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DeCusatis defends against proposed cuts to his salary, benefits and assistant

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis was asked to speak for a second time about proposed cuts to his department at the Budget Committee hearing last Tuesday. The council had previously proposed cutting his assistant’s salary from the budget and rolling back the 2% raise that DeCusatis received in last year’s budget. But Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler began the conversation by announcing they also wanted to cut his benefits.

“Your secretary is cut…you are a part-time corporation counsel by charter. Therefore you are not entitled to full-time benefits which would be the pension plan and the insurance plan. So those will be cut,” said Hatzenbuhler.

“I believe my appointing resolution indicated that those things are included. So you may want to re-calibrate your thinking process,” replied DeCusatis.

Alderman Ron Barone then brought up a statement made by DeCusatis earlier in the year saying, “I thought resolutions were only good for one year. The corporation counsel one day stated to me that all resolutions done by this council are only good for one year….are there certain resolutions that last longer and other resolutions that die?” asked Barone, “Gerry, can you tell me what the difference is?”

“The corporation counsel is appointed by the mayor with the approval of the council. The appointing resolution with the terms of the appointment were set at the time I was appointed. So you can’t de-rail that train and mess with it,” explained DeCusatis.

“You can do anything, you can rescind anything,” said Barone.

“Of course you can. This will land us back in litigation,” said DeCusatis.

“Well, what’s new?” said Barone. “I definitely want to see your resolution…if it’s in front of me in black and white…you’re entitled to it, you’ll get it.”

Hatzenbuhler then said, “If [the appointing resolution] says that we have to pay you your pension, which you’re not entitled to, and your insurance, which as far as we are concerned you’re not entitled to, we’ll reduce your salary.”

“The salary was set in the appointing resolution as well,” said DeCusatis. “Any employee of… any municipality has a right to participate in the retirement system.”

“Only if they’re a full-time employee,” said Hatzenbuhler.

“That’s not true, you participate as an alderman if you so elected,” said DeCusatis.

“But I only get two hours credit. You’re getting exceptional credit as a matter of fact,” said Hatzenbuhler, “according to the resolution last year you’re claiming … 6 hours a day for 20 days a month. There’s no way you’re spending 6 hours a day on city business or we would not have a lot of the issues going on in the city right now.”

DeCusatis asked for details as to the issues she was talking about. Hatzenbuhler then referenced two incidents of workplace violence at the city and said that the city was not yet in compliance with state rules as to creating a workplace violence prevention program. She said it was both DeCusatis’ and Employee Relations Director Bob Reidy’s job to produce the program.

“That is not my responsibility to produce that program,” said DeCusatis.

“But Mr. Reidy goes to you and Mr. Reidy doesn’t move unless he gets your permission. That’s what I’ve been told.”

“Well who told you that?” asked DeCusatis.

“Mr. Reidy,” replied Hatzenbuhler, “Mr. Reidy will not give us information.”

Haztenbuhler and DeCusatis then debated over the two recent incidents of reported workplace violence. Hatzenbuhler claimed the issues were still unresolved. DeCusatis stated that both incidents had been investigated, a report filed, and the issues were “essentially closed.”

Later in the exchange, Hatzenbuhler claimed that DeCusatis refused to work in an office at City Hall. DeCusatis responded that he had never been asked to move his office to City Hall, only to hold office hours. He claimed that in previous years, no one had taken advantage of his office hours, so there was no point in having an office at City Hall and that he was always available by phone or email.

Hatzenbuhler then claimed there were lack of “reverter clauses” in recent contracts for auctioned properties which would have allowed the city to take back possession of properties that did not meet certain conditions. DeCusatis replied that many of the deals had reverter clauses, but certain ones didn’t because the auction was not set up that way.

The discussion then moved on to the issue of removing DeCusatis’ assistant.

“Why do you feel that is a productive move on your part?” DeCusatis asked the council.

Barone replied that he felt that the City Clerk and her staff could handle the work that DeCusatis’ assistant was currently responsible for, which included processing the approximately 40 tickets issued by the police department each month.

“There’s no reason they can’t handle that and any other work that you have to do. And that’s why I feel you don’t need a secretary. And it’s not going to hurt you in any way. You’ll have help there.”

DeCusatis pointed out the corporation counsel has always had an assistant of some sort “for as long as records exist.”

“That’s subject to change. Anything can change,” said Barone.

