Syracuse reducing use of criticized hiring practice

Jan 2, 2013

The city of Syracuse has reduced the number of city workers it has on the rolls of a non-city run agency as a way of skirting civil service rules.

An audit released in October by the state Authorities Budget Office was critical of Syracuse for placing workers on the payroll of the Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency (SURA) that were not actually doing work for the agency. The audit went as far as to suggest the practice was illegal and SURA should be dissolved.

The office of Mayor Stephanie Miner disagreed with the notion the practice is illegal and argued using SURA to get around required civil service exams for workers allowed the city to be more nimble in hiring. SURA is a "public benefit corporation" and not an official city department.

But the administration has worked since the audit to reduce the SURA payroll by transferring workers to the city departments where they do their work.

On Monday, the mayor's chief of staff, Bill Ryan, reported to the Common Council the number on the SURA payroll has been reduced from 112 a year ago to 95 today.

"I have been working a long time - this goes back to October - because we do not want to even have the perception that we have any issues," Ryan said afterward. "We don’t think that we do, but we want to eliminate all doubt."

Ryan projected he would have the ranks down to 87 by the end of June. That would be a reduction of more than a million dollars in SURA's payroll.

The city has argued that a majority of the workers on SURA's payroll do some functions related to urban renewal, like codes inspectors.

"Even though there’s no more urban renewal (agency), there’s a lot of people that continue to work in that function. So I don’t realistically think that number will get to zero," Ryan says.

The council has been withholding a $200,000 payment to help cover the payroll costs for those employed by SURA as a way to pressure the city to reduce the ranks.

The council wants to see the workers moved to where the money already is, councilor Kathleen Joy told Ryan.