“The common council has operated like a common council should operate,” said Rodney Wojnar at a recent interview at Walter Elwood Museum about his bid for re-election as fourth ward alderman.
Referring to the common council that preceded the one he has served on for the past two years, Wojnar said, “I think we’ve come a long way. If you can just visualize how they were. The snickering, the arguing. There was no cooperation between the mayor and the council. It just wasn’t good.”
“The best thing about it is that now the common council is moving the city forward. And I think in the last two years we’ve done a good job and come a long way,” he added.
Getting the city’s financial records in order, as well as completing a full foreclosure process were two of the issues that Wojnar said he was pleased that the council played a part in making progress on.
In regards to approving the hiring of the accounting firm Freed Maxick to help speed up the bank reconciliation process, Wojnar said, “I honestly believe that was a very worthwhile thing to enter in to.”
Approving the funding for major projects to upgrade the city’s sewer system and water system, which included a combination of borrowing and state grants, is another area where Wojnar said the council did their part.
“There’s still issues out there but the major ones are going to be dealt with. The pump stations and stuff like that, that’s all going to be hopefully remedied soon,” he said.
Wojnar said part of his job for the last two years has been fielding complaints about code violations on various properties from fourth ward residents.
“I’ve been very pro-active about the codes violations,” he said. “I’ve answered fifty of them at least and got those resolved. I get continuous calls all the time.”
In light of a recent audit which showed the municipal golf course fund running a negative $481,153 fund balance, Wojnar, a former member of the golf commission, said he would like to see changes made at the golf course.
“I get a lot of complaints from residents in the city, not just the fourth ward. They don’t like the idea that the city keeps bailing the golf course out,” said Wojnar.
While he praised the work of Course Superintendent Darren Graf to improve the golf course grounds, Wojnar said the operation needs a new leadership structure.
“What they desperately need up there is a golf course manager to oversee the daily operations,” he said.
Although Mayor Michael Villa said in March that he expects this to be Joe Merendo’s last year as the golf pro, Wojnar said that he wants to make sure of that.
“It’s time for him to retire,” said Wojnar, and added that he has received complaints about Merendo’s conduct at the course.
He also expressed strong opposition to the appointment of former third ward alderman Ron Barone to the golf commission. Before the council voted 3-2 in favor of approving Barone, Wojnar argued, “Everything that the golf commission proposed and set forward to help the golf course, [Barone] voted down – lowered rates, he did every crazy thing up there.”
If the course can’t generate revenue to cover its expenses, Wojnar said, “I’m going to go another step further. I am not in favor of keeping the course open, not if they can’t resolve those issues so the course can make money and survive.”
Even though the media has reported on various surveys and other indicators have shown a significant decline in the popularity of the sport nationwide over the past years, Wojnar says he believes the course could still be viable.
“There are courses around us that are doing great. And that is because they have new ideas, they are promoting new things with the course,” he said.
Wojnar also thinks there needs to be a new outlook on the city’s zoning board.
“People have to be a little bit more open-minded when people want to come into the city and create jobs,” he said.
As an example, he brought up a situation that happened earlier this year when the city’s zoning board denied plans to open the former Spanish-American Club on Milton Street as a restaurant after a few residents brought up concerns about parking spaces.
“I lived in that neighborhood back in the 70’s and late 60’s, when it was owned by St. John’s club…there were cars going down the street for a quarter-mile.”
Wojnar said he would like to see a more “business friendly” zoning board.
Improving the city’s gateway routes is another issue Wojnar said he is concerned about, particularly the former P&C Market building which is visible from Route 67.
“It’s becoming a safety issue. It’s a huge eyesore,” he said.
Wojnar said he believes the structure is beyond rehabilitation and should be demolished and the land leveled. He added that concerns the site may be contaminated should be addressed by environmental testing.
Also in regards to the Route 67/Church Street area, Wojnar said he is in favor of placing truck route signs to make sure tractor trailers don’t go down the side streets. He said he will advocate for strict enforcement of the truck routes and continue to advocate for better enforcement of the speed limits in the area.
Finally, Wojnar said he is in favor looking into making the city a “quiet zone” for trains passing through. He said reducing train whistle noises will help reduce the disruption passing trains have on concerts or other activities at Riverlink Park.
“There are lot of other cities in the country that have made their train areas quiet zones,” he said.
Wojnar said from his research on the modifications required to create the quiet zone, he believes the changes will make the tracks safer than they are now.
“When they convert areas in to quiet zones, they have bigger barricades, more surveillance, stronger gates, more lights, all that stuff,” he said.
Wojnar grew up in Amsterdam and has spent the majority of his life here. His previous career of approximately 40 years was at SUNY Albany as part of the University Auxiliary Services, where he worked his way up from a cook to senior operations manager before retiring seven years ago.
Although he has the official Democratic Party endorsement, Wojnar’s name will not appear on the party line due to a technical error with his petition. His name will appear instead on an independent line named “R WOJNAR 4TH WARD”. He faces challenger Diane Hatzenbuhler who is running on the Republican Party line.