4:35pm

Thu October 18, 2012
Regional Coverage

State audit critical of Syracuse hiring practice

An audit released Thursday morning by a state oversight board is critical of a hiring practice long-used by the city of Syracuse to get around civil service requirements.

The Authorities Budget Office (ABO) says Syracuse should stop using the Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency (SURA) to hire employees for non-agency related jobs.

As of this summer, 103 people were listed as employees of SURA. But the ABO found about two dozen of them don't do any SURA tasks. Some employees work in the parks or public works departments. Until recently, the mayor's press secretary was a SURA employee.

SURA is a public benefit corporation run by the city, but not actually a city department, so it's not subject to the same rules.

About 75 of SURA's listed employees do perform duties for the agency through the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development or Code Enforcement, according to the mayor's chief of staff, Bill Ryan.

By using SURA to get around civil service exams, the mayor's office contends it's able to be more flexible and hire - and fire - employees more easily.

The ABO says the city should transfer those employees to the departments they actually work in.

"That would mean just decimating our code enforcement department, for example, decimating the work we’ve done on the land bank and other issues," Mayor Stephanie Miner said in an interview with WRVO this afternoon. "And that’s my priority - the services we provide the people of Syracuse."

This is not a practice new to the Miner administration. In fact, the state comptroller's office questioned the legality of this practice back in 1978.

Since taking office in 2010, Miner has reduced the number of people on SURA's payroll by 14 percent - about 20 jobs.

Syracuse recently formed a "land bank" - another quasi-public entity to deal with vacant and tax delinquent properties - with a goal much like SURA's when it was formed in the 1960's. But the ABO says since the land bank has stronger tools to deal with delinquent properties, SURA should be dissolved.

The mayor's office says it's too early to know if the land bank can replace SURA.

You can follow reporter Ryan Delaney on Twitter @RyanWRVO

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