The transition to the City of Lockport's first Democratic mayor in 15 years is off to a rocky start, and Mayor-elect Michelle M. Roman said Wednesday that she believes it might foreshadow a difficult year in office.
Roman, a schoolteacher who has not held public office before, defeated Republican W. Keith McNall on Nov. 6 for a one-year unexpired mayoral term.
With an election on tap next November for a full four-year term, Roman thinks the Republicans want to sabotage her administration.
"They believe it's going to be a 'one and done,' " Roman said Wednesday. "I think they're intentionally going to try and hamper me so that if I do run again next year for the four-year term, the city will think that I was not very successful."
"That is a ridiculous assumption," said outgoing Mayor David R. Wohleben, who, thanks to an unusual Lockport law, will return as a member of the all-GOP Common Council.
"If she would sit back, pay attention, do some research, learn the position before she starts kicking the people who are going to help you be successful, she might feel differently," Wohleben said.
He rejected Roman's Nov. 13 request for information about city government in a Nov. 15 letter that didn't reach Roman until Wednesday.
The Buffalo News obtained the letters through the Freedom of Information Law, which Roman might have to use to get what she wants.
Almost all of the information Roman sought was clearly public: lists of city positions and their salaries, copies of union contracts and civil service lists, rosters of boards and commissions.
But in his letter to her, Wohleben wrote, "I have been advised by corporation counsel that your request is not only improper but illegal."
City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri, also a Republican, said the illegal part was Roman's request for "the current experience and education of each person holding such positions."
Pasceri said that information is confidential under civil service regulations.
"(Roman) is not a public official," Wohleben said. "She is a resident. She will be treated like a resident. I am not going to gather information for her. If she wants those documents, she can get them like any other resident does."
"I know they're disappointed that I won and it's not their person, but I was hoping they would understand that this is really about the community and we need to work together," Roman said.
Much of the material she sought is on the city website, Wohleben said, and other information is available through the Clerk's Office.
He also refused to meet with anyone on Roman's transition team, saying he will give Roman a one-on-one meeting for "a 30,000-foot view" of city government.
Meanwhile, the Council voted Tuesday to cut salaries and benefits for the city's three attorneys. Roman plans to replace the GOP lawyers.
Her choice for corporation counsel, Allen D. Miskell, said he expected cuts. But Roman said they went beyond rescinding the raises the Republican lawyers would have received.
Outgoing Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano would have been paid $68,000 next year. Miskell will be paid $53,375.
Wohleben said the Council passed an employment policy and pay scale Tuesday for nonunion employees, including the attorneys, that did away with health insurance for them. Miskell will be placed at the bottom of that scale.
"When her corporation counsel is there for 25 years like John Ottaviano, they will be making what John Ottaviano did," Wohleben said.
Miskell has served as corporation counsel or deputy counsel for every Democratic Lockport mayor since 1976.