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Utica Mayor takes out full page ad to defend against criticism

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica Mayor David Roefaro recently took out a full page ad in the Utica Observer Dispatch newspaper, defending numerous decisions made by he and his administration that have come under fire by both the newspaper, residents, and other media outlets.

The full page ad was a personal letter from Mayor Roefaro to taxpayers titled "The Facts. The Budget. The City." and ran in Sunday's newspaper.

"I got more accolades yesterday for that article than I ever thought I was going to get," Mayor Roefaro said.

In the $1,700 ad, Mayor Roefaro discusses rising costs to the New York State pension system and high crime rates - issues he said he has inherited from the previous administration.

The mayor went on to to say he and his staff have addressed and fixed those problems, laying off city workers and consolidating various city apartments.

"Do they think the economy doesn't hit everywhere else but Utica, New York?" Roefaro said. "They try to paint a picture that it is just not there. The people need to know the facts."

In the paid advertisement, Roefaro also outlined six facts he felt have been misconstrued.

One of those is the "friends and family plan" - something Roefaro said the media has discussed "just to get headlines." The nickname refers to accusation that the mayor had given various jobs to his relatives and friends - such as his cousin Angelo Roefaro and longtime friend Dan LaBella as Public Safety Commissioner, then Chief, then back to Public Safety Commissioner when the state said LaBella was not qualified for the Chief's position.

Another fact the mayor talks about is the consolidation of various city departments that he says saves taxpayer money - despite an editorial in that same day's paper that claims the consolidations Roefaro defends actually have resulted in higher costs to the city.

"I try to explain to them how we save money, and I showed them how we saved money," Roefaro said. "They choose to interpret it their own way."

The same-day editorial discusses the recent consolidation of Parks Commissioner David Short with management of public works, taken over by former DPW Commissioner Richard Conte, who stepped down from the position. This change included the deputy parks commissioner becoming deputy public works commissioner, a move that, according to that editorial, revealed the combined pay of the trio involved was actually higher than it had been previously.

Finally, the paid advertisement addresses Mayor Roefaro and the city's master plan - a plan that during his campaign Roefaro claimed he had, but after the election hired an outside company to draw one up at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On the NEWSChannel 2 Mayoral Candidate Forum on October 24, 2007, then-Mayor Julian asked candidate Roefaro about his plan, saying that Roefaro was not divulging any of what the plan was. Just a short time after that remark during the program, Roefaro said "I do have a plan, Mister Mayor."

Roefaro said the article needed to be written because he believes the media often times paints an image that "isn't there."

"That is the point I am trying to get across," Mayor Roefaro said Monday morning. "It's really about myself, or, it's not about the personal things. It is about moving the area forward. People only know what you tell them, and now it's time for me to tell them what is really going on."

At the end of the advertisement, Roefaro asks the media to act as a cheerleader for the city instead of pointing out the negative. Observer Dispatch Newspaper Editor Joseph Kieta said that it is the media's responsibility to report the news, even though it may not always be pretty.

Former Utica Mayor Tim Julian says he felt as though the letter was an attack in many ways on his administration, and he doesn't understand why.

Julian said he also faced rising pension costs, but left Roefaro money in the city's fund balance when he left.

"Mr. Roefaro inherited a very well-funded fund balance," former Mayor Julian said Monday.

Defending the position appointed to, then vacated, then appointed to again of Public Safety Commissioner, Roefaro states in the advertisement that it is a position that was in place during the Julian administration.

Roefaro also uses the ad to make mention of Julian's appointment of C. Allen Pylman as Police Chief, saying "the only thing I did differently was I refused to give any of these individuals a 17-year contract worth a million dollars. You remember who had that deal."

Julian said the contract with former Chief Pylman was a contract that yielded that amount of money at the end of his service, when the 17 years would be over, and Pylman would have retired.

"Those are the same civil service requirements that he tried to manipulate to put his good friend, and high school buddy, Dan LaBella, in as police chief while not taking the proper test," Julian said. "That would have been no different than Mr. LaBella being there until he was 70 years old if he so chose."

Former Mayor Julian went on to question some of the decisions Roefaro has made while in office which he believes contradicts the full page ad Roefaro purchased. One example, Julian said, was when Roefaro signed a new retirement deal for police officers.

"In the worst, trying economic time in New York State's history and in Utica's history and in Oneida County's history, he gave out a better retirement plan to people who already retire in 20 years at half pay," Julian said. "Which most people on the street would think of as pretty good."

Julian said he read the article and felt like the current mayor was shifting the blame for the city's newest financial problems - problems he said Roefaro created himself.

"People can see what is going on in the city," Julian said. "If you could read that article, you could drive around the city and see what is happening. That is something that speaks volumes - not so much a one-sided article."

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