Bob Bialkowski's active role in pushing forward the complaint against City Manager Jason Molino became a little clearer tonight. His participation is at the center of the current kerfuffle over breached confidence at Batavia City Hall.
Weeks ago, when Bialkowski produced a manila envelope with copies of the complaint letter, he told City Councilwoman Marianne Clattenburg that he received the complaint via email and printed it out for the complainant because that person's printer was broken, Clattenberg said.
Clattenburg said she didn't open the envelope and had no knowledge about the specific contents of the letter before handing it over to Council President Charlie Mallow.
However, the fact that this particular person filed the complaint wasn't a surprise to Clattenburg, because the person first asked Clattenburg how to handle the complaint. Clattenburg said she told the person the proper procedure was to take the complaint to the City Council President (Charlie Mallow). She indicated she was surprised when Bialkowski showed up with an envelope full of copies of the letter.
Mallow confirmed that he received the envelope from Clattenburg.
Both Mallow and Clattenburg say that the existence of the letter was revealed during the Council's next closed session, which had been called previously in order to conduct the contractually mandated performance review of the city manager.
The council agreed to take the complaint up at its next closed session, since the council was obligated to continue with the performance review and vote on Molino's raise.
That next meeting was Sept. 14, which Bialkowski did not attend, and is central to the breach-of-confidence charge by members of the council. The council discussed the complaint against Molino and agreed that the person who made the complaint should be interviewed by the council and that Molino -- who was out of town -- should be given a chance to respond.
When the council came out of executive session, it voted 7-1 to give Molino a 2.8 percent raise. Councilman Bill Cox cast the lone no vote and after the meeting cited a "personnel" matter, which he wouldn't discuss further, as the reason for his "no" vote.
After that meeting, Mallow, Clattenburg and council members Rose Mary Christian and Kathy Briggs received phone calls from the person who filed the complaint. That person had just enough details of the closed discussion to make it clear to council members, Mallow and Clattenburg said, that somebody on the council spoke freely, either directly to the person who filed the complaint or to another party who then spoke to the complainant immediately after the meeting.
But not all of the details were right. There were also misrepresentations and exaggerations.
"I don't think the public understands," said Clattenburg, "that one of the reasons the council is so upset is that the person was feeding back a lot of misinformation about what was said and we didn't like how the council was being portrayed. This wasn't just a breach of trust. This person (the leaker) was making stuff up, saying stuff that was never said."
Mallow didn't speak directly to the complainant that night (he only received a voice mail), but after he spoke to the other council members, it was clear to him that whoever called the complainant got enough of the facts right that a council person had to be the leaker.
"It was enough of the truth to see that it was somebody who was in the room," Mallow said. "There were enough tidbits of truth, but it wasn't the whole truth. It was just twisted and it was exaggerated."
Neither Mallow nor Clattenburg could say whether the letter as produced by Bialkowski was actually signed by the person making the complaint. The Batavian's news partner WBTA asked Mallow yesterday if the letter was signed, and Mallow said he thought it was. Tonight, The Batavian pointed out that it didn't seem likely that a letter that Bialkowski provided several copies of -- all coming from his printer -- would be signed. Mallow admitted that maybe it wasn't and said City Attorney George Van Nest had his only copy and he would have to check with Van Nest.
Clattenburg also couldn't remember if it was signed and didn't have her copy available.
If the letter wasn't signed, it would call into doubt, at least partially, the veracity of the letter because it would suggest the letter wasn't reviewed by the complainant before it was presented to council.
Mallow was quick to point out that there is no doubt the complainant is a real person and that this person has a complaint he or she considers legitimate. Mallow said that based on an email exchange with the complainant, he's sure the writing styles are the same, but admitted he can't be sure the letter is entirely written by the complainant.
"We don't know that the end-result that we got was the same end-result that Bob got," Mallow said. "I don't know and I can't say for sure."
He then added, almost under his breath, "That would be really devious."
"I can't say for certain that it's the same letter, but I believe the person wanted the council to have the letter," Mallow said.
As we noted in our previous story, The Batavian has offered Bialkowski several opportunities to comment on this matter and he has yet to respond. Mr. Bialkowski has several options available to him to tell his side of the story: He can call us; he can email us a statement which we will post without editing; he can post his own post; he can make a video and post it to YouTube; or he can leave a comment on this or any other post. The Batavian is an open forum and Mr. Bialkowski has all the freedom in the world to tell his story without editorial interference. The same goes for any other council member who has additional information to share on this or any other matter.