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A new majority: Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4).

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

Christmas Bonus

Troy City Council votes through pay raises and sets the stage for an early-year battle

More than two dozen employees at Troy City Hall will be getting pay raises just in time for the holidays this year, thanks to the Republican majority on the city council and Mayor Harry Tutunjian. Whether or not these workers will be keeping those bumps in pay, however, depends on the council’s incoming Democratic majority—and the chances of that happening are slim.

The salary schedule affects “nonrepresented” positions (political appointees and elected officials who don’t belong to a union bargaining unit), including the deputy mayor, comptroller, city clerk and others. It provides a 3.5-percent pay raise for 2008 for most of the employees, on top of retroactive raises dated to the beginning of 2007. The workers affected represent the full scale of pay salaries, from the assistant to the city clerk, who will receive a 3.5-percent pay increase to $27,835, up to the mayor, who will receive a nearly 12- percent pay increase to $95,000.

The raises were adopted by a 5-4 vote at last week’s city council meeting in a vote that divided mostly along party lines, with outgoing Councilwoman Marjorie DerGurahian (R-at large) siding with the Democrats in opposition.

“I don’t have a problem with somebody getting a salary increase,” said City Council President-elect Clem Campana (D-at large), “but don’t shove it down the voters’ throats.”

The pay raises were proposed by the administration after the recent city council and mayoral elections, he pointed out. What do you think would have happened, he asked, had the mayor and city council members campaigned on the promise of handing out pay raises? Everyone knows what would have happened.

“That is why the mayor waited until after the election,” he said.

Campana has promised that the council will take steps in January to invalidate last week’s vote, including rescinding the 2008 pay raises, dropping the salaries of those who received the retroactive raises back to their initial 2007 amount, and putting the mayor’s raise up for referendum.

“Let the people decide,” he said. “When he ran for office, he didn’t ask that the people elect him with a $10,000 raise.”

For the most part, said Councilman Mark Wojcik (R-District 1), this policy will bring the pay raises for these nonrepresented employees in line with those workers represented by unions. More important, he said, this policy will standardize the practice of salaries and raises.

“We weren’t voting on a few raises,” said Wojcik. “What we were voting on was a comprehensive policy. And the raises just were part of it.” The city, he continued, has always had a policy, but it was never enforced.

“The mayor or the city council could assign anybody to any position at any amount of money and the policy didn’t mean anything,” Wojcik said. “It didn’t have any force to it.”

However, Wojcik did agree that the administration’s timing with this policy—coming after an election—was unfortunate.

“It caught all of us by surprise,” Wojcik said, “Republicans and Democrats. It looks kinda devious and deceitful, the timing. If you took the timing out of it, you would see that it makes a lot of sense.”

There was a casual policy floating around City Hall, agreed DerGurahian, that would be either adhered to or dismissed depending on who benefited. She said that she had been pushing since 2005 to upgrade the pay schedule and implement a standardized policy, but was met with resistance from the administration and from members of her own party.

“Now, all of a sudden, they are going to go look at policy after people have been pushing for years?” DerGurahian asked. With January marking the end of the Republican majority on the council, she said that she felt that the administration rushed to push through its policy through a compliant council, without giving the document the due diligence it deserves.

The incoming majority on the city council has made its intentions clear to rescind the raises. But, if the Democrat-controlled council attempts this, Wojcik warned, he suspects there will be a lawsuit. “That will be something for the lawyers to figure out. It will be another big battle for next year.”

Bill Dunne (D-District 4) argued that rescinding the raises is the council’s prerogative.

“If they want to sue us, go ahead,” he said. “Take your best shot.”

“We told them that if they would have waited until the first of the year, if they had waited for us, we would have listened. We would have reviewed these raises on a case-by-case basis. And if they could make a legitimate case as to why someone who is making $50,000 should be making $60,000, we would listen to it,” Dunne said. “But they didn’t do it. So now it is coming down to this: We will react as we see fit. We haven’t figured that out quite yet.”

What was the point of pushing through a controversial policy if the Democrat- controlled council intends to rescind it, along with the pay raises? With many of the pay raises retroactive to the beginning of 2007, some employees stand to profit, if only for a month.

