Niagara Gazette

April 30, 2013

After contentious few months, city fires engineer

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — City engineer Jeffrey Skurka has been fired.

Skurka found a letter from the city  saying he had been terminated last week, when he returned to at his Niagara Falls apartment after having been out of town. The engineer had taken medical leave after several encounters with the city’s contractors on the Lewiston Road and Buffalo Avenue road projects, Accadia Site Contracting Inc. and CATCO Construction Co. respectively, over work conditions on the projects. He also had issues with the city’s engineering consultant, Wendel Duchscherer, he told the Gazette on Monday.

Skurka’s claims that the contractor and consultant were not following safety rules were first made in an April 9 article in the Niagara Falls Reporter, complete with pictures of what he says are work site violations on the projects. He was particularly concerned with ditches that did not have protective systems to ensure the integrity of the walls, he said.

Skurka was involved in a project in New Jersey where he warned the municipality and contractors he was working for about a lack of safety precautions being exercised. Those warnings were ignored and the wall on a ditch gave out and crushed a worker, he said.

Skurka said he feels as though he was terminated because he was demanding the city’s contractors and consultants follow safety regulations, even if it were to take more time and money to complete.

“I was fired for doing my job and doing it well, again,” he said.

Skurka also took a medical leave of absence in December after claiming in a Gazette article that he was subject to insubordination and abuse from employees in the city’s engineering department, saying that between the hostile work environment and the $18,000 salary reduction that came as part of a city council budget amendment he was ready to move on and was seeking alternative employment.

Skurka is considering taking legal action against the city, he said.

“I’m talking to an attorney right now,” he said.

Dyster confirmed that Skurka had been fired but would not offer any other comment between sessions at Monday’s council meeting.

“He’s no longer employed by the city,” the mayor said. “We generally don’t discuss personnel matters.”

Calls placed to Accadia Site Contracting Inc., CATCO Construction Co. and Wendel Duchscherer Monday evening were not returned by the time this story went to press.

Councilman Sam Fruscione, who voted for the cut to Skurka’s salary along with every other council member, said he had not been told about the engineer’s firing before being asked about the situation by a Gazette reporter.

Fruscione said he thought Skurka was going to remain with the city despite the salary cut.

“He did stick around through the salary cut,” Fruscione said.

Fruscione described Skurka’s relationship with the city council as “funny”, but said he respected him as a hard worker.

“He was trying his best and working his hardest,” Fruscione said. “I liked the guy.”

Fruscione raised questions about Dyster’s track record with engineers. Skurka is the fourth person to hold the title since the mayor took office in 2008.

“It’s a shame,” Fruscione said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257