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Saturday, January 30, 2016
By +Scott Leffler

A special meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the Lockport Common Council has been called for at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday to discuss whether to hire a full-time assessor for the city. But an email from Common Council President David Wohleben suggests that maybe that meeting won't happen.

David Wohleben
The Common Council voted 4-1 on Jan. 20 to squash an agreement with the City of Niagara Falls to share an assessor with them, instead choosing to create a full-time assessor in Lockport. Mayor Anne McCaffrey issued a veto of that vote the following day. Now the Council is discussing how to proceed, with at least one saying openly that the Council should override the veto.

Tuesday's meeting, originally slated for 4:15 p.m., is slated to be held in room M-24. It was called to allow the real property assessor, Lena Villella, "to address the duties and responsibilities of the Assessor’s Department."

Not all aldermen are in favor of the meeting, however. Fourth-Ward Alderman and Common Council President David Wohleben, who was the dissenting vote on the original measure to create the full-time assessor position, sent an email to his colleagues explaining he had issues with the session, calling it "deficient and possibly illegal." He added that he is unable to attend the meeting and stated bluntly that "As I am unable to preside over this meeting, it will not take place."

Wohleben included the press on that email, which can be read below in its entirety and unedited.
Dear Council Members:

The Charter of our great city states that the Common Council shall hold stated meetings at least twice in each month, and the Mayor, or any three Alderman, may call special meetings, by notice in writing, to be signed by him or them and filed with the City Clerk, which shall be served personally upon the other members of the Common Council or be left at their several residences or usual places of business.

First and foremost, the notice I received yesterday from the Clerk’s office regarding Tuesday’s meeting is deficient and possibly illegal for the following reasons. The notice refers to the meeting as a “special meeting.” A “special meeting” is an official formal meeting of the common council. However, as I understand Tuesday’s meeting is nothing more than a “work session” and the work session schedule for the year is set forth in the Rules and Procedures of the Common Council adopted at the first meeting in January. Second, the “special meeting notice” states that the purpose of the meeting is to hear from Lena Villella, the Real Property Appraiser” about the assessment office. The signature by Alderperson Mullane cannot be counted as one of the three required signatures to call for a “special meeting” because Anita is a direct blood relative and therefore she has a clear direct conflict of interest.  Third, if the notice is for a “special meeting” it was not served upon me personally, left at my residence or usual place of business as required by Section C-51 of the Charter. Fourth, given the short notice period of the meeting I am unable to attend due to a prior commitment. As I preside over work sessions. As I am unable to preside over this meeting, it will not take place. Fifth, I also have serious concerns about having the Real Property Appraiser who has expressed a desire to have the job of assessor coming in to discuss duties and responsibilities of that office. Clearly, any and all information from that employee would be bias and self-serving at best.  I would suggest we look to a neutral third party perspective, like John Schumacher at the County Real Property Assessment department to give an overview of operations and duties of that department and how it relates to staffing, promotions, etc.

Sixth, bringing an employee in to discuss the possibility of a promotion will set a dangerous precedent for all future promotions.  Lastly and most important, I feel that the Council is clearly overstepping its authority because only the Mayor has the authority by Charter to appoint, hire, direct, discipline and promote employees not the common council.

Thank You

David Wohleben
Common Council President
4th Ward Alderman
UPDATE: Council flap over meeting on assessor's post continues

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