DerGurahian suggested: “They will be getting their little bonuses for 2007.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Huckabee: Whooping That Ass

Republican sleeper candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee seems to have woken up this week as he surged ahead in Republican primary polling. Huckabee is now ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and just behind Rudy Giuliani. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Wednesday shows Giuliani with the support of 24 percent of surveyed likely voters, Huckabee with 22 percent and Romney with 16 percent. Huckabee recently had to distance himself from a comment he made in 1992: “We need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.” He now says that he has changed his mind about those infected with HIV.

Spitzing Out

Once-untouchable New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has found himself in yet another losing battle this week—a battle with the polls. According to a new Quinni- piac poll, the governor is polling at a 37-percent approval rating, down from 47-percent in October. Spitzer’s popularity has taken a dramatic dive: He was elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The key reason to this current unpopularity? The Quinnipiac poll indicated that 62 percent of voters disliked Sptizer’s handling of immigration issues.

Science Takes the Fun Out of Everything

Data from NASA’s Themis mission—four satellites launched this past winter—have helped scientists discover the source of the famed northern lights. Scientists say the source of the light display comes from a stream of charged solar particles that channel through the magnetic fields that connect Earth’s atmosphere to the sun. Scientists have hypothesized for years the light storms might be caused by bundles of magnetic fields, but they could not confirm it until this year.

Cracked Sentencing

The U.S. Supreme Court took a huge step this week toward equalizing the punishments leveled for drug offenses. The ruling gives federal judges the freedom to hand down sentences far below recommended guidelines in cases of involving crack cocaine. In the past, a person found guilty of crimes involving crack cocaine received much harsher sentences than those found guilty of crimes involving powder cocaine. This decision could affect 10 percent of the country’s prison population.

In His Honor

The University at Albany ruffles feathers by celebrating the accomplishments of Jerry Jennings

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings re ceived the University at Albany’s Medallion of the University during the winter commencement this past Sunday. Anton Konev, a local resident and recent unsuccessful candidate for the Albany County Legislature, held a protest of about a dozen students, activists and residents during a Saturday night gala honoring Jennings.

Konev said that giving a sitting politician an award of such a nature is a conflict of interest, especially since the honorary committee that decided to give Jennings the award includes the Times Union, a publication that covers Jennings on a regular basis.

“In the past, this kind of award was given to distinguished journalists, or writers, past presidents, or distinguished activists—never a sitting local politician,” said Konev. “When state resources are used to give a sitting politician an award like this, it is a conflict of interest because it is just doing public relations for a sitting politician.” The honorary committee also included Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Greenport), State Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) and the Albany Parking Authority.

“As Mayor,” read the invitation for the UAlbany gala honoring Jennings, “Jerry Jennings has presided over an unprecedented reduction in crime and meaningful increases in quality of life for all of Albany.”

Konev said that as a resident of the Albany who has personally experienced a recent rise of crime in the city—he has been both attacked and robbed in the last few years—he is insulted that the university would overlook statistics that contradict the claim that Jennings has significantly reduced crime. Konev noted that, according to the federal Unified Crime Reporting Program, Albany’s average rate of crime per 10,000 people in 2005 was nearly triple that of the national average.

Konev said Jennings was incorrectly cited for reducing crime in the area around the university. “He was credited with establishing Operation Safe Corridor, which really is a sham. Why should students and residents of Albany be able to only walk down certain streets to feel safe? Shouldn’t we feel safe in general in that part of the city? There shouldn’t be redesignated street locations where students should feel safe. It is such a PR sham!”

The invitation to Jennings gala said Jennings has shown “unparalleled dedication to children.” Konev fiercely disagreed and pointed to what he called the Albany City School District’s shaky record and what he said are “neighborhoods that have been neglected for the longest time, preteenagers who are going into gangs and crime, all because there are no youth services.”

In the end, Konev said he found the timing of the award interesting, with Jennings openly considering a run to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) next year.

“The timing is very odd,” said Konev, “to give Jennings an award right now versus somewhere at the end of his career as a mayor.”

—David King

Loose Ends

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