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Outgoing secretary to mayor defends post

In October, the North Tonawanda Common Council overrode Mayor Lawrence V. Soos' veto of several changes to the 2007 budget, including the elimination of his confidential secretary, Gregg Schnitzer.

Alderman Russ Rizzo, D-1st Ward, supplied the crucial fourth vote to the three-member Republican majority that cut the secretary's $31,826 salary from the budget. Only Alderman Kevin Brick, D-2nd Ward, voted to sustain the mayor's veto.

The Council majority argued that with a full-time mayor at $50,000 and full-time administrative assistant at $45,000, the mayor's office doesn't need a secretary.

And Rizzo also asked if the secretary was so "crucial," why did Soos "dismiss a secretary with four years' experience in the mayor's office and countless years in other secretarial positions?" He was referring to Deborah A. Capozzi, a Republican, who was replaced in May by Schnitzer, a former Democratic candidate for the County Legislature.

Schnitzer, 48, has an associate degree in communications from Niagara County Community College and a bachelor's degree in individualized studies from Buffalo State College. The individualized studies included public administration, communications and economics.

Friday was his final day on the job. He talked with The Buffalo News about a week before his departure.

>How did it come about that Soos selected you for the job?

Typically, an administrator wants someone he can trust and work with. Larry knew me, and the prospect first came up in January. But I was finishing up my degree at Buff State, so I didn't start until May. And the person who had the job was very competent, so [she] held the job until then.

>We've noticed that you have the perfect voice for radio or television. Did you ever work in that field?

Yes. I started at WJJL radio in the mid-1980s and also worked at WYRK when it was still a country station. It's kind of a paid hobby. I've been a disc jockey, an announcer, a news reporter. You tend to do everything in radio. Often, I was the only one there.

I've also been a circulation manager and sports editor.

>Did that experience come into play in your job in the mayor's office?

I am liaison to the media for Larry. I usually prepare the press releases issued by his office.

>The Council has said that with an administrative assistant, the mayor does not need a secretary. Can you tell us the differences between those jobs?

The secretary administers the day-to-day operations of the office. And it's much more than answering the phone and opening the mail. When people call the mayor's office, it's usually because they have a problem and need someone who can help them. If I can't help them out, I call the appropriate department, or I may brief the mayor on what the problem is.

We can get 100 calls a day if there's a snowstorm, power outage or when something like Wal-Mart is first announced.

And the day it was incorrectly reported that the mayor had canceled Halloween [because of damage from the October storm], I must have taken more than 100 irate calls. The mayor and I both were interviewed on radio. So it helped to have someone with my experience who could go on the radio and explain things.

I also deal with contractors and developers, giving them updated information and letting them know whether something's a go or not.

The administrative assistant is involved in [union] negotiations and legal work related to developers. [Former city attorney Jeffrey Mis] is liaison to other departments on legal matters since he is a lawyer and has been city attorney.

He's had input on any number of issues like the recent sale of Col. Payne [Community Center]. We had a very successful auction [the building sold for $101,000], and part of that was because Jeff suggested that it be rezoned commercial before the sale.

Jeff also is involved in meetings with many people in the community and with his counterparts in the Tonawandas. And he attends Council meetings.

No one who wrote the new charter that established a full-time mayor and an administrative assistant thought that would eliminate the need for a secretary in the mayor's office.

The mayor is the CEO of a city with a $34 million budget. And he needs a secretary.

>The Council maintained there was nothing political about its decision to eliminate the secretary's job. Do you believe that?

Look, whenever a politician says, 'This isn't political,' it is. When they say they're burying the hatchet, it's probably in your back.

I think the sign that this was political is the fact that it was brought up at the very end of the budget process at a Council work session with no public input.

Usually when they're going to make a decision like this, they call the department head in ahead of time. No one ever came into the mayor's office and asked any questions about the work we do.

>City Building Inspector Cosimo Capozzi has been to at least two recent Council work sessions laying out his case for having a full-time secretary. Do you find that ironic?

You know, some people think good government is always spending less money. And it's not the case. Cosimo needs a full-time secretary. His department generates revenue, and his not having a full-time secretary is endangering income to the city.

>Is it possible that your position might be restored?

Anything eliminated politically can be restored politically. Just look at the recommendations to close DeGraff. It was said that unless the [State] Legislature acts, the closure recommendations take effect. Now they're saying the new Legislature might go back and look at the recommendations. But I am assuming that with the New Year, I won't be at City Hall.

>How do you feel about the whole experience?

The setup in the mayor's office has been ideal. The mayor is very congenial and is a good businessman with a lot of connections. I think he's doing a wonderful job.

North Tonawanda is on the verge of great things. From Remington Rand to Wal-Mart to an RV park, we'll be almost surrounded by new developments. And something's in the works for Tonawanda Island.

I think with my experience and my education, I brought a lot more to the table than just secretarial skills.

What are your future plans?

I'm applying at some companies and looking at several opportunities.


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