The Civil Service Commission listened to testimony concerning a complaint filed by Alderman Lou Salvio against Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Bielinski regarding the hiring of her niece by marriage – Jessica Gerratana – as Council Secretary on Tuesday night.
The commission did not make a decision, but will instead hear more testimony on Monday and possibly make a decision later that night.
To begin the meeting, the commission denied a motion to dismiss or a motion to have the meeting in executive session. The meeting was allowed to be open to the public.
Alderman Willie Pabon, Bielinski, Michael Trueworthy and Adam Platosz as well as Gerratana and Personnel Director Karen Levine were all sworn in and questioned.
One of the highlights of the testimony was that no formal vote was ever taken. According to the charter the mayor pro tem, the majority and minority leaders are the only ones allowed to vote for a staff member for the Common Council.
Pabon said he was asked who he wanted to vote for during a discussion with Trueworthy, but never made a formal vote.
“I never voted anything. I was told they had decided that Jessica had the job,” said Pabon. “I was told after a Council meeting that Platosz voted in her place.”
According to testimony from Platosz the vote took place during the Democratic caucus because the Democrats were the majority.
Platosz was never present during the interview processes.
Trueworthy said he spoke to Attorney Mary Pikorski who said no formal vote was required. Bielinski later said she recused herself from voting “because I felt uncomfortable”.
Pabon also said that only one person – Jessica Gerratana – was brought to the interview process and he requested more people be brought in. After that, two more people were interviewed at another date.
Part of the complaint by Salvio was that the top two candidates received phone calls and later withdrew their applications after speaking to Bielinski. Bielinski said she made the phone calls and said the same thing to each candidate.
According to the complaint, Candidate #1 issued a written saying, “I received a call from Suzanne Bielinski to set up an interview; She told me I was overqualified. During this conversation, I was also told that both she and Mike (Trueworthy) were hesitant to give me an opportunity because I would be bored and they were afraid I would walk out within four weeks. She (Bielinski) stated, “give it time, there will be a job opening up more my speed and they have an in with the mayor.” She mentioned she wasn’t sure how the election was going to go but they would definitely put in a good word for me. I did mention to her about my current position, retirement and salary but we could have worked through this. I had set up the system Judie Carroll was using so it would be minimal training. After hearing about the over qualification and the hesitation of giving me an opportunity I knew there was no chance for consideration so I withdrew my name at this time. At the time, I had never been told the status of my application by personnel or anything else regarding the process. I would find out later that I had been rated number one of all the applicants.”
The candidate statement added that “I feel the phone call was used as a way to get me out of the process.”
The second candidate stated that after receiving a phone call from Bielinski she decided to withdraw her application and continue with her present job.
“I think people perceive things differently and more than qualified is different than overqualified,” said Bielinski.
Bielinski said it was the candidate who said she was withdrawing and that she asked why and was told it was financial.
“There is an interpretation factor there,” said Bielinski.
After the candidate withdrew, Bielinski said she told her, “I did say this position does not pay enough for you, but there would be a finance director position open. I said I did not know what would happen, but I would put in a good word.”
According to Salvio’s complaint, Levine was approached by Alderwoman Bielinski in late spring of 2013 to begin the process of hiring a new person. Bielinski told Director Levine that she knew someone that was interested in the job.
Bielinski said she did not know Gerratana was applying for the job and did not know what her degree was in.
During Tuesday’s testimony Bielinski said she did not know anyone interested in the job, but lied to Levine in order to be informed when the position would be posted. Later, Bielinski said she actually did have a friend who wanted to apply, but never did.
“I swear I did not know Jessica was applying,” said Bielinski.
The commission stated that Pikorski was among those that they planned to interview on Monday.
Neither of the two candidates for the position that withdrew was willing to come to the commission to speak. Both had spoken, according to sources, at an ethics commission meeting on this complaint last month.
During that meeting no actions were taken against Bielinski.