ONEONTA _ At the end of May, Jeff House ended an 11-year stint as the city's independent contractor downtown developer.
One week later, House was hired at $38,500 a year to work as a housing rehabilitation specialist _ this time as a city employee with health and other benefits.
The lone alderman who voted against his hiring said Monday that House received preferential treatment when he chose not to reapply for his $42,000-a-year downtown developer contract, which did not include benefits.
"It seems pretty clear. Jeff House is out of his downtown developer position and suddenly there was a need to fill this position that was open for more than a year," said Sixth Ward Alderman Veronica Diver.
Maureen Hennessy, who was chairwoman of the city Personnel Committee that interviewed House, said he was not promised the job, as did the city's mayor, other aldermen and House himself.
"No. We would steer very clear of that. To my knowledge, no one promised him that position," said Hennessy, First Ward alderman and former chairwoman of the Personnel Committee. "He took a test, of which he was the No. 1 candidate. The rumor mill is always rife with all kinds of suppositions and conspiracy theories. I just don't see that happening in Oneonta."
Aside from an announcement of a civil service examination 22 months ago, the position of housing rehabilitation specialist was not advertised by the city.
Hennessy and her predecessor as chairman of the Personnel Committee, Second Ward Alderman Paul Robinson, said the city did not advertise because of the two-person eligibility list established by the exam.
When asked why no advertising was done for the position itself, they said they didn't know.
On May 4, House told The Daily Star he had no immediate plans for employment after his downtown developer contract expired. However, personnel records provided by the city show he and the other candidate were canvassed April 29 to determine if they were still interested in the housing rehabilitation specialist job.
"I don't want people to think it was handed to me," House said Tuesday, indicating he learned of the upcoming vacancy in the fall of 2006 when he saw the posting about the exam in The Daily Star.
House said he had already decided not to reapply for the downtown developer position before the eligibility list for housing rehabilitation specialist was canvassed and an interview offered.
"It was a position I thought I was very qualified for," House said.
All he knew, he said, was that he was the higher scorer on the exam.
Bruce Amadon is the former full-time housing rehabilitation specialist. The job entails planning and administering projects to rehabilitate substandard housing, as well as related work as required, according to the general statement of duties for the position supplied by the city Personnel Office.
The job also includes administering and writing grants, as well as monitoring and recommending repair, rehabilitation and maintenance of city buildings and the Oneonta Municipal Airport.
Amadon, who was making $48,015 annually when he retired on March 23, 2007, was immediately hired back by the city in a $30,000-a-year part-time capacity. His current term with the city expires at the end of this year. State civil service rules allow for retirees younger than 65 to be hired back and earn up to $30,000 a year without jeopardizing pension benefits.
Diver said she likes House but wanted to know why the city suddenly needed to fill a position that had not had a full-time employee for more than a year.
"I was asking the city to evaluate the need for this position," said Diver, a member of the city's now-defunct Personnel Committee. "That question wasn't even addressed."
Mayor John Nader disbanded the Personnel Committee within two days of the interviews for House and the only other candidate, Stephen Keown. Nader cited improving "efficiency" as the reason why he merged the duties of the personnel committee with those of the Finance, Operations and Legal Affairs Committee, headed by Robinson.
Third Ward Alderman Erik Miller, who was also a member of the disbanded Personnel Committee, said the hiring of House more than 15 months after Amadon's retirement is more an example of poor planning than preferential treatment.
But Miller said he still finds it hard to believe there were only two people in consideration for a position that paid nearly $40,000 a year and required a minimum of an associate's degree or equivalent work experience.
"I think there are a lot more people in the area that could meet the minimum job requirements," Miller said.
Miller said the city should, as a rule, be interviewing and hiring when there are eligibility lists for open positions.
The civil service examination for housing rehabilitation specialist was held Nov. 4, 2006. The eligibility lists of those who pass the exams are good for two years, according to state civil service rules. The top three candidates on a list are typically those who are interviewed for positions.
The minimum qualifications to take the housing rehabilitation specialist exam are an associate's degree in engineering or construction technology and one year of experience in the construction or rehabilitation of buildings; or three years of experience in the construction of rehabilitation of buildings; or an equivalent combination of training and experience.
House said he does not have an academic degree but has 30 years of work experience that qualifies him for the position.
House, with a 95, scored higher on the exam than Keown, who received a 75, according to a copy of the housing rehabilitation specialist eligibility list. The maximum score was not immediately available from the city Personnel Office.
A passing grade on the examination was 70, said Wendy Miller of the Personnel Office.
Miller has been running the personnel office in place of former Personnel Director John Insetta. Insetta retired March 1 but was hired to work part time for the city until June 1. A new director is expected to be hired next month.
"That was all that we had that took the test," said Hennessy, who is on the revamped Finance, Operations, Legal Affairs and Personnel Committee.
The city did not advertise for the position itself. It took out classified advertisements Sept. 5, 6 and 7, 2006, in The Daily Star advising about the Nov. 4, 2006, civil service examination.
When the city hired House, aldermen also voted to create a second housing rehabilitation specialist position _ one for House and one for Amadon.
Hennessy said it is not clear if the city intends to keep the second housing rehabilitation position open beyond the end of this year, when Amadon's part-time term ends.
"I don't know if there is a concrete plan right now," Hennessy said.
Nader said it is up to the Common Council to decide if the city needs more than one housing rehabilitation specialist.
But he said a request to hire a full-time housing rehabilitation specialist to work with Amadon came from the Community Development Office headed by Joseph Bernier.
"It's not something one could really do on a part-time basis," Nader said.
House was clearly the better candidate for the full-time housing rehabilitation specialist position, Robinson said.
"Once we interviewed, it was pretty clear he was the one who should do the job," Robinson said. "No one pushed for Jeff for the job."
Robinson said that even if the city had advertised for the position, the result would probably have been the same.
"I don't think we would have found a better candidate," Robinson said.
The city eventually opted to suspend hiring a new downtown developer after concerns were raised about the two proposals that were received, as well as questions about the overall mission of the downtown developer.
The decision to suspend the selection of a downtown developer was not related to the hiring of House, Robinson said.
But House has continued to perform some of the duties he had as downtown developer.
The city's eight aldermen and the mayor are considering a number of options, including delegating the duties to the Community Development Office at City Hall, where House works, according to Nader and other aldermen.