The City announced that the committee to choose our new city manager has been appointed, but they haven’t told us who is on the committee or how those members were chosen.
Geneva’s next city manager will have a profound impact on what kind of city Geneva will be for the next ten years or more, and who gets hired is one of the most important decisions the city will face this decade. Three months into the search, the City has shown little regard for openness and transparency in the process, and have not publicly released the roster of their hand-selected City Manager Search Committee.
Geneva Believer has obtained the list of eighteen confirmed members of the City Manager Search Committee.
The process of selecting people to serve on the committee indicates the city’s priorities, values, and who matters. Let’s review what the city has told us about the city manager search so far, and who they have chosen for the search committee.
The “Search” So Far
On January 6, the City of Geneva announced the start of a nationwide search for a new City Manager, and the job was listed online.
On February 3, Geneva City Council announced they were “seeking input from community members for the city manager search to develop a sense of the values and qualities we want the next city manager to have.” Residents were given until February 23rd (twenty days) to fill out a survey that was available online and during business hours at City Hall.
Six weeks later, the City has not revealed what was learned from the survey, or how the information would be used in the city manager search.
On March 4th, in a guest column in the Finger Lakes Times , Chris Lavin wrote that he had received and accepted an invitation to be part of the City Manager Search Committee.
Four weeks later, residents still haven’t been told how the members of the search committee were chosen, or who is on the committee.
On April 3rd, in the recurring feature “Finger Lakes Times Insider,” the city provided a brief update, stating that applications for the job were no longer being accepted and that the City Manager Search Committee would meet to begin reviewing applications in mid-April.
“The committee to represent our diverse community has been selected to review these applicants. Their first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18th at Hobart William Smith.
– Mayor Ron Alcock, City Council Meeting, April 4 2018
After coming under fire in recent months for their lack of transparency, City Council has handled the critical city manager search process with no concern for openness or engaging with the community they purport to serve.
The effort to gather public feedback, the resident survey, took less than three weeks, was not transparent, and there has been no followup by the city to assure residents that their voices were heard.
Editor’s note: The following review of the members of the search committee is not intended in any way to criticize all of the individuals on the committee. Many of the people, and the interests they represent, should be part of the process and deserve a seat at the table. But any committee that purports to represent Geneva’s “diverse community” warrants a closer look.
The City Manager Search Committee
- Matt Horn – Former Geneva City Manager
- Nick Massa – President, Massa Construction
We start the list with two baffling choices whose inclusion shows that City Council does not care about the ongoing corrosion of public trust in city government.
Matt Horn‘s tenure was marked by many improvements in the city, but his propensity for finding himself in shady situations and for repeatedly making unethical decisions permanently damaged his legacy. Horn’s handling of the Geneva Foundry disaster was a horror show, from the first moment when he announced the contamination by denying any responsibility for the failure to notify residents of the contamination for over 20 years and offering no City support for Foundry residents, until he eventually told a bald-faced lie to explain why residents had been endangered, poisoned and kept in the dark for decades.
Horn represents the lack of transparency, corruption and outlandish conflicts of interest that pervade city government. We can rest assured that Horn will exert his influence and experience to pressure the committee to hire another city manager who will prioritize the interests of a small number of unelected yet powerful people in the city.
Nick Massa, a resident of the town of Geneva, owns Massa Construction, located in the town of Geneva.
The original list of members numbered seventeen people, but Nick Massa was added later. It’s unclear why City Council (or whoever chose the committee members) decided that Massa’s presence on the committee was important enough to approve after the original roster of 17 was established.
Geneva Believer wrote about Massa Construction in February 2017, when the DRI committee inexplicably added a $1.5 million Massa project proposal to the list of projects at the final public DRI workshop (the proposal did not get approved).
And back in April 2015, Lyons National Bank moved their operations center to downtown Geneva, into a building owned by Massa. One year later, the City of Geneva IDA gave Massa a PILOT agreement, guaranteeing the assessment on the LNB building would be frozen for twenty years, even though the deal was done, and the bank had already moved in. There was no reason to provide Massa with a PILOT “incentive.”
Guess who spoke in favor of giving the PILOT to Massa?
“That is a key corner in downtown, and we do not want to see it vacant,” city Manager Matt Horn added.
In August of 2017, City Council honored Massa with a certificate of appreciation for his “tireless work” for the “city of Geneva and its residents” and for his “countless contributions to make Geneva a great place to live and work.” In a city with so many unheralded residents who freely give of themselves to improve the quality of life in Geneva, City Council chose to officially honor the owner of a construction company who has built a personal fortune thanks to millions of dollars worth of contracts with the City.
And now, this wealthy developer will be asked to help select the next city manager.
- Tom Kime – Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Lyons National Bank
- Rob Sollenne – Chief Financial Officer, USNY Bank; Vice Chair, Geneva LDC
- Dave Linger – Chairman, Geneva LDC and President, Geneva BID
- Anne Nenneau – Vice Chair, Geneva IDA
- Mike Manikowski – Director, Ontario County Office of Economic Development
- Andy Tyman – CEO, Geneva Housing Authority
These six members represent the old-school economic development models (LDC, IDA, BID, etc). Two (Kime and Manikowski) are not Geneva city residents. Kime and Sollenne (along with Massa) support developing the lakefront, which is opposed by the majority of Geneva residents.
