Allentown City Council approves amended budget but mayoral veto is possible

 

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -  On Wednesday, October 16, Allentown Interim Mayor Ray O'Connell will be bringing Interim Police Chief Glenn Granitz and Acting Director of Public Works Craig Messinger in front of city council for permanent confirmation.

Granitz, who took over for Interim Police Chief Tony Alsleben nearly a month ago, is expected to be confirmed with overwhelming and possibly unanimous support. On the other hand, Messinger's confirmation is anything but a slam dunk.

Messinger has served in his current role since March 2014 even though the city's financial reports indicate the public works director position has been vacant since October 2016. Per the city's website, Messinger has been a city employee for more than 30 years and has risen through the ranks. He served as fleet manager, streets superintendent, and deputy director of public works. His current duties include overseeing multiple departments, including engineering.

O'Connell previously said Messinger "would have the full support of council" but did not further comment for this article.

However, that may not be the case after hearing from five of the seven council members. Darryl Hendricks did not provide comment and Council President Roger MacLean said he'll wait until the hearing to comment.

Multiple members expressed concerns about Messinger's professional credentials for the position, O'Connell's proposed $20,000 pay raise for Messinger, and whether Messinger would fulfill the necessary residency requirement.  Nonetheless, all agreed that Messinger is a valued manager.

Messinger currently lives in North Whitehall Township and, according to the city's Home Rule Charter, department heads must move into the city within a year of their permanent appointment. That was also an issue during Interim Police Chief Tony Alsleben’s ultimately abandoned confirmation process.

Some members are also concerned with O'Connell's proposal to give Messinger a $20,000 pay raise. Messinger's current salary is $110,000, according to the city. Councilperson Cynthia Mota says it is wrong to give that kind of pay increase when the city's residents are hurting following the 27% tax increase they were hit with this year and added the raise "would send mixed messages to the community."

Councilperson Julio Guridy echoed Mota's sentiment calling the potential hike "exuberantly inappropriate."

Councilperson Ed Zucal took it a step further, adding the only reason O'Connell was offering the raise was to entice Messinger to move into the city. Councilpersons Courtney Robinson and Candida Affa support the pay raise saying Messinger leads the second largest, most complex, and “one of the most important departments in the city."

The engineering concern is far less clear. Messinger is not an engineer and the charter states, "He or she shall perform the duties required through the Administrative Code or other action, or as may be required of a City Engineer by general law." Zucal, who chairs the Public Works Committee, says Messinger does not meet the qualification requirements because he does not have an engineer's degree.

Guridy says City Solicitor Matthew Kloiber needs to be clear if the public works director must be a licensed engineer or not. Guridy says, as he understands it, having a license is necessary to head the department and/or sign off on all proposed work.

Robinson and Affa each said they believe the department only needs to include an engineer and not be run by one. City Clerk Michael Hanlon says former solicitor Henry Perkins thought it was “unclear” if the director had to be an engineer. Former Mayor Ed Pawlowski appointed Peter Wernsdorfer to interim director who was not an engineer. Wernsdorfer, who served in the role for nearly a year, resigned after not moving into the city within a year of confirmation.

All council members agreed Messinger is a valued employee and that his absence would be a huge loss to the city. However, Guridy, Mota, and Zucal each said they will vote no to Messinger's confirmation. Affa and Robinson say they will vote yes.

Sources familiar with Hendricks and MacLean think they will split the remaining two votes, making it a 4-3 vote against Messigner's confirmation. If Messinger is not confirmed, O'Connell will have to name a replacement immediately. We reached out to Messinger for comment but he did not respond.