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Batavia city manager’s hiring process for an assistant is questioned

BATAVIA – Filling the new position of assistant city manager is proving to be controversial because of confusion over the method of choosing a candidate.

City Council President Brooks M. Hawley said council members were given the names of the search committee late last week. That followed several days of confusion when it was believed the search group would not be identified.

City Manager Jason R. Molino said he told the council a week ago that department heads would serve but no names were given. However, with fewer than 200 city employees, it is not difficult to identify the department heads.

The 2014-2015 budget of $23.5 million includes salary and benefits of about $75,000 for a new assistant manager.

The post may have been vacant since current manager Molino was hired more than 10 years ago but two people appear to have held the title briefly: Development Director Edward J. Flynn and Public Works Director Sally Kuzon.

Restoring the post upset some council members who claimed it was not needed. That resulted in a 5-4 approval for the budget that went into effect April 1. Two who voted against the post – Councilmen Eugene A. Jankowski and John Deleo – have been especially critical of Molino’s hiring process and what they perceive as secrecy about the process.

The manager insists that members of the council have known all along that department heads – including fire, police and public works – will help in the process. “It is the way we fill management positions,” Molino said. “Getting input from department heads and others who can zero in on the best qualified candidate. It’s nothing new,” he added.

Molino, according to the City Charter, has the authority to hire and fire personnel but wanted to add more input. “I chose department heads and the council members knew that,” he repeated.

An assistant is needed to relieve the manager from some time-consuming issues such as rising premiums for flood insurance for those who live near Tonawanda Creek. That involves extensive negotiations on remapping the zone.

One member of the City Council – Pierluigi Cipollone – will be on the panel, with four municipal department heads. Cipollone has defended Molino’s choice of a panel “to get a variety of input so we choose the best candidate.” He has no problem with the manner in which the issue is being handled.

The search committee members, now renamed as a search panel, with Molino and Cipollone are Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, Fire Chief James E. Maxwell, Sally Kuzon and Human Resources Specialist Dawn Fairbanks.