These are the dealmakers who hold tremendous sway over the financial stability of and property use in the city of Geneva, and with the “right” city manager in charge, they can assert their influence at City Hall for years to come.
These bankers, wealthy property owners, and government appointees will represent one-third of the entire search committee.
Editor’s note: Back in June of 2017, City Councilor Gordon Eddington attended a “Coffee Hour” to engage with city residents. Eddington’s brother in law, Rob Sollenne (seen sitting to Eddington’s far right in this video taken from the event), is shown on video repeatedly using the event to confront me, and accuse Geneva Believer of misleading the public about Eddington’s role in the Foundry disaster. Sollenne accused the blog of failing to publish alleged evidence that would exonerate Eddington, and insisted that Eddington was bound from speaking due to a confidentiality clause in the city’s contract with the DEC, a laughable claim that has since been thoroughly debunked. The fact that Sollenne used a “Coffee with Council” event to defend Eddington against Foundry residents and community members illustrates that his loyalties lie with the dealmakers who represent the worst of Geneva government, who are awash in conflicts of interest and lack any concern for the interests of the majority of the Geneva community.
- Trina Newton – Superintendent, Geneva City School District
- Robb Flowers – Vice President of Student Affairs, Hobart William Smith
- Lara Turbide – Director of Community Services, Finger Lakes Health
Representatives of the city’s most prominent health and education institutions also made the list.
- Michele Barrett – Chair, Geneva Human Rights Commission
- Rev. Donald Golden – Pastor, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church
- Tony DiCostanzo – Former Geneva City Councilor and Planning Board member
- Pat Guard – Former co-owner “Guard’s Cards”
- Lucile Mallard – President, Geneva NAACP
- Chris Lavin – Executive Director, Geneva Boys & Girls Club and Community Center
- Victor Nelson – Secretary, African-American Men’s Association
Finally, the list includes eight members who appear to have been chosen to represent the interests of the people.
The only member under the age of 40 is Michele Barrett. The next youngest representative is Chris Lavin (a lakefront development supporter), who is just shy of 60.
Lucile Mallard and Victor Nelson are both members of the Community Compact Steering Committee, and are respected leaders in the African-American community. Yet Mallard and Nelson’s Compact meeting attendance in 2017 was very poor. Compact Committee members are expected to find alternates if they cannot attend a monthly meeting, yet Mallard attended only seven meetings, and Nelson a mere five meetings (with one excused absence). Will they have the time and energy to invest in the search for a city manager?
So, Who Isn’t On The List?
- Any of the young and energetic (many under-40) business owners who have been responsible for the revitalization of Geneva’s downtown.
- Any of the passionate and dedicated (many under-40) community activists who work tirelessly with residents all around the city to make Geneva a better place.
- Any residents of the Geneva Foundry contamination zone who deserve to have their interests represented in the search process.
- Any Spanish-speaking members of the community.
- Any student representatives from GCSD, HWS or FLCC.
- Any current city employees who are sharing city manager duties and will work directly with the new city manager (Sage Gerling, Doris Myers, Adam Blowers).
City Council Needs Our Help Again
There is a relatively small number of people in Geneva who wield an inordinate amount of influence over city politics. They are the bankers, business people, government appointees, organizations, and institutions that have shaped the direction of the city for a very long time.
With all the positive things happening in Geneva, we still face enormous challenges. Poverty levels have grown even as downtown has undergone revitalization. Outrageous property taxes are chasing middle class families out of Geneva into more affordable surrounding communities. More zombie houses are popping up, and many negligent landlords are buying up the housing stock. The police department is facing its heaviest scrutiny since 2011, and confidence in city government is lower than it’s been in a long while. The City has known for years that its current financial path is unsustainable, and that difficult and unpopular decisions need to be made in order for the city to survive and thrive, but City Council keeps kicking that can down the road.
The departure of Matt Horn was huge news for Geneva, and we all waited to see how City Council would handle the search process.
City Council, unsurprisingly, has failed miserably and completely. They asked us to fill out a four-question survey within a three-week deadline, then never mentioned the survey again. They’ve selected a search committee that all but ignores the working class people of Geneva, deciding instead to make sure that the wealthy and influential dealmakers will have their voices heard in the process of choosing the new city manager.
Once again, City Council needs our help to remind them how to do their job.
Contact City Council now and tell them that they need to make the selection process for the City Manager Search Committee completely transparent.
Tell them to postpone the first meeting of the search committee until there can be genuine public involvement in the process of selecting committee members.
Tell them to stop trying to rush through the most important hire the city will make this decade.
Tell them that we are paying attention, we see their secrecy, lack of ethics and conflicts of interest, we see them playing fast and loose with the rules, and we will no longer allow them to ignore or marginalize the majority of people in our city.
It’s our Geneva. And we can’t allow them to decide our new city manager for us, without us.