: Never. Never.

Council president David Wohleben: What did you say, Scott?

Schrader: I said we are not utilizing everything that we can seek for reimbursement according to the law.

Mullane: And I respect that. I understood your comment.

Schrader: In no way is that illegal.

Mullane: I understood your comment. That’s not my point. My point is as a council member the state wants us to share services. The governor said that in the state of the state address. We have been talking about this for years. This is a true way of sharing services and pursuing it. As a council member, we all have a right to question our county legislators as to whether this is a feasible possibility That is what I have done.

“As far as overstepping,” Mullane said. “I disagree, with all due respect. I have a right to save the taxpayers money and try and share services because that’s what the state keeps telling us that we want, and in your own words. You have said that several times over the years. So this was a way that I felt we should be pursing something like this.”

“We are one of only two cities in the county that are not utilizing county civil service. So I wanted to know why everyone else else is using county civil service. Why are we not one them if they can save us money down the road? And if this is something that we can share it has been touted to us over and over again: shared services, shared services, save money. The taxpayers deserve that.”

“So please don’t tell me as an elected official I can’t reach out to my county legislators and ask them if this is something we can pursue. I have not asked about a deal. I have not mentioned any numbers or figures. And neither have they.”

McCaffrey: You can certainly call anyone you want. My point is you can’t negotiate on behalf of the city.

Mullane: I didn’t.

McCaffrey: And the council discussed it at length during budget time and all acknowledged that it would be more costly for the city to get out of it.

Mullane: That’s not true. Alderman Oates told me to pursue it this year and to look into it. So I disagree.

McCaffrey: We disagree.

Somebody from the audience speaks up: Doesn’t the city share services with the school district? It is a shared service, they pay half of the person’s salary. That’s correct it’s already shared?”

Mullane: That’s actually less than half of her salary. It doesn’t involve insurance, retirement, pension.

McCaffrey: I just encourage all council members to be open and transparent. Thank you.

Mullane: I planned on it, mayor. I’m on LCTV tomorrow with Alderman O’Shaughnessy and that’s one of the things I’m going to bring up.

On LCTV the following night, “Access to Government” hosted Mullane and O’Shaughnessy.

Host Tim Packman: Last night there was a spirited meeting of the council.

O’Shaughnessy: To me it was little bit of a shocker.

He explained the situation regarding the phone call to civil service commission member Agronin.

“I had a friend coming in from Arizona who wanted to take the test,” he said.

The state sets them, O’Shaughnessy reports Agronin said.

“There are three commissioners. I only called one,” O’Shaughnessy said.

“I got a little upset. I’m a square guy. I’m here for the people,” he said.

“It’s unfair. I’ll say it the way I want to say it. But I would never embarrass an individual.”

“After I got some of the this abuse Mrs. Mullane received some verbiage that wasn’t polite.”

Mullane: I can honestly say, we were both totally taken aback. We were surprised that occurred. I was surprised when this happened yesterday. The mayor accused me of overstepping my authority and even questioned the legality of speaking with the Niagara County legislators. I wasn’t even sure if she meant one or more. And that I was trying to negotiate a plan, a deal on behalf of the city without the rest of the council. This is totally false.”

Mullane reiterated that the City of Lockport and Niagara Falls do not participate in the county’s civil service commission.

Mullane: I have nothing against civil service personnel people. If I’m a taxpayer and ask can we save some money and possibly look into this. I have that right. What’s illegal about that? I’m not quite sure.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed,” she said. “If you want to be a true leader in this city you should be trying to bring everyone together — not trying to being divisive. We have tried to work together. Have we all agreed on everything? No. Sometimes it was split vote. The mayor has always, always voted again myself. Not sure if it was against Mr. O’Shaughnessy. But the tie was always broken against me personally.”

“I’ve also watched the mayor on ‘Ask the Mayor’ on your station. And the mayor has also made comments that I am personally offended by. I have a family member who has been an employee at city hall for almost 30 years. She has been a loyal employee of this city much longer than I’ve ever been on this council. I don’t understand why this has become personal with the mayor because it has.”

“The mayor keeps bringing it up. I haven’t said anything but I was in the audience in August of 2014 with Diane Toohey. Everybody knows Diane; she’s always been actively involved in politics and even sat on the council for a short while. I hope she doesn’t me mind brining up her name.”

“We were in the audience when they took the word ‘cousin’ out of those same ethics rules that the mayor keeps using against me. And I have to question that. I would like to ask the mayor, ‘Are there any department heads that are related to you?’ That’s a question I’d like to ask her on camera. I would like an answer to that because I have been told that there is a department head with a familial connection.”

“I didn’t come on this council to create a problem. But I will defend myself when I’m accused of things that I believe that I have been accused unfairly of.”

“I am an honest person. I will never ever lie to you. I will never lie to Mr. O’Shaughnessy. I will never lie to my constituents. I tell it like it is, too. You may not like what I say. But I would like to hear your opinion also and I’ve always tried to be fair about that.”

“The mayor removed Mark Devine and I from the personnel committee at the beginning of the year,” Mullane said.

“I respect her right by charter to do that. I will respect her right by charter to do that. I will say that again. That being said there was some false information said on this show and I think the public deserves to know the truth.”

“The personnel meetings were always held at 4 o’clock. I have a full-time job at school. It should not be a pre-requisite to be on the council that you are retired. I get out of school at 3:45. That’s common knowledge. I was always able to make it to personnel meetings. When they started to have to them at noon, 1 o’clock, I missed out on several.”

Mullane said the reason the meetings were changed was because civil service director Holtz would be staying late.

“For $66,000, I would hope it would be OK to ask an employee to stay a few minutes,” Mullane said.

“I wasn’t able to do my job without being at these meetings and truly know what’s going on with our personnel.”

Mullane said if a matter involved a family member, she would recuse herself.

“I’ve always said please ask me to leave if it involved a family member. I would be happy to get up and leave it that’s the topic. I didn’t always know what the topic was going to be. The mayor apparently mentioned I sat through a conversation regarding my family member and she didn’t feel that I should comment. I disagree. That department, I am legally allowed to comment on how that department is running. And my sister is not the department head. And that’s part of my job to do the best job possible.

“The whole council with the exception of myself is totally new. The residents, I believe, didn’t want more rubber stamps. And they spoke when they elected totally new people.”

“To be negative like what happened last night, I hope never happens again.”

During the program, Mullane also touted Batavia’s budget.

“300 pages for their budget,” she said, comparing it to Lockport’s budget at about 30 pages.

She also brought up changing the mayoral term from four years to two. A change to four-year-terms was made about 10 years ago, she said.

Mullane also made a final comment about more access to government in Lockport.

“We are the ones that brought transparency. We are the ones that asked that those meeting be a half hour later so people could get to the meeting and tell us things. The press hasn’t always been friendly to me or Mr. O’Shaughnessy.”

The entire 1-hour interview can be seen at https://livestream.com/LCTV20/events/2161953/videos/148445632

About The Author
Joseph Kissel
Joseph Kissel is a journalist, editor and photographer. He is also the Vice President of the New York Coalition for Open Government, a non-partisan, non-profit group that advocates for transparency and the public's right to freedom of information.