The city’s human resources commissioner has resigned after 28 months on the job, continuing a streak of high turnover and turmoil in the office.
Patricia P. Folts’ resignation last week from the commissioner’s job, which pays $91,374 and comes with a six-year term, follows a “severe staffing shortage” in her office and a decision she made last year not to certify the city payroll because she believed the city’s staffing practices did not comply with civil service law.
Folts won praise from people in City Hall who worked with her for being professional and independent, but privately three City Hall sources said they were not surprised by her departure given the pressure that was put on her by the administration.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said Wednesday that the decision to leave was entirely Folts’ and that she was not pressured to leave.
“We have a very talented team of people,” Brown said. “From time to time they have other offers, other options.”
Brown said he is not concerned by the turnover in the Human Resources Department.
By not certifying the city’s payroll – a decision Folts made after a long period when firefighters worked outside of their job classification, which is a violation of state civil service law – Folts essentially forced the city’s hand into promoting 43 firefighters. The promotions were made in September, and the administration then maintained the decision to promote was made independently of Folts’ refusal to certify the payroll.
The Human Resources Department has seen its share of turmoil under the Brown administration, including the termination of former Commissioner Karla L. Thomas and the decision by former Civil Service Director Olivia A. Licata to return to her union-protected position following a disagreement with First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey.
“It seems like there’s a lot of pressure put on the person in that position,” said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk.
In a June 12 email obtained by The Buffalo News, Folts wrote that the Civil Service Department, which has seven positions, only had three that were filled, creating a “severe staffing shortage.”
The department is supposed to be independent, which is why commissioners are appointed to six-year terms, or two years longer than a mayoral term. Commissioners must be confirmed by the Common Council and cannot be removed unless the mayor can show cause to do so.
Folts’ departure raises a serious issue for City Hall: How to make sure that city workers continue to get paid.
Without a human resources commissioner, as the city will be next week, and a director of civil service – a position that was vacated in 2012 – there is no one on staff to certify the city’s payroll.
“Our main concern is that city employees get paid on time,” said Patrick J. Curry, executive assistant to Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. “The comptroller received assurances from the Corporation Counsel that that will occur without incident.”
The mayor said he doesn’t have a candidate in mind but that he hopes to move quickly to fill Folts’ position. The charter mandates that a five-member search committee be formed.
Folts declined to comment Wednesday.