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Niskayuna Town Board settles 'confidential' controversy

Niskayuna Town Board settles 'confidential' controversy

Annual salary for town's next confidential secretary gets unanimous approval
Niskayuna Town Board settles 'confidential' controversy
This file photo from May 8 shows Councilman John Della Ratta, left, and Supervisor Yasmine Syed, right, hold a discussion.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed now has a salary for the town's next confidential secretary.

The Town Board on Tuesday voted to fund the full-time position at $49,517.

The process has been a controversial one. Syed lost her secretary in December when Andrew Bigness left the job to pursue a career in law. Had Bigness remained in his office - located just outside the supervisor's office - he would have earned $63,217 this year.

During the board's agenda meeting on April 9, Councilman John Della Ratta voiced concern over the position - then described as "confidential secretary to the supervisor." Della Ratta said the title suggested the position did not serve the entire town.

"I think one of the issues we had with this salary, and why we insisted on a job description for the new confidential secretary, is the last one did not, in my opinion, serve the town," Della Ratta said at the earlier meeting. "It certainly did not serve me as a Town Board member because I could not get much of any replies or responses."

Syed contended that the person in the secretary's position served every department head, and every member of the Town Board. 

Della Ratta pressed on about the job description during the early April meeting: "Is this person going to be responsive to the Town Board and the supervisor?" he asked. "Or is it just going to be a confidential secretary to the supervisor? Because the salary should reflect that."

Both Della Ratta and Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw believed Syed's original salary request of $60,000 was too high. The new $49,517 figure was included in Tuesday's resolution for "confidential secretary."

The description used for the agenda meeting, "confidential secretary to the supervisor," was not repeated on this past Tuesday's regular meeting agenda.

Bigness spoke during the privilege of the floor session of the meeting, and disagreed with Della Ratta's assessment of his performance in the job.

"With all due respect to him," he said, "I would remind him that all town employees, including the confidential secretary to the supervisor, serve the residents of the town, not the Town Board members," Bigness said. "I would also note that Mr. Della Ratta's remarks stand in stark contrast to those of his colleagues on the Town Board."

Bigness said Councilwoman Lisa Weber and Councilman Bill McPartlon both attended his farewell party. McGraw sent an email note which Bigness said thanked him for his service to the town.

"'Thank you for your service to the town,'" Bigness said, reading from the note on his smartphone. "Just wanted to repeat that for Mr. Della Ratta."

Before the board voted on the secretary's salary, Della Ratta said the board still had not received a job description - something he said could be used to compare salaries for similar positions in other communities.

"The resolution is on here again," he said. "However, I don't want to be an obstructionist ... we want to put this behind us. So we can get it done, I'm voting yes."

The resolution passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Syed said a full job description had been provided to Della Ratta. "It's just basic job duties, the essential functions of the job," she said,  adding the new hire will answer telephones, deal with town residents and represent the supervisor, among other duties.

Syed also disagreed with Della Ratta's position on Bigness.

"There were many times Andrew helped put together press releases on behalf of Town Board members and schedule meetings on behalf of Town Board members," she said. "He was working for everyone. If Councilman Della Ratta felt that way - A - he should have said something about it and - B - it just wasn't the case."

Della Ratta had not changed his mind on Bigness as the three-hour session ended.

"At the last board meeting, my understanding was she (Syed) was going to look at that title, confidential secretary," Della Ratta said. "She said he would work for the town, she indicated that (Tuesday). The last one didn't. If this one does, that's fine."

Della Ratta was at least pleased the new secretary will join the town at a lower rate of pay than originally discussed.

"It's more in line with what they're doing in other municipalities," he said. "It's $10,000 lower than what she recommended before."

With the resolution approved, Della Ratta said he would not continue to ask for a job description.

"She's the supervisor, it's her secretary," he said. "I'll take her and her word that he or she is going to be responsive to the Town Board as well as the supervisor and residents."

If the new secretary does not prove responsive to all board members, Della Ratta was asked whether he would voice his displeasure.

"Certainly," he replied.

Syed hopes to fill the position within the month.

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

 

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