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November 5, 2020 - 3:45pm

City Youth Board at odds with management over future of afterschool, summer programs; county takes a step back

Although Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski believes the Genesee Area Family YMCA could play a significant role in the future of youth services in Batavia -- enabling the city to cut ties with Genesee County to fund a youth bureau executive director, an advisory group linked to the city isn’t convinced that is the best way to proceed.

A resolution to terminate the county’s youth bureau operating agreement with the city, a contract that calls for partial payment of the salary of Jocelyn Sikorski, Genesee/Orleans and City Youth Bureau executive director, came before two Genesee County Legislature committees this week.

On Monday, the Human Services Committee approved the measure, sending it to the Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday for a final vote before being forwarded to the full legislature for ratification.

Ways & Means decided to table the resolution, however, minutes after a letter from the City Youth Board opposing the dissolution of the inter-municipal agreement found its way onto The Batavian and, likely, into the hands of Ways & Means Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg.

No one on the committee would comment when asked why the resolution was being tabled, but it is clear that the Youth Board’s opposition as well as the committee’s desire to let the city make the first move are the major reasons.

As a result:

  • The county is stuck in a holding pattern as the city leaders work through their differences. All indications point to a public discussion in some form or another at the City Council Business Meeting at 7 p.m. next Monday.
  • Tabelski is saying that there was no indication of any disagreement from the Youth Board with her proposal for the city to go in a different direction – looking at the YMCA to provide youth services -- and cut the $20,000 annual expense to help fund the executive director’s position.
  • The City Youth Board, in its letter, contends that it was not afforded an opportunity “to discuss alternative options with the Interim City Manager … prior to her decision.”

County Manager Matt Landers said he is dismayed over the situation.

“With any board or organization that dedicates so much time toward improving the community, it is obviously not a good thing to read the dissatisfaction and unhappiness of such a board,” he said. “As far as the county’s perspective, we’re a partner with the city and we certainly want to assist the city in meeting their needs with the youth. But at this point in time, it is important that we let the city decide how they want to move forward and then we can react accordingly.”

Landers said he and the legislature agree that the city should take the lead in this matter.

“We kind of put it in their hands … instead of the county going out in front and dissolving a contract. If it’s something the city really wants to do, then that’s something that they can lead out with first.”

He also said that it could be the right time to assess the agreement and explore other options.

Landers: Time for Reevaluation?

“At the end of the day, the relationship that we had with the city for a youth director was a good idea – and it was something put in place before my time as county manager, but it was a way to share services,” he said. “With any kind of agreement, you evaluate and see if there’s a different way to do it.”

Tabelski said she articulated a “different way” during an Oct. 27 meeting with the Youth Board, whose members are Dave Twichell, president; Paula Fischer, Nick Russo, Kathryn Fitzpatrick and Kristen Gloskowski. Al McGinnis serves as the City Council liaison.

“I had the pleasure of meeting with the Youth Board to talk about the situation the city finds itself in regarding budgeting amid COVID in our current budget year, the programming that we weren’t able to perform over the summer – summer recreation – and the strategic hiring freeze at the city,” Tabelski said. “We talked about what the upcoming budget for the city was shaping up to be, which is early in the budget process.”

Tabelski said she outlined big ticket items for which the city is responsible, such as snowplowing, public works, leaf collection, yard waste services, and police and fire response, and other services such as youth programs, economic development, contracting for the operation of the Falleti Ice Arena and maintaining athletic fields (including Dwyer Stadium) for residents to utilize.

“While Council won’t look at the budget until January, right now department heads are working with vendors on pricing and setting up contracts for services with the goal of providing a budget to City Council that remains within the tax cap,” she advised. “We are fiscally responsible to the citizens of the City of Batavia while still providing services that we know residents demand from the city.”

She said financial constraints and the impact of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 summer recreation program and the ongoing closure of the Liberty Center for Youth afterschool location on Liberty Street.

Unable to Reopen Youth Center Yet

“The ability to reopen the Liberty Center for Youth is still taking time to make sure protocols are in place, barriers put up and bringing back staff. So right now, the YMCA and the city share staffing requirements for the Liberty Center for Youth to open,” she said.

Since the city has not been able to hire part-time employees (due to the hiring freeze), a discussion with the county ensued, leading to a proposal to terminate the joint agreement for youth bureau supervision.

“Knowing what our budget looks like for next year, I said that we were willing to look at that and the goal was to have the program coordinator and the assistant city manager, which is myself, take on any responsibilities needed to get the youth programs up and running, and to continue,” Tabelski said.

