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Lackawanna taxpayers are the losers in struggle between mayor and Council

Now that Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski has dropped a lawsuit against the City Council, does that signal an end to their squabbling, or will the frustration for taxpayers continue?

Based on past practice, we’re afraid the answer is the latter.

Szymanski and the Council went head-to-head last December over a couple of top mayoral appointments. The mayor believed, and still does, that he had the right to put whomever he chose in those posts. The Council disagreed, and slashed pay for the jobs to punish the appointees and encourage them to quit.

So, the mayor did what Americans do these days: He sued. Fast forward to this week and the end of the lawsuit, and Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr. is proclaiming victory, although it’s not so certain this is a victory for residents.

Szymanski said that the Council tried to usurp his exclusive powers as mayor when members cut the annual salary for public works commissioner to $10,000.

According to Pirowski, a court clerk considered the case frivolous. In dropping the case the mayor agreed not to sue the Council again and not to rehire the man at the center of this storm, Thomas N. Love, and that was the end of that.

Except that taxpayers are left holding the bag. The Council was billed about $24,000 by Hiscock & Barclay; the mayor hired Bouvier Partnership and his bill is likely similar.

Meanwhile, tempers are still flaring on both sides and those not involved – remember, those taxpaying citizens – are left on the sidelines.

This particular dispute goes back to Council efforts to slash the salaries of then Public Works Commissioner Love and Comptroller Robert Marciniak. The Council cut the two salaries from about $30,000 each to just $10,000, in an effort to get the men to quit. Love left his post several months after the salary was cut; Marciniak retired at the end of July.

Both Love and Marciniak spent decades as city employees and each earns a more-than-adequate state pension, so neither man could earn more than $30,000 in city pay. They were saving the city money by working for less than the jobs should have paid.

After forcing Love out, the Council had to raise the salary for public works commissioner to $60,000 to attract someone with the right credentials. The mayor ended up appointing Anthony DeSantis, a longtime foreman in the department.

But the bickering didn’t stop there. It extended to scheduled pay raises for city department and division heads. They happen to be political appointees, for the most part, and the Council unwittingly gave them pay raises in June when it approved a new contract for police officers.

A 2009 city ordinance linked police pay increases to corresponding wage increases for non-bargaining unit employees. Council members weren’t amused to find that out. They took out their anger on the city attorney and other department heads for not explaining the full fiscal impact of the vote on the police union contract, something they probably should have known themselves. Then the raises became another political see-saw, with the Council voting to rescind raises for the non-bargaining group and the mayor vetoing the rescind ordinance.

Lackawanna residents tiring of the feud want to know when the political games will end, and how much more it’s going to cost them.