Some Olean city department heads gave the Common Council a rare piece of their collective mind during Tuesday night's meeting, lining up at the podium during the public comment portion of the agenda to say they feel underappreciated and asking the aldermen to show unity and cooperation with staffers.
The protest, which was organized in part by Mayor David Carucci, surprised the aldermen just as residents finished up comments on Carucci's controversial authorization of a portable Christmas Nativity creche installed Nov. 4 in front of the Municipal Building.
City Auditor Janet Jones upbraided Council President Ray Wangelin for his failure to defend her in the face of criticism by former alderman Peter Chicola. Chicola, an outspoken critic of city finances and records access, was interviewed on tape for Wangelin's Oct. 28 community access cable television show, "What's Up Olean."
Jones said that Carucci recently played the tape for department heads and asked her to write a rebuttal to read at the meeting. She said after the meeting that Wangelin's behavior was inappropriate, and he should have come to her to verify the information and the status of Freedom of Information requests before airing the complaints on television.
"I thought I'd been doing a good job," Jones said of her performance during the eight months since her appointment.
Wangelin, in an interview early Wednesday, expressed surprise at the comments and recalled standing up for the department heads and publicly praising them, especially Jones who he called "the best auditor we've ever had."
"I feel bad that some of department heads got the wrong impression, and I'm sorry if they did," said Wangelin, pointing out that guests on his show practice free speech. He said he shook his head during Chicola's interview to show that he understood but not to signal agreement with Chicola's complaints.
Public Works Director Tom Windus also spoke to Council members Tuesday night, reminding them department heads aren't perfect and are doing the best they can to manage the city's assets.
Jones, Windus and Fire Chief Robert Bell said city officials and staffers need to start working together, improve communications and help the city make some needed changes. The three were joined by Police Chief Terry Schnell, Community Development Coordinator Mary George and Commissioner of Assessment Nancy Champlin, none of whom spoke.
After the department heads filed out of the room, Carucci and Wangelin exchanged barbs over the ongoing firefighters contract negotiations and the possibility of hiring a professional negotiator. Carucci confirmed later that he and City Attorney Dan DeRose are looking into hiring a negotiator to finalize the sensitive firefighter's contract and to work in the future on the CSEA contract. He said he is "done commenting" on the creche and will not consider moving it to another location.