As with most operations, hired help comes and goes through government. Some hang in there for 20, 30, 40 years. Others are gone before anyone knew they were there.
In the private sector, personnel issues are really nobody’s business, which is why they call it the private sector. But public workers are a different consideration. They work for the taxpayers.
The personnel committee of the Ulster County Legislature has asked the executive branch of county government to provide it information on personnel matters. Will it be provided, and if so will what is provided be shared with the public on a regular basis? Judging from the news blackout that accompanies these arrivals and departures on the county level, public officials can often be secretive about personnel matters. It’s true that personnel listings, with titles, salaries, etc., are usually available in annual budget documents. But what happens between budgets gets far less sunshine.
Witness in Kingston the sudden firing of community development director Jen Fuentes and part-time meterman Jeremy Blaber. Of the two, Blaber is the lesser light though, he says, he wrote his weight in tickets every day.
Fuentes, a former alderwoman from Ward 5, was in charge of Kingston’s community development program. Fuentes had some very definite ideas on how this federal program — the city gets close to a million dollars a year from Washington for projects in Kingston’s hardest-off neighborhoods — should be administered. Perhaps that’s what got her in trouble with Mayor Shayne Gallo. As for Blaber, his forays in and out of drug treatment had become “too public,” according to some sources, and so his ticket was punched.
Blaber’s civil-service status entitles him to a hearing on the facts. Fuentes, who serves as the pleasure of Hizzoner, has no recourse. She doesn’t have civil-service protection.
In light of the news blackout at City Hall (Gallo has declined to return our reporters’ phone calls for the last three weeks) we must speculate about the real reasons behind these dismissals. The public, which is paying the bills, has a right to know why people are hired and if it comes to it why they are let go. Public officials who insist they are protecting the privacy of their workers are in fact sometimes protecting something quite different.
Speculation centers on Fuentes. Was her firing only the result of differences of opinion between her and the mayor, two strong-willed and outspoken people, or something else? There has been no hint of incompetence or her spending too much time at the water cooler. Was it an unwarranted request for a raise above the position’s generous $55,000 salary, sought and rejected? The program itself is only about $600,000 and the salary is just $20,000 less than the mayor himself is paid. Had the community development director had enough of the mayor’s aggressive management style? One can take just so much of bulging eyes and neck veins, after all. Were there political differences of the I-got-you-here kind?
Recall that Fuentes’ hard-working pro-Gallo Working Families Party door-to-door campaign helped immensely in Gallo’s seven-vote Democratic primary win over Hayes Clement in 2011. WFP lists only 110 members in Kingston, but they are engaged.
Clement is still out there, talking issues, slapping backs, kissing the occasional baby. The WFP is assumed to be up in arms. Gallo may have to answer to a different jury come campaign 2015.
Done deal at Sophie Finn
Ulster County Community College hopes to have its new Sophie Finn School campus in Kingston open for students by next January, college President Donald Katt said last week.
The Kingston school board has approved the sale of the 29,000-square-foot elementary school on Mary’s Avenue to the college for $300,000. The school will be vacated in June, with renovations to begin in July. Voters will be asked to approve the transaction at referendum on May 21. The county legislature is expected to give final approval at its regular meeting on May 19.