The volleys between Republican and Democratic officials this past week concerning two similar types of technical jobs – one in the City of Niagara Falls and one in Niagara County – deserve further analysis in order to separate fact from fiction to ensure an apples to apples comparison.
During the preparation of the 2015 City of Niagara Falls Budget, Mayor Paul Dyster reported that the city was facing significant funding challenges, telling the listeners of the Tom Darro show on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 that the budget deficit was much larger than anticipated.
When Dyster published his proposed 2015 budget on November 5, 2014 – more than a month past the deadline established by the city charter – it included the elimination of two positions within the Management and Information Services Department: a Lead Systems Engineer position, then occupied by John Cahill, and a recently vacated Systems Engineer position (due to a retirement).
Before accepting the retirement incentive offered by Dyster, Cahill was, in addition to his Lead Systems Engineer title, the acting MIS department head. This meant that he was, as a member of the city union, eligible to receive overtime compensation for his duties.
Earlier in 2014, County GOP officials were highly critical of Dyster and his then acting Director of Code Enforcement Dennis Virtuoso. Legislator Randy Bradt (R- North Tonawandas) went so far as to accuse the pair of engaging in an illegal pension padding scheme because Virtuoso still retained his union position entitling him to earn overtime.
It appears now that Dyster, in his 2015 budget, has sought to rectify that very type of arrangement by creating an MIS Director position that is a true department head post. GOP complaints now, levied last week by Niagara Falls City Chairman Vince Sandonato, instead of praising this change have shifted their criticisms over to one of the applicants for the department head position: former Niagara Falls School Board member Johnny G. Destino.
Destino, who confirmed to the press that he did apply and interview for the position, declined to comment for this story. Dyster reported last week that there were six applicants and that the interview process is currently underway. According to the job posting that was posted on the city website, the deadline for applicants to submit their resumes was February 6, 2015. By all accounts, and as was conceded by Sandonato, Destino is a highly qualified applicant, having managed and worked on major information technology projects, including the opening of all three Seneca Gaming Corporation properties.
Just after the GOP criticism of Dyster and Destino, in what turned out to be a case of bad timing for Sandonato, it was reported by the Buffalo News and the Niagara Gazette that his father Larry V. Sandonato was appointed deputy IT director at a salary of $45,433 per year.
The new county position was created by a party-line vote on March 17 which eliminated a vacant union position in the Public Works Department.
Legislative Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso (D – Niagara Falls) warned at the time that the unilateral elimination of the union position would lead to a grievance being filed and would wind up costing taxpayers money to defend the labor action.
Bill Rutland, president of AFSCME Local 182 (representing Niagara County's blue-collar workers) confirmed that a grievance has indeed been filed over the elimination of a union position outside the collective bargaining agreement.
According to the county posting for the newly created position, applications were accepted through March 30, 2015 – a period of less than two weeks after the position was created. It was reported in the Buffalo News that the elder Sandonato's first day on the job is April 20th.
Which leaves us to wonder: Is the county so much more efficient than the city that they can create and fill a vacancy in less than a month?
We will leave it up to you to decide.