A rash of retirements and resignations by department heads in Plattsburgh has some city residents concerned. But the mayor says it’s normal turnover for a city of this size.
During the Plattsburgh Common Council meeting on February 8th, Ward 5 Democrat Becky Kasper announced she was quitting at the end of the meeting. “The mayor has created this wall. There is actually no real opportunity to have a give and take. And there’s this façade of transparency. The transparency doesn’t actually exist.”
Kasper’s resignation came the same day Community Development Director Paul DeDominicas announced his retirement at the end of February in an email. In it, he wrote he is “…unable to continue to work in a hostile work environment that compromises my work, professional integrity and health.”
One week later Plattsburgh City Police Chief Ken Parkinson announced he would retire at the end of this month. In published reports, Parkinson, who has been chief less than a year, says it’s simply time for him to move on to something else. He is now on vacation until his retirement and was unavailable for comment.
This week the city’s Water Pollution Control Plant Chief Operator also announced he will retire at the end of March after 37 years.
The recent departures follow the Common Council’s decision last summer to accept the mayor’s recommendation to abolish four departments and eliminate the City Engineer and Recreation Superintendent jobs by the end of 2017.
At Thursday night’s Common Council meeting, local business owner and resident Peter Regnier said it’s a troubling time for the city. “We lost a councilor, the Community Development Director, his assistant and the Chief of Police in a week. That’s a series of staggering setbacks to an already fragmented city. The environment in this city tonight reflects a kind of a mix of broken promises, personal agendas and a city without a police chief. We’re in full-blown crisis in the city of Plattsburgh tonight and if you don’t act swiftly and in a bipartisan trustworthy manner I believe the promise of a bright future for the city of Plattsburgh will be extinguished. It is time to ring a wake up bell and stop looking at these city workers and citizens as partners and not subjects of a monarchy.”
Resident Carol Klepper stepped up to express discomfort about the recent departures. “Something’s not right in the management and how you are supposed to work as a team. I do ask that the mayor and the councilors take this as a wakeup call. And I am fearful that a lot of people that are valued employees we’ve lost in the last several months.”
During the meeting, Mayor Colin Read emphasized that the city is not in crisis. Afterward he said there’s been an overreaction to the number of retirements and resignations. “This is the regular course of how a city with 280-some-odd employees will occur. So I think people are globbing onto that relatively unfairly but for each of these vacancies we’ve got a plan. It’s proceeding incredibly effectively and in due time it’ll all be rolled out. I’m very happy with the direction that we’re going to be able to reassemble these things.”
The mayor rejects hostile work environment claims from some departing employees. “I think a hostile work environment is very clearly defined legally and there’s absolutely no basis to that.”
Bradley: “Are you going to investigate at all?”
Read: “Certainly we’re going to go through all the appropriate channels, through H.R., of course.”
Also during the meeting the mayor nominated local attorney Patrick McFarlin to fill Councilor Kasper’s term, but it will be reconsidered next week after the vote failed. Some councilors want all remaining councilors to vote and one was absent. They also want time to review the nomination.