|King Street demo|
I’ve been around this town for a while now, and never have I seen anything come close to the debacle that is the demolition on King Street. State law was blatantly skirted, city code ignored, protocol brushed aside and I have never seen anyone, under any circumstance, act with such a complete sense of impunity.
Then Mayor Harry Tutunjian knocking down the old City Hall on New Year’s Eve came close, but at least the city owned the building. It wasn’t a privately held, long-vacant row of buildings that just happened to be standing in the perfect spot for a parking lot.
It’s really no surprise that weeks later plans were submitted to actually build a parking lot on the site. I was at the scene the day the wrecking ball swung and I asked Fire Chief Tom Garrett how many free meals he was getting for clearing the way for a parking lot for Bombers. I asked in jest, but he didn’t respond. He did say something about being glad I wasn’t writing anymore because I did have some fun after he unceremoniously had the old Cinema Art marquis on River Street torn down a few years back.
Garrett, as we all know, was front and center and took full responsibility for the demolition. Of course, he basically said the building was deteriorating at such a rapid rate, and presented such an imminent threat to public health and welfare that it had to be knocked down before the city engineer, Russ Reeves, came back from vacation to give a professional assessment of the situation.
Anyway, three months later, there is all sorts of finger pointing going on. Who is going to pay for it? The city or the building’s owner, Don Boyajian? Did Garrett act on his own or on behalf of someone in City Hall? Will someone get fined or sanctioned for not properly removing the asbestos before the building was knocked down and why were patrons allowed to go in and out of the next door Bombers while the wrecking ball was swinging?
(As an aside, I find it remarkable asbestos abatement was done some three months after the building was actually knocked down.)
Someone should be taken to task because this is an extraordinary debacle, even by Troy standards, and the logical person is Garrett. But, the chief has been around a long time, knows how to play the game and more importantly knows where the skeletons are buried.
Also, he is civil service, like Police Chief John Tedesco, but unlike Tedesco, Garrett is still in a union so he has that layer of protection too. And, by being part of a union, he gets overtime … lots of it. In 2012 he made $35,012 in OT and when coupled with his base pay of $111,650 makes him the highest paid employee in the city. Overtime in the Fire Department has recently become a hot button issue.
As of August, the department had already used up 90 percent of the 2013 allocation of just over $1 million in overtime and asked for another $250,000 be added for overtime in next year’s budget; a request that was denied. Also, there is an undercurrent of grumbling by members of the United Firefighters Association – Garrett is in the Command Officers Association – about how the majority of the OT is going to those with a higher rank rather than the rank and file.
Also, thanks to civil service, it will be impossible to unilaterally get rid of Garrett and thanks to a solid union contract, it will be impossible to get him out of the union even though that is the right thing to do – department heads and managers should not be in a union and should not make OT. Plus, as I said, he knows how to play the game. He did hire Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan’s son as a firefighter even though Ryan Jr. scored an 80 on the Civil Service exam and wasn’t within reach without pulling an archaic clause out of the closet.
Garrett has been quiet as of late, and maybe under some fire but that doesn’t mean he is going anywhere soon. My guess is he outlasts the current administration, and probably the following one too.