Schenectady budget analyst fired for fighting tax deal
Cuthbert said city would be hurt by pact with county
SCHENECTADY The budget analyst who publicly urged the City Council not to vote for the county sales tax agreement has been fired.
Analyst Jason Cuthbert said he was fired midday Wednesday for “tension and conflict in the financial office.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy had wanted the council to approve the sales tax deal, which he had negotiated with the county. But some council members were vehemently opposed. Finally, a day before the vote, Cuthbert went over his supervisor’s head and sent an email to the council with detailed graphs about the sales tax issue.
In his email, he never told the council how to vote. Instead, he wrote, “Seeing the sales tax and property tax data in chart form removes the ‘he said, she said’ aspect of the recent debate and boils things down to a fairly fundamental level.”
Councilman Vince Riggi said the charts were so clear that a 4-year-old could tell that the city was not getting enough sales tax. One chart showed impressive growth in sales tax for the county while the city’s share stayed flat for 15 years. The other showed the city’s tax rate increasing while the county cut its taxes.
Cuthbert also spoke during the privilege of the floor at Monday’s City Council meeting, urging the council to renegotiate its sales tax deal and demand a larger share of the revenue.
In that speech, he said he felt compelled to speak to protect the city.
He said that if the council didn’t negotiate a better sales tax deal, the city would have to raise taxes, lay off dozens of workers and cut services. He warned that a fiscal control board was likely in future years.
When the council voted 4-2 in favor of the sales tax deal, Cuthbert said he expected to be fired.
However, City Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman Carl Erikson — who agreed with Cuthbert — said he wanted to keep Cuthbert because of his public stance.
“That’s exactly who you want to keep,” he said. “You want people who will tell the truth. You don’t want yes-men.”
McCarthy did not return a call for comment.
Cuthbert had worked for the city since May 2011 but had to wait a year for the budget analyst civil service test, which he passed this May. Civil service requires a probationary period of at least 26 weeks, during which time the employee can be fired relatively simply.
The employee must be given written notice at least one week prior to termination, which Cuthbert did not receive. But in practice, many municipalities simply pay the worker for one week after termination to follow the letter of the law.
He doesn’t have an option of appeal, according to the state Civil Service Commission.
On the commission’s website, it states, “The courts have held that an appointing officer has broad discretion in determining the fitness of a probationer. They will not disturb the decision of an appointing officer unless it is clearly shown to have been made in bad faith.”
Cuthbert, an eight-year resident of the city, said he was disappointed by the termination.
“I very much enjoyed my job,” he said. “I love the city.”
But he has no regrets.
“I would do it again. Somebody had to say it,” he said. “It had to be done.”
He added that he did a cost-benefit analysis of the situation and decided it was well worth it to speak up.
“If I could have convinced one more councilman to fight harder, I still think over eight years we could have had $30 million,” he said. “That would be the benefit. On the cost side, the worst that could happen is one guy gets laid off.”
It was an easy decision, he said, with the possible benefits far outweighing the costs.
Now he plans to spend the rest of the week on “honey-do” tasks at his Schenectady home before heading back out into the job market. He can ask the Civil Service Commission to put his name back on the list of budget analysts who passed the latest test, and he hopes to get another budgetary job.
“This is a career,” he said.