Hindsight is 20/20

That's how former mayor and current mayoral candidate Steve Cuda sees it. Perhaps the chief difference between a Cuda administration and current mayor Sue Low's is openness, he said during a meet-and-greet for his campaign at Nicolino's Thursday.

Cuda and Low, who was appointed 10 years ago and since has been elected twice, will face off in the April 9 election.

Time and again, Cuda alleged, important decisions have been made in haste and without sufficient public input.

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The city's $3.2 million buy in 2007 of an older industrial building to become the public works facility was but one example, he said. Regardless of who owned it at the time (it was owned by Low's uncle's family), the decision transpired quickly after a closed meeting.

Closed meetings are permitted by the Open Meetings Act when land acquisition is the subject. However, the exemption is intended as a taxpayer protection, i.e., if the public is aware a governmental entity is interested in or has need of property in a certain area, it could drive up the price.

That potential outcome simply wasn't the case with this transaction, Cuda said.

"My gripe, a lot of it, has to do with the process," Cuda said. "If you read the Open Meetings Act, it says you can (go into closed session). It doesn't say you have to . Why not discuss it in open session (and adopt the philosophy that) we know there's going to be people contacting us, maybe we'll get some good ideas."

As it stands, the city has spent about $5.6 million on the facility, including purchase price and retrofitting. In Cuda's view, it was a poor use of taxpayer money.

"It's about $200,000 less than what a brand new building would have cost," he said. "And (Low) talks about how the city got 10 acres of land with it. Well, the city's got (numerous) acres of land around town. Are there any plans for it? There's no need for that 10 acres. What good is it?"

Low has stated she believes the purchase was an excellent one and cost-effectively put all of the city's public works vehicles under one roof in the center of town. She recently extended to Cuda an offer of a tour. He has not taken her up on it.

Although Cuda vehemently disagrees with that council decision (and for the record, Low did not vote on it she votes only in the case of a tie), what's done is done, he said. If elected, he would not pursue construction of a different facility, as an online commenter has alleged.

"We're stuck with that," he said. "We're not going to undo that."

Other examples of significant expenditures committed in too much haste, in Cuda's opinion, are the appointments of department heads without thorough searches.

"Chris Black resigned, I think, on March 5," Cuda said, referring to the former city administrator who left for a different job in 2012. "On March 8 Sue holds a special meeting (after which an offer was extended to current administrator Derik Morefield). The city administrator is the city's highest paid employee, and three days later Sue goes to the council with a recommendation for a replacement?"

Similar occurrences have transpired with other top-level positions, including the police chief's job, Cuda said.

"There's a half a million dollars being paid to department heads, and I'm not besmirching any of these individuals. They might all be doing an excellent job," Cuda said. "But how would the mayor have any idea that these we're the most qualified candidates available? Don't they owe that to the taxpayers before they make these hires?"

Cuda acknowledged that he has not attended a single city council meeting, other than as a lawyer representing a client, since he was mayor from 1993 to 2001.

Is that not a poor record for someone who seeks the city's top elected post?

"I read the minutes online. I read the agendas online. I'm a subscriber to the Northwest Herald forever. I stay in touch with folks in city hall," he said. "I know more about what's going on in city hall now than when I first ran for mayor in '93 and I'll be honest with you, I don't think much goes on at city council meetings.

"I don't want to accuse anyone of violating the Open Meetings Act, but I don't know how you can agree to hire a new employee after less than an hour and a half in executive session," said Cuda, again referring to Morefield's hire. "My guess, and it's just a guess, is there's a lot of activity going on outside of council meetings. And this is not personal against Derik Morefield I just think it's a disservice to the city to not open the position to all qualified candidates."

Not all lengthy searches have an excellent result, however, Cuda acknowledged. The council's choice during Cuda's tenure to hire Michael Kostecki as police chief rather than promote from within probably caused more angst and ill will than it was worth.

"At the time I thought that was the best decision," Cuda said. "Hindsight being 20/20, maybe I would have done that differently, but I can't undo that decision."

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Posted in Business Service Post Date 02/12/2016






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