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Council's focus on benefits for city's attorney

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - Updated: 10:18 AM

By CASEY CROUCHER

casey.croucher@recordernews.com

After questioning whether the city's corporation counsel should receive benefits, the Amsterdam Common Council decided Wednesday to leave the issue alone until they can get a legal perspective.

During a council meeting Tuesday, Fourth Ward Alder-woman Diane Hatzenbuhler told Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis that he would no longer receive benefits working for the city because his is a part-time position.

"By charter you are a part-time corporation counsel, therefore you are not entitled to full-time benefits which include a pension plan and the insurance plan, so those will be cut," Hatzenbuhler said.

DeCusatis, however, said his appointing resolution states that he does receive benefits.

"You may want to recalibrate your plan," he told her. "The corporation counsel is appointed by the mayor with the approval of the Common Council and an appointing resolution that determines the appointment at that time. So you can't derail that train and mess with it.

Hatzenbuhler also told DeCusatis that he's refused to move into City Hall to conduct city business.

"You say I refused to do that, but no one has asked me to do that, except maybe yourself before you were even elected," he said.

DeCusatis said there was talk of City Hall office hours but no one made an appointment to see him in his office so he didn't see any point in being there.

"I'm available by phone and email to every city department head employee who needs to consult with me and I believe that happens on a regular basis, multiple times per day," he said. "So I don't understand where your misconceptions come from, except from perhaps your own mind."

Offended, Hatzenbuhler simply said, "Excuse me?"

To which DeCusatis replied, "Got to call it like I see it."

The argument was left unresolved and Hatzenbuhler brought it back to the table Wednesday night, with DeCusatis not present.

She said she looked up the charter and the appointing resolution to compare what the job descriptions say.

"The resolution does not state if [DeCusatis] is full-time or part-time and the charter says he's part-time," she said. "If we go by the charter then he's not entitled to his fringe benefits of insurance because our City Hall employees don't get fringe benefits."

She asked the rest of the council what they wanted to do about the matter.

"I assume [DeCusatis] will say the resolution takes precedence over the charter, so I wouldn't ask him," she said.

The appointing resolution from January 2013 states that DeCusatis was "approved as corporation counsel pursuant to Section 41 of the City Charter to serve co-terminously with the mayor with a compensation of $65,000 plus fringe benefits."

The city's charter, however, states the corporation counsel is a "part-time officer of the city."

Because of the conflicting information, the council was not sure how to move forward with the issue and decided they'd need outside legal advice before rescinding the resolution or making any other changes.

"The ambiguity in that charter is the reason we created that Charter Review Commission," Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr., said. "Until we can straighten all this out, we should leave things alone."

The Common Council will meet again tonight for a budget review session at 6 o'clock in City Hall.

     

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