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August 7, 2008 - 12:45pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in Daily News, city council, city attorney, mall.

In a letter to the editor in today's Daily News, City Councilman Bob Bialkowski urges Council President Charlie Mallow to resign. He writes:

Mr. Mallow has been demonstrating some unusual behavior lately. At our last meeting he would not allow any new business to be brought to the floor. He blocked several of us by asking for a motion to adjourn, moving to adjourn and then adjourning the meeting. He executed the entire sequence by himself, which violates all rules of conducting a meeting. Mr. Mallow should resign as council president because he has failed miserably as a leader. A good leader does not use the press to criticize and ridicule memers of his assembly.

The Batavian has requested a response from Mallow. We've included it in full below.

The skirmish between Mallow and Bialkowski has been going on for weeks now, reaching a fevered pitch at the last meeting of the City Council when Mallow asked for Bialkowski to recuse him from voting on the purchase of a sign by the city for the mall. Within days of the meeting, the city attorney, George Van Nest, drafted a letter requesting the city's Board of Ethics to convene and consider whether a "councilman" exhibited a conflict of interest in voting on the purchase of a mall sign as his "wife" is manager of the mall. Van Nest never returned calls made by The Batavian.

Mallow, in his turn, authored a pair of letters to the editor that appeared in the August 2 and August 5 issues of the Daily News. In the first, Mallow writes:

Mr. Bialkowski and Bill Cox are new on Council, very new. They believe they can coerce the rest of the Council into bending to the wishes of the (Mall Merchants Association). They have also shown me deep seated hatred for our city manager and city attorney. I'm not prepared to allow him to take political retribution out on our city staff. Enough is Enough!

Obviously, both Mallow and Bialkowski—despite the latter's own claims that he "detests conducting the business of the citizens by writing letters to the editor"—are fond of hyperbole. While the mall merchants have threatened the city with litigation, there is no "pending case" with the group, as Mallow asserts in his first letter. Van Nest said so at the last meeting of the council. And while Bialkowski may not be in a direct conflict of interest regarding the vote for the city to purchase the sign for the mall, his wife is the manager of the mall, and he would exhibit a sense of good behavior, if nothing else, if he just gave in and recused himself.

instead, both Mallow and Bialkowski—both grandstanding, both citing his moral superiority—turn city business into vehement personal attacks. I have to feel bad for Bill Cox who got dragged into the mess just because he wanted the city to look at a potential health hazard. While I can understand the exasperation of both Mallow and Bialkowski, I just can't understand why they opt to play out this farce in these terms: this one accusing that one of despotism, that one accusing this one of hatred. Hatred!? What is this? And I don't even want to hear any of these "Well, he started it" arguments, which amount to nothing more than further propagating the feud by couching it in terms of cause and effect, action and reaction, and villifying one term to the favor of the other.

Here's Bialkowski:

Lately some of us councilmen have received e-mails from Mr. Mallow in which he is very sarcastic, calls us names and as of late has used foul and abusive language.

Here's Mallow:

As of late Mr. Cox. has ... developed a strong interest in bird droppings on the roof of the mall. So much so, that he wrote a long rambling letter to the paper about this issue and how he believes he is being treated unfairly.

Why should Cox's letter be demeaned this way? Isn't that, in fact, treating him unfairly? Why can't he voice his opinion—no matter how much others feel it may not be relevant—without being cut down by his peers?

The following is Mallow's response, in full, to Bialkowski's letter:

I don’t  give much weight to the things Bob Biakowski says. He wants to run roughshod over our city manger and attorney and expects me to stand aside while he intimidates them. Bob has an agenda that doesn’t include working for the taxpayers of this city. I am deeply embarrassed that Bob Biakowski was the first sitting city council person to have an ethics body called to discuss his actions. Bob is going about his short term on council in an unhealthily way that limits his effectiveness.  His actions have turned most of council against him and he is acting out in an unprofessional way. I have 1 ½ years left on council and I’m going to spend that time watching Bob and his friends very closely. Bob and Bill Cox are both trying to bring a little taste of Albany politics to Batavia. We are a small city and have a non partisan government lead by a city manager. I’m sorry that things are not going Bob’s way and he feels he needs to have a temper tantrum to bring light to his problems.

For more background on these issues, check out some of our earlier posts:

July 23, 2008 - 6:40pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in city council, city attorney.

