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After much discussion, brief executive session, village of Massena hired code enforcement officer

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MASSENA - After more than 45 minutes of discussion and a brief executive session Tuesday, the village board voted unanimously to hire Peter Devine as their part-time code enforcement officer.

Mr. Devine was hired by the town in July and in accordance with a inter-municipal agreement negotiated between the town and village, each municipality is responsible for paying 15 hours of his salary each week. The position is part time.

While Mayor James F. Hidy was quoted in Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Courier-Observer as saying the village needed to advertise for the position, he said Tuesday night that was not the case.

“We did do that when it was jointly put in (advertised in the newspaper) for the town and village,” he said.

Town Councilman Charles A. “Chuck” Raiti encouraged Mr. Hidy and the village to uphold the agreement and hire Mr. Devine, which they eventually did, but only after a lengthy, sometimes heated discussion.

“Just follow our lead,” Mr. Raiti said.

Mr. Hidy said as far as the financial splits were concerned he had no problem with the agreement, and his issues with it came after a conversation with members of the fire department and their union.

“My recommendation is that we put the code enforcement officer under Ken’s direction,” Mr. Hidy said, referring to Ken McGowan. “The code enforcement officer should be part of the fire department.”

The concerns raised by the fire department stemmed from potential conflicts where the code enforcement officer may instruct employees on what to do, while supervisors at the fire department may offer different instructions.

“Who do they listen to?” asked Mr. McGowan, who has been managing the village’s code enforcement duties since Gregory C. Fregoe retired earlier this year.

He gave the example of telling some guys to work on a truck and then having the code enforcement officer assign the same guys code enforcement work.

“What I don’t want to see is our guys going somewhere to do an inspection and see the code enforcement officer having coffee somewhere,” he said.

“Oh, come on,” replied Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld.

Mr. Hidy’s suggestion to put the code enforcement officer under Mr. McGowan’s direction was not met with much enthusiasm from Mr. Raiti or Mr. Ahlfeld.

“We sat down and put something together that I think is going to work for everybody,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

“We are not against hiring the code officer, the public needs to see a face,” Mr. McGowan said.

Village trustee Francis J. Carvel said ultimately what it should come down to is planning.

“My thing is being a member of management is that the code enforcement office be a division of the fire department. What difference does it make if Ken assign the guys?” Mr. Hidy asked.

Mr. Ahlfeld said the fire department should work in conjunction with the code enforcement office as has been done in the past, noting that was covered in the agreement.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is. We have taxpayers here that we need to take care of and this is what people are clamoring for,” Mr. Ahlfeld said. They want a joint officer. They’re (the town board) is going to walk away if we don’t do this.”

Mr. Hidy then suggested making a couple changes to the agreement, that seemed to appease the firefighters and their concerns.

“I know it’s schematics, but that’s what it is,” Mr. Hidy said suggesting changing a portion of the agreement to read: “The permanent firefighter(s) shall be selected by the Village, and his/her responsibilities shall be to assist the Code Enforcement Office with safety and fire inspections, and other duties coordinated with the Code Enforcement office.”

The way the agreement was originally written included the phrase “Code Enforcement Officer” in the two spots that read “Code Enforcement Office” and “other duties as determined by” where the agreement now reads “other duties coordinated with.”

When asked what he thought of the changes, Mr. Raiti responded, “I’m good. I don’t know what the board will think of this.”

A portion of the agreement actually addresses making changes to the document, noting the town board will also have to agree to the modification. The town board meets tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Section 9 of the agreement reads, “This agreement may not be amended or modified in any way except by an agreement in writing signed by both the Village and Town.”

Mr. McGowan said the language changes addressed the fire department’s concerns.

“I’m not opposed to having a code enforcement officer. I think this is the right thing,” he said.

After the board seemed to agree to the changes in the agreement, Mr. Hidy said, “I think we’re prepared to hire a code enforcement officer. It’s just the verbiage in here.”

And that’s something that caused concern for Village Treasurer Julie A. Sharlow.

“How are you going to hire somebody if you don’t know what the terms are?” she asked, noting she felt the agreement should be finalized before the position was filled.

“If we get three hands to go up this is going to fly, but I only see one hand going up and then a bunch of question marks,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

Mr. Hidy replied, that he was prepared to fill the position at the meeting.

“I’m not opposed to hiring an individual to take this position. I had some questions about the agreement, but we pretty much answered them,” he said.

Trustee Patricia K. Wilson suggested tabling the hire until the board’s first meeting in September, after changes to the agreement were finalized.

Mr. Hidy then suggested an impromptu executive session to discuss the position.

A short time later the board reconvened and Trustee Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies, who sat in on the interviews made a motion to hire Mr. Devine.

He explained the committee, which also included Mr. Ahlfeld, who was not present for the interviews, met with three candidates with the town accepting the committee’s recommendation.

“I propose we go along with the town and hire Peter Devine as part-time code enforcement officer,” Mr. Deshaies said.

Mr. Devine will receive $16 per hour until his code enforcement training is complete, at which point, he’ll receive a salary of $17.50 per hour. Then following a six-month review his salary will rise to $19 per hour. The job includes no benefits.

Mr. Raiti then asked about the agreement, noting the village had not yet accepted the agreement.

“Where does the IPA stand?” he asked.

“We are looking at the verbiage as discussed,” Mr. Hidy replied, noting the changes will be reviewed by the village attorney prior to the village adopting the agreement at its next meeting.

Following the meeting Mr. McGowan said he was concerned with how the fire department would be perceived for the role in Tuesday’s discussion.

“When Greg Fregoe retired we took over the code enforcement duties for the town and village of Massena,” he said. “Basically, we didn’t want to see any contractual issues between the village and the permanent firefighters.”

After the meeting when he was asked whether or not he thought the town would adopt the new agreement, Mr. Hidy said he wasn’t sure.

“I can’t speak for the town, but I would hope they’ll accept the changes,” he said. “As with any agreement it can’t be one-sided. As Mr. Raiti is an advocate for the town, we are expected to do the same for the village taxpayers.”

Now that the village and town have a joint code enforcement officer, Mr. Hidy said he’s looking forward to seeing more positive changes in the community, noting the fire department has done a great job filling in while the position was vacant.

“I look forward to seeing positive changes once our attorney has had the opportunity to review and comment on the changes,” he said. “Based on the recommendation of our attorney we look forward to adopting the agreement and working as part of a favorable partnership with the town.”

When contacted at home following the meeting, Mr. Raiti said he hopes the decision to hire a joint code enforcement officer position proves to be a good decision.

“I certainly hope it all works out,” he said, noting the committee’s decision to recommend Mr. Devine was a unanimous one.

As for the relationship between the fire department and the code enforcement officer, Mr. Raiti said he hopes it can be a productive partnership.

“I hope they can all work together for the good of the community,” he said.

While filling the position at Tuesday’s meeting may not have been as simple as Mr. Ahlfeld or Mr. Raiti would have liked, Mr. Hidy said he appreciated the work that they each put into the agreement.

“I would like to thank Councilman Raiti and Trustee Ahlfeld for all of the work they put into the inter-municipal agreement,” he said.

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