The departure Wednesday of the city's finance director was announced jointly with the news that the IRS had placed a lien on a city bank account owing to a "reporting error" in payroll that would have been handled by the finance office. Within hours of both announcements — following a closed-door meeting that morning — City Manager Jason Molino said that any penalties owed from the lien were revoked because the error had already been rectified.
Lickety split, Batavia was in... and out of a mess.
Yet, articles in the Daily News yesterday and today raise a few questions about the issue that still haven't been answered by the city. Molino refused to specify the error. He also said that connecting the departure of former Deputy Finance Director Shelly D'Alba with the IRS lien would be a mistake.
For sure, we must keep in mind the delicate nature of a "personnel matter" and not go smearing a city employee — with or without all the facts. There's never any excuse for slander. But that doesn't mean we don't deserve to get at the truth of the thing, find out what's going on without naming names and pointing fingers.
In an article in the Daily News today, City Council President Charlie Mallow said that "the city received several notices, sent to the person handling that" (the payroll error discovered by the IRS). And, more straightforward, reporter Joanne Beck writes: "D'Alba would have been the person to handle the filing."
In an earlier article, Molino said that his office had only recently found out about the error discovered by the IRS. That begs the question: If the city manager only found out about the problem once the IRS placed the lien on the account, what happened with the "several notices" that were sent to the city, some dating back to last spring?
Mallow said he could not speak on behalf of the city manager. An e-mail and a telephone call to Molino made earlier today have not yet been returned. Mallow did caution, however, against "connecting the dots" and relating matters that may not be directly linked.
In the same article, Mallow spoke optimistically of the current state of the city. Residents should not be worried by the recent departures. The city is in transition. Not everyone will stick around through such drastic changes, he said. Besides, the position of public works director has already been incorporated into the workload of the assistant city manager. An interim police chief should be appointed within a couple weeks. And an interim fire chief should soon follow. As for the new vacancy of deputy finance director, the city will have to wait and see, he said. For now, the responsibilities of that position will fall to the city manager and assistant city manager.
Mallow told the Daily News: "It's good to shake the apple cart about. There's no cause for concern at all. Strategic changes are planned."
There was no mention in the article of what "strategic changes" have been planned to deal with the glut of empty positions. So we asked Mallow if he could explain the connection. His response: consolidation.
"Our workforce is getting older in the city," he said. "In the next five years, we'll have 30 people who can retire. So we're at a very good point to consider consolidating."
Grants have come through to study the possibility of consolidating, merging positions, sharing responsibilities with the county and the city. Mallow feels strongly about the issue, and seems to see it as the city's way out of a future financial crisis.
"In the next five years, we'll have 30 people who can retire," he said. "So we're at a very good point to consider consolidating."
That could mean big changes for the city. Mallow:
"There might be an elimination of city borders, but that requires the town to buy in and that our finances are in order. We're pulling out of our financial problems. But a big glut of money will be needed for retirements, and insurance for our employees is something that needs to be taken care of."
In the meantime, it seems the city staff simply needs to get settled, the real responsibilities of each employee pretty clearly defined, and the public notified of just who does what down at City Hall.
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