City Attorney George Van Nest has requested the city of Batavia Board of Ethics to convene to consider a potential "conflict of interest" regarding an upcoming vote by the City Council to should purchase a new sign for the mall — an original mall sign was removed by the city when constructing the City Centre.

In his letter, Van Nest states that a "councilman's wife is the manager of the mall," and although he does not refer to the "councilman" by name, the very same issue was taken up at the last meeting of the council on July 14. At that meeting, Council President Charlie Mallow asked Councilman Bob Bialkowski to recuse himself from voting on the purchase of the mall sign because Bialkowski's wife was an employee of the mall. Mallow said that since the mall merchants stood to benefit financially from the sign that would be paid for by the city, Bialkowski, too, stood to benefit since his wife is an employee.

Van Nest also states that city has, for some time, been in "discussions" with the Mall Merchants Association regarding various maintenance and expense issues, and that the mall merchants have "threatened litigation" against the city.

In addition to the issue of sign replacement, to the extent that the City and Mall are able to successfully resolve open issues, the parties will be required to negotiate and enter an agreement relative to a variety of matters. The details of any potential agreement will need to be reviewed, discussed and approved by City Council prior to execution.

Van Nest asks that the Board of Ethics convene "at the earliest opportunity" and issue an "advisory opinion" prior to the next meeting of the council on August 11.

May 28, 2008 - 8:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in city council, city attorney.

Dan Fischer summarizes WBTA's news this morning, including coverage of last night's City Council meeting.

He includes audio clips from the dust-up revolving around whether City Attorney George VanNest should attend council conference meetings.

In our post last night, we mentioned that City Manager Jason Molino took issue with some members of the council repeatedly raising concerns about the expense.  Here's some audio from Molino's quote.

WBTA's coverage also includes the city passing a resolution to borrow $1.5 million as a bridge loan to cover city expenses while waiting for taxes to be collected, more on the proposed agri park, and the $15,000 grant for improvements at Dwyer Stadium.

May 27, 2008 - 8:55pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in city council, city attorney.

Tonight's Batavia City Council meeting ended on a testy note with a majority of the council agreeing to keep the status quo with City Attorney George Van Nest's conference meeting attendance and to drop the issue until next budget season.

Council members Bill Cox, Bob Bialkowski and Sam Barone dissented.

Cox and Bialkowski had brought the matter before the council -- and from the chatter during the meeting, apparently for the umpteenth time.

"We have in this particular case," Cox said in leading off the discussion, "some discretionary ability to cut costs in this one small area."

Barone later said that the city spends $209,000 on legal fees, but Van Nest and Council President Charlie Mallow later noted that not all of those fees go to Van Nest's firm.  There is also expense, for example, for labor attorneys.

Van Nest's fees for attending the meetings amounts to about $1,600 per meeting per year, according to Mallow. 

Mallow said it was his decision to have Van Nest at the meetings, and that he and City Manager Jason Molino discuss every item on every agenda and decide whether Van Nest's attendance is warranted.  He characterized having VanNest at the meeting as responsible leadership, and suggested that the council trust his judgment on whether to have the attorney present.

Later he said: "As long as I’m council president, I’m not going to conduct a meeting without an attorney."

Councilman Frank Ferrando said the council should drop the subject for now.  The appropriate time to address the issue is during budget discussions, which won't start until September, he said.

"I get tired of talking about these things five or six times over again," Ferrando said. "I’m not interested in talking about budget revisions at this time. We’ve got lots of other fish to fry."

Cox countered that no issue should ever be closed for discussion, that in order for council members to be responsive to constituents, they should be able to raise any issue even if it has been addressed before.

"I don’t feel it’s proper for council people to be criticized for bringing up issues at a meeting," Cox said.

Molino appeared agitated, if not angry, near the close of the discussion, calling the "belaboring" of the topic a distraction for the city.

"I'm very sorry that this has created a very negative work environment, which none of you witness," Molino said. "Can we move on? I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I’m really sick and tired of this." (UPDATE: WBTA's audio.)

Once the issue was closed, the meeting adjourned and the council chambers emptied quickly.

So here's the lingering question: Why does the city pay a fee for its city attorney to attend its routine meetings?  Shouldn't that just be covered under a flat-fee contract?  Shouldn't the only extra cost incurred be only for work above and beyond routine?

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