The chair of the Batavia Community Garden advisory board called into question City Council's policy decisions in light of a proposed amendment to the Batavia Municipal Code pertaining to residency requirements for new municipal employees.
Speaking during a public hearing at Monday night's City Council meeting at City Hall Council Chambers, Deborah Kerr-Rosenbeck spoke of a double-standard as she compared the rules that govern advisory board membership with the proposal to relax residency requirements for those who work for the City.
“It seems like talking out of both sides of our faces,” she said. “The Community Garden (at 12 MacArthur Drive, next to the Batavia Youth Bureau) was started by people who don’t live in the City. You need to be consistent in your policies.”
Kerr-Rosenbeck was referring to the fact that a couple members of the Community Garden advisory board had to give up their positions after it was discovered by City Manager Martin Moore that they were not City residents, which is in violation of the City Charter.
One of those members is Robert Gray, a Batavia native who moved to Stafford in 1996. He was a cofounder of the Community Garden in 2011 and has been instrumental in its success.
Gray, speaking after Kerr-Rosenbeck, said he was offended by his removal (he and Carol Boshart, of Corfu, since have been allowed to continue as nonvoting "advisory" members).
“I have put in over 100 hours per year as a volunteer and now I can’t be on the committee,” he said. “Really? Really?”
He pointed out that the group was unable to conduct official business on a couple occasions because it didn’t have a quorum (of voting members) and requested that City Council review its policy as it is “detrimental” to the City.
The public hearing was necessary since City Council wishes to amend the City Municipal Code pertaining to the residency of new municipal employees. Changes focus on expanding the geographical area around the city where new employees may live to include any adjacent town to Genesee County within six months of the date of conclusion of the probationary period for the City.
The employee also would be required to live within these areas for the duration of his or her employment.
City Attorney George Van Nest pointed out that City Council has the power to amend the Municipal Code, which governs employees, but has no authority when it comes to amending the City Charter, which covers volunteer boards.
Council President Eugene Jankowski noted that a Charter review is a separate, more extensive process, but it could be “something we might want to consider” as it is his hope to rectify the situation with the Community Garden advisory board.
Council Member Patti Pacino said she understood that the rules of the City Charter were drawn up by City residents, but disagreed with the outcome.
“I don’t like it,” she said.
(As an FYI, John Roach, of Batavia, who once served on the City Charter Commission, said that residency requirements were instituted for advisory boards because “we didn’t want people from Cheektowaga, for example, serving on our Zoning, Planning, Housing or Audit advisory boards. The Community Garden is a casualty of this.”)
Council Member John Canale said he was concerned over how the decision to remove Gray and Boshart was communicated to them, which prompted a response from Jocelyn Sikorski, Youth Bureau director and Community Garden coordinator.
“When Marty realized that two members lived outside of the City, we had a meeting with them to explain the circumstances, and made them both advisory members, liaisons,” she said. “This left two vacancies and changed their roles.”
Sikorski said both have been “key players” and noted that “we call Bob ‘the Almighty’ when it comes to the committee.”
The conversion then turned back to the proposed amendment to the City Municipal Code with Council Member Rose Mary Christian stating that employees should have a vested interest in the community and should live in the City or in Genesee County.
“In case we need them, if an emergency, they’re not so far away,” she said.
Jankowski said the amendment allowing for employees to live a few minutes outside the county is “kind of a compromise … which the department heads took into consideration.”
Public Works Director Matt Worth confirmed Jankowski’s view, noting that one employee lives in Attica – “the edge of where we are comfortable (to have employees live).”