In 2008, a nationwide search was conducted to find the most qualified individuals to manage the City of Niagara Falls under the new leadership of Mayor Paul Dyster. A major increase in pay rate for several positions was included to attract the best of the best. Comparisons to other local municipalities’ salaries shows the Falls was paying much more, but what the heck, we’ll be getting the best.
An economic development director was hired amidst the fanfare of his experience and charisma. He failed miserably in his responsibilities, and the council voted to remove his position from the budget, encouraging him to find gainful employment elsewhere.
The fire chief was hired, and soon into his tenure fell to sickness, fell in a parking lot, took vacation, and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with poorly choiced verbal interaction. He was let go before the fire even started.
A city engineer was put on the books until they found out he didn’t have a license. (Maybe the second page of the resume didn’t print.)
The City Administrator was hired at a $110,000 salary, plus benefits. To add to her value, it was made known that this represented a cut in pay for her to leave her previous job in Atlanta.
As her experience and talents became evident, she began to receive criticism within City Hall. The city council suggested cutting her salary to match her performance. A cut was voted on and agreed to, the Mayor vetoed the cut. Subsequently, the council was able to cut her pay in the budget to $70,000, after needing to override another Dyster veto. As a display of her loyalty, she remained on the job at a little over half the rate she was hired for.
This person is charged with running the City. Managerial skills, people skills, communication skills, and relationship skills are all required, and assumed, in order to effectively and successfully do this job.
This writer has been openly critical of her performance and suggested she resign after her program of recycling and refuse management met with disaster. She chastised small business owners who could not understand what she was saying, there was no plan for educating the public on changes to curbside pick up, and she was incapable of communicating her experience to the general populace. Recently, she could not answer basic questions related to the plan for managing parking meters before the council was to approve spending $350,000 to purchase them. Questions related to the lease and operation of the new train station still remain unanswered, just a few months from the anticipated grand opening.
I have advertised for support of my observations, as her removal is not my quest. Although my views are painfully universal in discussions around the city, not many have stepped up to sing with me. So I must be wrong.
I now am asking for those who are aware of the benefits the current city administrator is providing us, to stand up and tout her accomplishments. There must be a city department head who can say what a good motivator she is. Perhaps she holds her employees accountable in a way they know is good for the city. Her committee work must be documented somewhere, but most who serve on committees with her have told me she doesn’t attend meetings. (I must be talking to the wrong people, ‘cause anyone this bad would have been fired long ago.) I am appealing to the secretaries of any committees she serves on to share the meeting minutes with us to confirm not only her participation, but her leadership.
I hope I am wrong in my evaluation, but if I’m not, it’s not the waste of money to pay her salary for doing nothing that I worry about. It’s the lost opportunity that effective leadership brings that we are missing and has cost us the most. Ineffective leadership in city hall creates misdirection, scattered vision, and general conflict. Department heads are forced to do more than their job description to make up for an absentee or incapable leader. The trickle down effect can never be quantified, because things that may happen for the good, never do.
It’s time to resolve the issue: is the city administrator, charged with directing and managing our future, capable, and is she demonstrating her abilities to keep her job and lead this city forward?
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Craig E. Avery
Erdco Development, LLC