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Lockport Council overrides mayor’s vetoes on restoring of full-time assessor position

LOCKPORT – The Common Council voted Wednesday to override Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey’s vetoes of the Council majority’s moves to restore a full-time assessor position to City Hall.

Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, who abstained on the original vote two weeks ago because the Council majority wanted to promote Mullane’s sister, Lena D. Villella, to assessor and give her a $19,000 raise, this time joined her colleagues in voting to override the vetoes, by a 5-1 margin, which was greeted by applause from an overflow crowd of more than 100.

Only Council President David R. Wohleben, R-4th Ward, voted to uphold McCaffrey’s vetoes of the job creation and cancellation of a deal to share Niagara Falls’ assessor one day a week. The Niagara Falls City Council never had voted on that contract, however.

“I think I would do a terrific job as assessor,” said Villella, the real property appraiser who now earns $49,000 a year and has worked for the city for 29 years. She has served two stints as acting assessor, in 2004 and 2014. But the Council can’t make McCaffrey appoint her as full-time assessor. It’s a civil service position, and the mayor’s choice is not subject to Council review or confirmation.

Villella said a drop-dead date is June 1, when the tentative tax roll is due and the assessor has to sign it, although one year when the position was vacant during the administration of Mayor Michael W. Tucker, the city clerk signed the roll. The final version is due July 1.

Anyone McCaffrey appoints as assessor would be a provisional appointee and would have to pass a civil service test to keep the job. “I’ll have to look at all the options available to the city,” McCaffrey said.

The mayor thanked all the people she said had approached her to offer support for the vetoes, but Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, said he was voting as he did because of the overwhelming public support he received for a full-time assessor.

The Council majority had the idea of combining the assessor and appraiser jobs in the person of Villella, but the mayor said she wouldn’t consider that. “I have concerns about eliminating the checks and balances,” McCaffrey said.

Mullane said she never asked any Council member to promote her sister. McCaffrey, in her veto message, had accused the Council majority of nepotism. Mullane said, “The mayor has used names and made it a personal issue against me, which I find appalling.”

The mayor responded by reading the legal definition of nepotism from the city Code of Ethics, which bars any city official from voting to “appoint, hire, promote or discharge” any relative.

Eloise M. Campfield, of Spruce Street, said the assessor hassle was “a totally preventable situation” stemming from the lame-duck 2015 Council passing the $30,000-a-year contract with the Falls at its final meeting, over the objections of the incoming aldermen.

Also Tuesday, the Council set the cost of adding a clerk’s job in the Treasurer’s Office, which it approved last month, at $39,058, including benefits. The salary was set at $28,500 for the rest of the year for the clerk, who is to start Feb. 16.