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Appointment of new Tonawanda city clerk draws questions

The appointment earlier this month of a longtime Tonawanda political leader as city clerk drew some pointed questions at Tuesday’s meeting of the Common Council.

City Democratic Committee Chairwoman Gayle L. Syposs was appointed to the position at the Council’s Feb. 2 meeting by a vote of 3-2, following the retirement last month of Janice R. Bodie, a 30-year city employee who was first appointed clerk in 1995.

But the appointment of the new clerk was criticized Tuesday by resident Lynn M. Casal, who questioned Syposs’ experience and the $60,000 salary she will receive. Firefighters in Tonawanda earn a starting salary of about $39,000, while police officers start at about $45,000, Casal said.

“How can the Democrats on the Council vote yes to pay a clerk $60,000 when the city is having a hard time coming up with money to purchase a much-needed fire truck?” Casal asked. “How can Council members and the mayor tell residents, in one breath, you are looking for ways to cut the budget and, in the next, appoint a Democratic Party chair to the clerk’s position making such an outrageous starting salary?”

Data compiled by the New York Conference of Mayors for its 2015 salary survey shows that clerks in the cities of Lackawanna and Niagara Falls earn $30,000, while the one in Lockport gets $55,000. As clerk last year, Bodie was paid $62,830.

But Council President Jenna N. Koch defended the appointment and said Syposs is uniquely qualified.

“I’m proud to call Ms. Syposs a friend, a confidante,” said Koch, a Democrat. “She’s done wonderful things for the city. Whether you agree with her politically or not, her résumé speaks volumes.”

Syposs has 19 years of management experience, Koch said, including in budget oversight, has overseen 45 employees and served on the city’s Charter Review Commission. She also served on the Council for 12 years and ran for mayor in 2005. “I will match her résumé to anyone that was interested in this position, and you know what? Give it a chance,” Koch said, adding later that the city will see a savings because Syposs had declined health insurance and a pension.

Casal, an administrative assistant to a corporate director, questioned whether the position was advertised and whether interviews were held.

“Besides the outrageous salary, I believe it is a major conflict of interest to have the Democratic chair holding such a pivotal position in our government,” Casal said. “Enough is enough, and it’s time for the residents to see the political favoritism that goes on in the city and vote to put an end to it at the next elections.”

Koch said that Syposs’ letter of interest was received and that the city clerk serves at the pleasure of the Council, which continually accepts résumés for appointed positions.