Jarrett Carroll/Recorder staff Amsterdam Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, center, is shown at Tuesday's Amsterdam Common Council meeting.
By JARRETT CARROLL
Recorder News Staff
The Amsterdam Common Council Tuesday voted down the appointment of Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis as one of its first official acts of the year.
However, it appears he may remain Amsterdam's attorney until either an alternative appointment is made by Mayor Ann Thane or the council changes its mind collectively.
After some amendments to the resolution for DeCusatis, including the removal of a proposed 25 percent raise in salary, the Common Council eventually voted down his appointment along party lines.
The Republicans -- 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel, 3rd Ward Alderman Gina DeRossi, and 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero -- all voted no. Democrats -- 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman and 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas -- both affirmed the appointment.
DeCusatis came under some public scrutiny after proposing a $15,000 raise for his four-year appointment by Thane. Additionally, the council members made it apparent they did not support the pay hike.
Beekman, who was sitting in on her first meeting as alderwoman that doubly constituted as her first foray into elected office, questioned the funds being requested in the resolution outlining DeCusatis' reappointment.
"This salary ... is it something that can be changed?" Beekman asked.
Dybas moved forward an amendment that only allocated $59,000 for the salary of the city's corporation counsel. Isabel said that he initially kept "an open mind" about reappointing DeCusatis, but said he had serious doubts when asked for such a large raise during a time when city unions are getting a 2 percent raise and many in the public sector have gone years without one.
"By asking for this raise you put the public up in arms, and understandably," he said.
Without the support of the council, DeCusatis cited the New York State Public Officers Law and said the current corporation counsel would remain in position until the mayor makes an appointment that is accepted by the Common Council.
"The position doesn't become vacant, I hold over until the position is filled," he said, later adding, "the Public Officers Law provides for this, otherwise there could be lapses in office."
Dybas sounded surprised by the legal opinion offered by DeCusatis.
"What you're telling me is the current counsel and the current contract would remain in place?" he asked. "I think this is idiocy, OK, but I just want to understand."
DeCusatis counted, "That could be the case, yes."
The mayor asked what exactly that meant in terms of the position.
"I can continue to choose the same appointment?" she asked, which DeCusatis affirmed.
During the public comment of the meeting Diane Hatzenbuhler, a frequent speaker at public meetings and former candidate for both 4th Ward alderwoman and mayor, chastised the move to reappoint DeCusatis.
"A $25,000 raise for a man that works part-time ... this city can't afford it," she said. "He's not doing the job he was hired to do, he should not be reappointed as the corporation counsel for the city of Amsterdam."
Furthermore, Hatzenbuhler made a number of allegations, including that DeCusatis represented the owner of a property where heroin was sold, a code enforcement officer selected by him left with four city cameras, and that he cost the city $40,000 when outside counsel was needed over a contract dispute involving the former Chalmers knitting factory site.
Her statements were refuted by the corporation counsel, who was offered a rebuttal after her statements were made.
"As unfortunately is often the case with Ms. Hatzenbuhler, these accusations are inaccurate," he said. "For new council members you should be aware that this source of information is not reliable."
He also addressed the raise itself stating, "I understand ... the city may have the inability to consider it at this time," but declined comment about not being reappointed after the meeting.
Prior to vote, Dybas said he would affirm DeCusatis' appointment because he said "it's the mayor's choice" but that he did not approve of increasing the law department's budget.
"I vote 'no' on every piece of legislation that requests for more money," he said on Friday.
When asked, Thane's only comment about the first meeting of year was "Happy New Year," but when questioned specifically about the failed DeCusatis appointment, she said she was hopefully her choice will still be honored.
"I hope that the council will reconsider," she said.
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