Top Human Resource Post in City Plagued by Turmoil

The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Top Human Resource Post in City Plagued by Turmoil


Buffalo's top human resources post has a history of trouble, turnover

In Buffalo City Hall, the human resources commissioner gets a six- year term - two years longer than the mayor.

But those who hold the post usually don't last that long.

Patricia P. Folts, who left last month, worked for the Brown administration for just more than two years.

Karla L. Thomas lasted from September 2008 to January 2011 when revelations that the city paid nearly $840,000 in improper benefits led to her firing.

Leonard A. Matarese, appointed by then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello in December 2002, almost made it through a full term, but he left the post under a different mayor.

While Mayor Byron W. Brown has stripped the human resources post of some powers, the person who holds the job still plays an important role in city government: making sure city departments follow civil service and affirmative action laws along with Americans with Disabilities Act provisions, administering employee benefits, accepting discrimination complaints from employees, making sure city workers comply with residency requirements, training employees, and evaluating the costs of each new collective- bargaining agreement.

So the turnover, particularly Folts' departure, concerns some Common Council members.

"It's supposed to be long-term so you can get in there and do your job and not be influenced by any political activity or pressure from various political factions in City Hall," said Council Member Michael J. LoCurto of the Delaware District.

Folts, praised by union leaders and Council members for her independence, held the post from September 2011 to January 2014. Her term would have expired in 2017.

Staffing difficulties

Folts declined to say why she left. But last year, she said a "severe staffing shortage" hampered her department. She also refused to certify the city's payroll after she determined that the administration's staffing practices violated state civil service law.

"Working for them has got to be a heavy burden," said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk.

Brown said he is "not concerned" by the department's turnover. "As I indicated, we have very talented people working in city government," the mayor said. "From time to time, they have other offers, other options."

His administration did not pressure Folts to leave, Brown said.

So now Brown must search for a commissioner again. The City Charter requires the mayor to convene a search committee, Brown's third such committee.

In the meantime, the administration has appointed Gladys Herndon- Hill, director of personnel, as acting commissioner.

The commissioner's position was created as part of City Charter changes following a 1999 referendum.

The current job pays a $91,374 salary. And it comes with protections. Besides the six-year term, the human resources chief does not work at the pleasure of the mayor. The commissioner can be removed only for cause, which is what happened to Thomas.

When Brown was elected in 2005, he wanted Matarese to reapply for his job, even though Matarese had a six-year term that expired in 2008. Matarese, who at the time said he was "stunned" by the request, stayed on the job until February 2008 but resigned with nine months left on a six-year appointment when he left for a new job.

The protections in state law are designed to shield human resources commissioners from political pressure when dealing with hiring and firing, following state civil service laws and dealing with a workforce with patronage jobs and those represented by labor unions.

After Thomas was fired following revelations that the city was still providing health benefits to dead workers, she accused the Brown administration of being far too involved in hiring and firing at the expense of civil service laws.

The office has fewer powers in the Brown administration. The Law Department now negotiates labor contracts and handles union grievances. …

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