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Tuition Reimbursement Denied By Finance Committee

Tony Dolce, R-Ward 2 and City Council president, and Kim Ecklund, R-At Large and Finance Committee chairwoman, review the city's management guidelines during Monday's Finance Committee meeting while discussing a proposed tuition reimbursement for the mayor's executive assistant. P-J photo by John Whittaker

A request for a city employee to have college tuition reimbursed by the city has again been denied by the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Zach Altschuler, executive assistant to Mayor Eddie Sundquist, has been working toward his masters degree in public administration and has been seeking the council’s approval for $2,826 tuition for courses in public policy and a leadership round-table at the State University of New York at Brockport. The issue has appeared on City Council meeting agendas dating back into the fall and was on the council Finance Committee’s agenda on Monday. A formal vote wasn’t taken, though there was no disagreement when Kim Ecklund, R-At Large and Finance Committee chairwoman, gave her reasons why the reimbursement shouldn’t be approved.

“Again, Zach, it didn’t go through the process,” Ecklund said. “This process is very well laid out in the guidelines.”

Altschuler was at the meeting and didn’t respond to Ecklund’s comments.

Jamestown’s management guidelines allow full-time employees to receive reimbursement for job-related courses at accredited colleges. The policy states the employee has to make an application to his or her department head requesting approval to attend the courses, there is information required to be part of the application, the course must be related to the employee’s job, the employee must describe the relationship of the course to the city job and the employee must describe the skills, knowledge and capabilities expected to be acquired from the courses. The courses have to be taken outside of normal city working hours. City reimbursement means other sources of aid for the courses can’t be pursued, the employee must pass the course with a ‘C’ or above and the department head has to forward a recommendation to the Finance Committee. Ecklund used the City Clerk taking notary classes required to perform the clerk’s job as an example of necessary training.

“Part of that recommendation should be that it’s relevant and necessary for you to perform your job,” Ecklund said. “I don’t care what position tuition reimbursement is in the guidelines, it should be part of the process. … The key is those seven steps have to be followed and it has to be necessary for your job.”

The money for the courses is to come from the Mayor’s Office Travel and Education area of the city budget. The application filed as part of the City Council agenda for Monday’s meeting states three minimum qualifications for the executive assistant’s position, one of which is to have a masters degree in a field related to business or public administration, though bachelor’s degrees or associate’s degrees are accepted if the candidate has experience in the field. The application also shows Sundquist has given his approval for the training.

During the full council work session, Councilman Jeff Russell, R-At Large, asked about Altschuler’s request and asked for copies of the management guidelines.

“They were presented tonight,” Ecklund said. “It depends on how you look at it. The policy was not followed in certain steps — pre-approval and all that stuff before signing up for them. In addition discussion was had that they were not relevant to Zachary’s role as an executive assistant.”

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