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Lines of authority likely to change at Rotterdam DPW

Town may disperse coordinator duties

Sunday, May 27, 2012
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— Former Public Works Coordinator Michael Griesemer seemed to have a hand in just about every town department before his sudden departure last month.

Among other things, he headed the town’s parks and recreation department, oversaw the Rotterdam Senior Center and was the chief administrator of the water and sewer districts. Griesemer’s $69,000 annual salary was sprinkled over numerous different department line items in the town’s budget, making it difficult to even track down exactly how much he earned in a year.

He did the billing for water and sewer services, he oversaw code enforcement and was the head of the town’s planning department. Simply put, you could draw a line from most of the town’s departments and it would always end at the top with Griesemer, Supervisor Harry Buffardi explained.

“It was a very narrow structure,” he said. “All roads seemed to lead to Griesemer.”

Griesemer also seemed to get everything under his charge done, according to Buffardi. He said he never had any issues with his performance aside from being uncomfortable about the number of things he oversaw.

That was until Griesemer — the only person to occupy the coordinator’s position since it was created nine years ago — abruptly resigned last month after a notice of claim was filed against the town alleging he sexually harassed a public works clerk. Now town officials are trying to determine whether they really need to fill his spot or if his responsibilities can be handed to other town workers.

Buffardi said the town was already taking steps to limit Griesemer’s responsibilities before he resigned. The town’s water and sewer districts were placed under the stewardship of the highway department, while a new coordinator was hired to assume administrative duties for the senior center.

Now Buffardi is trying to determine whether a full-time coordinator is even necessary. He said town departments have functioned fine in Griesemer’s absence, meaning some savings might be realized if the position is reduced to part time.

“If we can break down the functions to a smaller level, we might not need a fill-time position,” he said. Buffardi said the town could also save on health and retirement benefits. He estimated that Griesemer’s benefits cost the town an additional $30,000 on top of his salary.

There is speculation among some town officials that shifting the position to part-time is an effort to tailor it for Vincent Romano, a Planning Commission member who ran unsuccessfully for highway superintendent on the Democratic ticket last fall. The retired Schenectady County Public Works supervisor is collecting a pension.

Board member and former Deputy Supervisor Robert Godlewski said the town needs to fill the coordinator’s position full time. He said giving added responsibilities to Rotterdam’s unionized workforce outside their individual job details could ultimately result in civil service grievances against the town.

“You don’t put a civil service union employee into something that’s not in their job classification,” he said. “It’s making the town vulnerable.”

Godlewski also doubts the coordinator’s position could be handled on a part-time basis. He said Griesemer acted as a critical liaison between developers and the town, while also serving as a billing agent for Rotterdam’s special districts.

“It is a very important position in the town,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”

Conard Johnson, president of Rotterdam’s CSEA chapter, wasn’t as convinced. He said Rotterdam needs an experienced person to head the public works department, but believes Rotterdam should have a certified engineer.

Former Supervisor John Paolino spearheaded a reorganization of the Public Works Department that led to the dismissal of the town engineer and creation of the coordinator’s position in 2003. He then appointed Griesemer, then the chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee, to fill the position.

“[Griesemer] was nowhere near qualified for any position like that,” Johnson said. “He was a political hack.”

Johnson was also troubled by the added responsibilities given to his workers without any additional pay. He said the town has packed all of Griesemer’s duties onto several union positions.

“That’s not part of their job descriptions,” he said.

 
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