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Oswego Council Deliberates Mayor’s Salary, Assistant Position

OSWEGO, NY – The city of Oswego has, over the years, had several executive assistants to the mayor. Whether or not that position is reinstated remains to be seen.

For about 30 minutes at Tuesday night’s Administrative Services Committee meeting, city officials debated the pros, cons and financial issues related to re-establishing the position. But, at the end of the meeting, they took no action.

According to the city’s charter, “the council shall review the mayor’s salary during each mayoral term, and report its recommendation of any increase by March 15 of the last year of that term.”

Councilors debated whether the mayor’s salary should stay the same or perhaps decrease to cover some of the salary of an executive assistant – if the mayor decides he or she wants one.

“You cannot reduce the salary of an elected public official during their term of office without a public referendum,” according to city attorney Gay Williams. “That’s why this is set up so that it is in the last year of the mayor’s term of office that it gets reviewed. If anything is changed, it would be effective 2012, a new term of office.”

“I have been doing a little homework on this,” said Council Vice President Shawn Walker, who filled in as acting Administrative Services Committee chair in the absence of Council President Ron Kaplewicz.

He said he’d like to see the mayor’s salary more in line with the part-time status of the position.

He would like to see it cut (from $40,000) to about $25,000, he said.

Fulton’s mayor has full-time office hours and earns $28,000 per year, he added.

The charter allows the mayor to decide if he or she would like to appoint an executive assistant. The funding would be up to the current mayor to propose in his 2012 budget proposal, which is due to the councilors in August. It would have to be approved by the council, Williams noted.

Councilor Connie Cosemento suggested the council establish a specific job description and a salary in the event the position does get filled in the near future.

“I think we need to, first and foremost, look at the job description and see if that’s what’s good for Oswego and decide whether we want to assign a different number to that,” she said. “I think we have to say not how much do we want to pay a mayor, but how much do we want to pay an executive assistant?”

Personally, I feel that we should leave it alone this year and not fund an executive assistant this year because our finances are critically low,” she added.

She said she looked at other New York cities similar to Oswego to see how they handled the issue.

Of the 15 she checked, Plattsburg and Batavia were the closest matches to Oswego. The mayors make $26,831 ($52,735 for the assistant) and $28,372 (52,268), respectively.

Over the years, the salaries for executive assistants in Oswego have been all over the place, Cosemento said. They have ranged from around $12,200 in the early 1970s to $31, 368 in 1988 to $62, 711 in 1999.

“I do agree with a lot of things you said councilor (Cosemento). But, I don’t think we should even consider that position at this time,” said Councilor Dan Donovan. “You’re talking $50,000 base pay and it would be a full-time employee with benefits probably near $80,000 when you get done. Maybe we can lower the mayor’s pay some, but I don’t think we should even consider an executive assistant at this time.”

Walker suggested that maybe the assistant position could be modified into a part-time position as well to cut the benefits.

Councilor Cathy Santos pointed out that just moving money around from different parts of the budget doesn’t really do any good. “You’re kind of talking about coming back to the same place where you were at,” she said.

She suggested checking into what previous executive assistant actually did and how they were paid, “And make a determination based on evidence and not what we think that individual was supposed to do,” she said.

Councilors want to take some time to decide what the duties and responsibilities of an executive assistant will be and how it might be funded.

“We don’t know what the next mayor is going to do,” Walker said. “We’ve just got to set the base pay for the mayor right now.”

“We, as councilors, represent all the citizens, all the people in the city of Oswego. And what we are trying to do is determine what is the job of the mayor, who is going to be CEO of the city. We have every right as representatives of our constituents to say that this is part-time, this is full-time. Once a person takes a look at the office he or she wants to runs for, if that person is already a dedicated full-time employee somewhere that person may not want to even think about becoming a mayor,” Cosemento said.

If the council says the city could do with a part-time mayor that attracts a whole different group of people to run for mayor, she added.

“We need to be serious about making sure that the job parameters of the mayor are what our constituents want,” she said.

“We’re not going to get someone to come in here from 9 to 5. Most people have full-time jobs as it is,” Walker agreed.

“Who’s to say that someone who is close enough to retirement might say, ‘I could work 9 to 5 every day or 8 to 4 every day.’ There could be somebody out there in the world right now that could do that,” Council Bill Sharkey said.

Discussion is likely to continue at the committee’s March 7 meeting. A council decision, if any change is made, would be on the March 15 agenda.