Currently, the city is in the midst of a job search for a permanent manager – Tabelski was hired last year as the assistant manager – and also has no youth program coordinator as Lydia Schauf resigned that position to accept another job.

“We were left basically with the commitment from the Y to help reopen the center but with no employees available to staff it,” she said.

Tabelski said she explained this to the Youth Board, emphasizing that it “was time to look at it to understand what the city might be able to do in an effort to save money and deliver the programs at the same level to the residents and potentially use the YMCA as part of the strategy that I am looking into.”

Tabelski Promotes Pact with YMCA

She said she has a high regard for the YMCA, calling it a “professional organization that has an expertise in providing recreational services in our community.”

“In my mind, it makes sense for us to look at this as a broader partnership,” she said, noting that she has kept City Council informed of her activities in relation to youth services. “This could be a huge win for the YMCA and the city.”

Tabelski said she is negotiating with the YMCA to gauge its “capacity and ability” to provide afterschool and summer recreation services for the city’s youth, and added that other communities, including Perry and Geneseo, contract with the YMCA to provide their summer programming.

She said she left the door open for City Youth Board members to contact her, Sikorski or McGinnis but, to her knowledge, that has not been done. She also said that she was not informed that a letter would be released to the media.

“At the meeting, the youth board members indicated they understood the financial hardship that the city was in, they gave examples of their workplaces having to cut and lay off people, and they indicated a willingness to continue to be involved in youth programming and services and make sure those programs continue,” Tabelski said.

The interim city manager is hopeful the city would be able to enhance its youth services by contracting with the YMCA. She also defended her stance.

“I think it is incumbent upon a good manager to look at every piece of the organization and especially when we’re faced with challenges such as COVID and employee shifting,” she said. “I guess it was a perfect storm to examine how we deliver this service and see if there was an agency, such as the YMCA, that would be more capable, have more capacity and more resources to actually deliver the program and possibly enhance that program on behalf of the city.”

Tabelski said the goal is to continue to provide youth services at no or at a minimal charge – especially for summer recreation – and is convinced there are “multiple ways that can be negotiated to do that.”

“Right now, we have a contract with City Church for the St. Anthony’s building for the Liberty Center for Youth that runs another four years,” she said. “I think that as we do some long-term planning, we certainly want to look at the interaction between the current site for afterschool and what potential there might be for the (YMCA) Healthy Living campus (one of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects).”

Youth Board Reacts to 'Done Deal'

Fischer, responding this afternoon to emailed questions after talking with Twichell, said the City Youth Board’s intention was to send the letter with their concerns to City Council, but when The Batavian ran a story from the Human Services Committee meeting, it felt it was necessary to inform the public of what seemed to be a certainty.

“Once the information from the October 27th meeting was digested, it was apparent that the proposed changes to youth services would affect the quality of youth programming,” she said. “Many of the comments made by Rachel Tabelski and Jocelyn Sikorski were concerning. Ms. Tabelski was not aware of the differences between the County Youth Services and the City Youth Services. The City Youth Bureau provides direct youth programming and the County Youth Bureau does not.

“Despite the resignation of the only full-time city youth bureau employee, Ms. Sikorski was still in favor of abandoning the city program with no experienced staff remaining by ending the contract between the City and County with a year remaining. Also, Ms. Tabelski’s comment in the article, 'The city’s goal is to continue its youth programming – Liberty Center for Youth at the City Church St. Anthony’s campus on Liberty Street and the Summer Recreation Program – to the extent we that we can' was also alarming."

Fischer said the youth board did not contact Tabelski or Sikorski before sending the letter since the board is appointed by City Council and that Tabelski and Sikorski are employees and not voting members of the board.

As far as the Oct. 27 meeting is concerned, Fischer’s position is that Tabelski did receive comments from the board “regarding the outsourcing and charging for youth programming.”

“It was apparent that Ms. Sikorski had already went to the legislature and City Council with the proposal and was presented as a done deal,” she said. “When asked who would run the youth programming, the interim city manager shrugged her shoulders and said the assistant city manager, and the board asked who that would be and she said ‘me’. So, it was apparent that this was not well thought out after the resignation of the youth bureau coordinator. This sent up red flags that the youth programming was being phased out.”

The City Youth Board also does not agree with Tabelski’s plan to contract with the YMCA.

“The Board feels this would not be in the best interest of city youth,” Fischer said, adding that youth board members should be brought into the decision-making process.

“We are an advisory board. I would hope City Council would engage the City Youth Board on all matters going forward during these trying times,” she said. “The board would like to see services at the Liberty Center for Youth and the Summer Recreation Program resume once it is safe. These valuable services are less than 1 percent of the city’s budget.”

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