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Lockport mayor sees city officials getting along better in 2016

LOCKPORT – Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey and a key Democratic alderman said after Tuesday’s State of the City address that they see city government becoming more conciliatory as the year continues.

The new Council created a $68,000 full-time assessor position the mayor didn’t want, overriding McCaffrey’s veto by a 5-1 vote to do so. The mayor has made no move to actually fill that position and said after the speech that she hasn’t decided what to do about it.

The Council majority recommended that the post be given to Lena D. Villella, a veteran city employee and the sister of Alderwoman Anita Mullane. That would give Villella a $19,000-a-year raise, and led McCaffrey to accuse the Council of nepotism.

Tuesday, in her speech at a Lockport Rotary Club meeting in the Lockport Town and Country Club, McCaffrey said, “I will continue to work collaboratively with the Common Council in an effort to provide the good government that you expect and deserve. And I will continue to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of our residents. I will let the public know if city officials veer from that goal.”

The mayor confirmed afterward that was a reference to the assessor controversy.

In the back of the room listening was Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward.

“I kind of think we’ve gone through a learning curve a little bit. We may have appeared to be adversarial the first month, but it was only on one specific issue,” Abbott said. “I think we’re going to strive to increase the communication lines so it doesn’t get to that point again.”

As an instance of working together, McCaffrey confirmed that she has appointed Abbott and Alderman Joseph P. Oates, R-1st Ward, to the city’s labor negotiation team. Both aldermen spoke strongly against her position during the assessor battle.

The two appointments came after a proposal to put three aldermen on the bargaining team fell one vote short of passage at last week’s Council meeting.

McCaffrey said, “One of my goals this year is to move forward with union negotiations “Negativity is exhausting,” Abbott said. “We can’t keep going that way. We won’t get anything done.”

“Rick and I share a goal of collaboration and communicating effectively,” the mayor said.

McCaffrey, a Republican, took time in her speech to salute Democratic City Treasurer Sue A. Mawhiney and asked her to stand and receive the audience’s applause.

“Her goals are consistent with mine, to provide improved customer service to our residents, maintain open and collaborative communication in City Hall, be a problem solver and to remember that above all else, we are public servants,” McCaffrey said.

It was a contrast to the mayor’s relationship with former Treasurer Michael E. White, which deteriorated into mutual verbal abuse. “Sue and I get along,” McCaffrey said.

The McCaffrey-White battle pertained to fixing blame for the city’s financial crisis. The mayor told the Rotarians, “I’m pleased to report that Lockport is no longer a city in fiscal distress.”

She said Standard & Poor’s, a Wall Street credit-rating firm, has moved Lockport gradually from “credit watch” to “negative” to “stable.”

“We’ll take stable,” McCaffrey said as the audience chuckled.

The mayor also pointed to a record 6.4 miles of repaved streets in 2015, $5.5 million in grant funding, an enlarged Police Department and the receipt of further funding to continue the restoration of the original Erie Canal locks to working order.

After listening to McCaffrey tout her record in a 14-minute speech, Abbott commented, “I hope next year’s list of accomplishments are longer than she had this year.”