HUDSON — City attorney Cheryl Roberts called 3rd Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis Jr.’s vote a conflict of interest Tuesday, negating a salary increase for the new youth department director.
The raise for Youth Department Director Liz Yorck had been approved by the Common Council in a 6-5 vote.
Lewis had already accepted the assistant director position for the youth department when Lewis voted in favor of increasing Yorck’s salary on May 18, Common Council President Thomas DePietro said Wednesday.
Since Lewis’ affirmative vote was disqualified, the resolution ended in a 5-5 deadlock, meaning it did not have enough votes to pass.
The resolution, had it passed, would have increased Yorck’s salary from $50,000 to $58,000.
Weeks after the city’s legal counsel determined the resolution was invalid, council members were unaware of the change in status to their May 18 resolution.
Lewis said Wednesday he was fulfilling his duty as a council member by voting on the resolution, in response to whether he thought his vote was a conflict.
“I showed up to work and fulfilled my duty to the city and constituents of the 3rd Ward, which included me taking a vote,” Lewis said in a statement Wednesday. “If I was not to vote, I depend on the guidance of the council president and attorney to provide guidance on such controversial decisions.”
Lewis has a pending inquiry with Civil Service as to whether his vote was valid, he said Wednesday.
Lewis is also inquiring with the Attorney General’s office as to whether he can continue to serve on the council in a dual capacity as assistant director of the youth department after receiving conflicting guidance from city attorneys Roberts and Jeffrey Baker.
Lewis said Roberts told him he could not fulfill both roles, and Baker said it is ultimately up to Lewis, but cautioned against staying on the council.
Lewis has been placed in a virtual waiting room to sit out decisions the council makes about the Galvan Foundation, who is his employer. He plans to leave the foundation to begin his job at the youth department. Lewis does not know whether he wants to run for reelection in the fall, even if he is permitted to do so.
Lewis said Tuesday he began interviewing for the youth department position in April with former director Nick Zachos, Youth Commissioner Maija Reed and former Rec Attendent 5 Atia Begh.
DePietro said he does not know who knew what about Lewis’ status with the youth department at the time of the May 18 vote. He did not respond by press time about what he knew about Lewis working at the youth department at the time of the vote.
An addendum to the May 18 meeting minutes states the resolution was deemed invalid by the city legal adviser.
But 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, 5th Ward Alderwoman Eileen Halloran, 4th Ward Alderman Malachi Walker, 4th Ward Alderman John Rosenthal, Majority Leader and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga, 2nd Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar and 1st Ward Alderwoman and Minority Leader Rebecca Wolff all said Wednesday they did not know the resolution for Yorck’s raise was deemed invalid.
Merante, Halloran, Rosenthal, Garriga, Sarowar and 1st Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley said they were unaware Lewis was considering working at the youth department until this week. Walker declined to comment.
Third Ward Alderman Shershah Mizan said he found out about the situation on Wednesday and declined to elaborate.
Merante questioned Wednesday why the change was not announced at the council meeting earlier this week.
“To me that’s not transparent...” he said. “Why was it changed after secretly? To me that’s a secret, ‘don’t tell anybody, we’re just going to change it and hopefully no one notices.’”
Rosenthal said he thinks Lewis should resign from the Common Council.
“It’s a better example to do the ethical thing, which in my opinion would be to resign, because having these things not disclosed or this confusion is problematic, and even though Calvin has been a great alderman, I can’t see how he can continue doing this,” Rosenthal said. “I’m just at a loss. This is yet again poor organization and a lack of leadership.” Roberts said Wednesday that since Lewis’ vote could not have counted, the resolution never actually passed.
“Alderman Lewis should not have voted on the resolution due to a conflict of interest at the time the vote was taken,” Roberts said in a statement. “Without his vote the measure failed. There is no need to rescind the measure, as it never passed.”
Lewis also voted in favor of a $57,351 budget reallocation to the youth department during the May 18 meeting. His vote would not have changed the outcome of the resolution, but it is tallied in the minutes.
Yorck found out about the invalidation of her raise May 24, almost a week after it seemed to be approved, she said Tuesday.
“I’ve decided not to invest any more of my energy in talking about it anymore and would rather just focus on doing my job at this point,” Yorck said.
The divide over whether Yorck, who lives in Claverack, should receive a raise about a week into her new job was her introduction to the council as the new youth department director.
Yorck told the council last month that she did not ask for a raise, but a misunderstanding about the starting salary when she was being hired for the role led to her belief the higher salary had already been approved.
“I was hoping this would be my salary and this is how I have planned my living arrangements and everything around this,” she told the council at the May meeting. Youth Commissioner Maija Reed and former director Nick Zachos, who both oversaw the hiring process, encouraged the council to approve the raise at the meeting.
Reed said last month the position’s paperwork submitted to civil service had a salary of $50,000 but she and Zachos advocated for an increase and determined there was room in the budget.
“The salary for the director’s position was $50,000,” she said last month after the council seemed to have approved the raise. “We believed it was necessary and realistic to advocate for the salary increase based on the experience required and many responsibilities that come with the position.” Zachos told the council the department has been trying to increase the salary for years, but he did not want to give himself a raise.
Minority Leader and 1st Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff, 1st Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley, 4th Ward Alderman John Rosenthal, 4th Ward Alderman Malachi Walker, DePietro and Lewis voted for the raise last month.