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Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

4 Responses to DeCusatis defends against proposed cuts to his salary, benefits and assistant

  1. diane says:

    An employee was kind enough to leave a listing of the properties from the 010 auction in my mail box today. There were 55 properties with reverter clauses in their deeds; there were 55 properties with “no” reverter clauses in them; and there were 26 properties from the demo list that were placed on the auction list. Of those 26 properties, 20 of them were sold to the Bhuddist organization, and I do believe that most of them will end up back in the city’s hands or may already be there.

    This is where accountability comes in to play. The mayor and assessor made the decision, as I have been told, but I am sure that our city attorney would have had input. If not, then why not ?

    I did speak against putting the demo houses in the auction on several occasions, but you can see where it got us.

    Can someone tell me how this is good government ??

  2. diane says:

    Yesterday, Alderman Eddie Russo also confirmed thru the CSEA union that in fact the workplace violence is not resolved and that the city is not in compliance on two issues since August 1, 2012. (these incidents go back to July 2011) Fines are accumulating on a daily basis, and will continue to do so until such time as the issues are resolved, one of which is a workplace violence training program. While fines have been reduced in the past, there is no guarantee that they will be, as a third incident is now being investigated. Again there is no accountability from the employee relations department, GD or the mayor. All of this should have been corrected immediately and we are two years out.

    Accountability from the administration is lacking 🙂

  3. I have been a major supporter of this administration and continue to be. The founding of the Creative Arts Center, expanded recreation department, economic development, etc. have been positive moves. However, I am disappointed with the Corporation Counsel’s continual request for more pay. He already makes $15,000 more than the Gloversville Corporation Counsel. (I just checked this with the See Through New York web site). When I checked a few months ago, he was earning more than the Saratoga Springs cc. Very few people are getting yearly pay increases right now due to the low rate of inflation and the sluggish economy. Furthermore, Amsterdam just cannot afford additional pay raises for any employees.

    Then we have the question, “How much money does a man need?” If the cc can’t live on what he is being paid, he should go back full time to private practice. Most people in Amsterdam make less than he does. Does he deserve more? Maybe. But so do people working at McDonalds and Walmart. And there are many young, competent attorneys who would be happy to have his job.

    Finally, if Amsterdam is going to recover, we must find money for code enforcement. I do not understand why the city wants to give people pay raises and ignore code enforcement. Code enforcement not only brings in some revenue, it makes the city a better place to live and may keep some buildings from have to be torn down.

    I drove through my old neighborhood last week and was shocked by the deterioration in the last decade. Economic development must continue to be a primary objective in Amsterdam. However, stopping the deterioration of our housing stock must also be a priority. We cannot do it without adequate code enforcement, and if we are going to have adequate code enforcement, we need to spend some money on it. We cannot do that if we are giving raises to people who do not need them.

    After remaining hopeful about Amsterdam for 36 years, I am beginning to be less optimistic about our ability to change. Too many people are looking for what they can get out of the city rather than what they can put into it. I have nothing personal against the cc, however, enough is enough. Paying him or anyone else in the city more money is not going to fix the decades old problems that are still unfixed in this city.

  4. diane says:

    Dan Weaver, I have been a strong supporter of the codes department for the past 10 years since becoming aware of the issues. I am currently working with the codes department on some positive changes which will include increased fees. One of the things GD/former councils did was remove all the minimum fees from the program. In doing so I saw that the code officers hours of hard work would go down the drain when GD agreed to settle for $100.00 each on a code case, after warrants were issued for failure to appear. We need a strong attorney that wants to let our slum lords know we do not want them here, and let them know we will not tolerate what they are allowing to happen in our community. GD is not the attorney to handle these matters, especially when he is/has been the atty for Hohenforst for years, and a couple of others. We are currently looking for outside counsel to handle that case. We will move against that business and others to solve our problems. While I am not pleased with the budget as I would have preferred to make more changes, there is only so much we can do. Those raises last year were outrageous and will continue to cause us difficulty going forward. Once one gets them, then everyone wants them.

    During the budget process we have all learned about deficiencies in city hall and we will now go thru those items and prioritize them. We will find ways to correct them and make recommendations to the mayor and department heads. This council cares about what is going on in this city and we want to see it stopped and corrected. So now that the budget is done, that is our next priority………….and please do not give up just yet 🙂

    Accountability