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City Hallways: May 13

Nothing special on the calendar that I know of today, but I picked up a few tidbits worth passing along.

First is a nod to Buffalo  News political reporter Bob McCarthy, who was right-on when reporting last month that Steve Stepniak, the city's Public Works Commissioner, was being wooed by the state Thruway Authority. There hasn't been an official announcement yet, but word's out nonetheless that Stepniak will be the next Thruway Authority regional director. I wouldn't be surprised if he's gone from City Hall in a matter of weeks. No word yet on his successor.

Stepniak's an interesting guy.  He was a stand-out baseball player in high school who got drafted by the Cleveland Indians. But baseball can be a tough sport. A rotator cuff injury sustained while playing for one of the Indians' minor-league teams ended his professional baseball career.  Back in Buffalo, former Mayor Jimmy Griffin then offered Stepniak a job as a seasonal laborer.

He worked his way up the ranks over the years, eventually being a division director, then commissioner.


On Tuesday, I mentioned that South District Councilman Chris Scanlon is concerned that some Buffalo fire halls don't have adequate shower and locker-room facilities for women.

I spoke later in the day to Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield. Whitfield acknowledges there are major shortcomings in some fire halls but says it's not a male-female issue as much as an overall privacy issue for all firefighters.

The city's newer fire halls, he said, generally have separate bathrooms and shower facilities  individual members - male and female - can use.

But the majority of the fire halls are outdated, he said. Men may share a single locker room with group showers. Women, he said, are offered  a restroom or individual showers in the officer quarters.

There are about 700 firefighters in Buffalo;  less than two dozen are women, he said.

Scanlon is pushing for the city to do something about the lack of separate facilities for women.

Whitfield says he'd like to see something done to improve the facilities in the older fire halls for all firefighters.

"I'm not trying to have male and female facilities in the fire houses," Whitfield said. "I'm trying to make it so each  member can have sufficient privacy."

The council is planing to ask the fire department brass and union members to come to a council committee to discuss the issue.

Whitfield, meanwhile, says the department has set up its own  planning group to  address the issue.


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