SCHENECTADY -- City Council members want more oversight of city departments, after two reports highlighted deficiencies in the Building Department.
City Council President Ed Kosiur said he is reinstating the Administrative Efficiency Committee, which was dissolved in 2017. He said the committee will meet once a month to hear from different department heads about any concerns or updates going on in their respective offices.
“The only time we hear from department heads is during the budget process, when they give requests about what they’ll be doing with the department,” Kosiur said.
The committee was first established in Feb. 2011 to monitor all the different city departments, according to Kosiur. He said he chose to dissolve the committee because it hadn't done much over the past several years.
Last week, though, Kosiur decided to bring it back in response to the recent release of a grand jury report regarding the fatal March 2015 fire at 104 jay St., as well as the state Comptroller’s Office’s audit of the department. Both reports pointed out deficiencies in code enforcement.
Kosiur appointed himself as chairman of the committee and added council members John Polimeni and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. He said he wanted to make the Building Department the committee's first focus on Monday.
The comptroller’s report showed the city failed to inspect several multiple-dwelling units within the state’s required three-year cycle.
The grand jury report, released by the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office last week, stated the department failed to respond to 14 reports, filed by the Fire Department, about numerous, serious code violations for the structure.
Kosiur said it would not only be good for the council, but also for the public to hear exactly what changes are being implemented. He also noted the comptroller’s request that the council suggest its own changes, as it follows up on recommendations.
Some of the changes that have been made, as previously cited by Mayor Gary McCarthy, include the appointment of Michael Eidens as the city’s public safety commissioner, giving Assistant Police Chief Jack Falvo additional duties as the chief of the Building Department and hiring Chris Lunn as the city’s chief building inspector.
Kosiur said he has invited all of those people, including McCarthy, to Monday's meeting so they can give the council updates on the changes they have implemented.
One change Kosiur said he’d like to see is moving Falvo to the Building Department full-time. He said it’s something he’ll suggest to McCarthy and city Police Chief Eric Clifford during the next budget negotiations.
“He’s doing a great job, from what I’m hearing,” Kosiur said.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said he supported the idea of having regular meetings with department heads. He also believed it was good to start with the Building Department, especially because of the grand jury report.
When asked what he thought of moving Falvo to the building department full-time, he said he thought he already was.
“If he isn’t, that’s news to me,” Riggi said of Falvo. “I thought that’s where he goes every day.”
Some in the building department have suggested changes of their own.
Lunn said he conducted his own audit of the department when he was hired. He said he plans to bring his findings to the City Council, though he did not say when that would be, adding it could take “a bit of time.”
“I made my findings early on, before [the grand jury report release] ever happened,” Lunn said. “I knew what happened. All of us read the newspaper; I knew what I was getting into.”
The revival of the Administrative Efficiency Committee also came after Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo suggested last week that the council discuss the grand jury report during its next round of committee meetings. She said she wanted to make sure the city comes into full compliance with local and state building code regulations.
Perazzo said she didn’t know why Kosiur was bringing back the Administrative Efficiency Committee. She said the topics it appears to cover could be covered in the committee she chairs, which is the Government Operations Committee.
The purpose of Perazzo's committee, she said, is to look at how the government operates, which is why she is unclear why the new committee operates.
"I don't know if there is really much of a difference between the two," Perazzo said.
Kosiur said there's a "possibility" that the two committees are similar, but he said its the Administrative Efficiency Committee is the one he wants to discuss what goes on in the different city departments. It's what the committee used to do when it was in existence.
"As council president, I think it's something the council president should take the lead on," Kosiur said.
Still, Perazzo said it’s good to have more eyes looking at the Building Department, though.
“The [Building Department] has a crushing load of work,” she said. “The more people paying attention to it, the better.”
Polimeni and Zalewski-Wildzunas said it will be good for the council to hear about the changes that have been implemented. Polimeni also said it will be good for residents to see the discussion in public.
“I think it’s important to have oversight and to get feedback,” Polimeni said. “Hopefully we get regular reports.”
Zalewski-Wildzunas praised McCarthy for the changes to the department that have already been implemented, but she said it would be good to hear how things are going.
“We should make sure the changes being made are working,” she said.