Niagara Gazette

February 21, 2014

Tucker cites "private sector work" for sudden resignation

By Joe Olenick
Niagara Gazette

— LOCKPORT - Michael W. Tucker's run as the city's longest-serving mayor is over.

After a decade of occupying the top post at One Locks Plaza, Tucker resigned Friday, a move that was effective immediately. Tucker will also leave his position with the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, where he was serving as interim chairman of the board of directors.

Tucker's resignation comes at a time when city officials are under fire for Lockport's poor financial condition. He has also been involved in an ongoing controversy surrounding the use of Tucker's city credit card to pay for a golf tournament fundraiser that ultimately lost money. 

Earlier this month, the Common Council hired an outside investigator to look at alleged misuse of a city credit card. Melissa Junke, the city youth and recreation director, used the card to cover the expenses of a golf tournament fundraiser for her department. Junke's attorney George V.C. Muscato said this week that Tucker and city officials knew about the tournament in advance. (See story on 7A for more information on Muscato's response). 

Tucker announced his resignation in a prepared statement released Friday afternoon, although word of his departure made the rounds at City Hall by the morning. Employees reportedly had no idea of the mayor's intent when they reported to work that morning. The Common Council wasn't aware of Tucker's resignation until Friday.

City Alderwoman Anne E. McCaffrey will assume the role of interim mayor and sign the oath of office as Tucker's full-time successor on Monday. A formal swearing-in ceremony is planned for the Common Council meeting at 6 p.m. March 5.

McCaffrey will complete Tucker's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2015, roughly a year and 10 months. If she wants to stay mayor, McCaffrey would have to run for office in the November 2015 election.

Tucker, 56, said while the timing of his resignation might raise some questions in light of the city's financial troubles, the move had been in the works for some time. After being elected to his third term in November 2011, Tucker knew he wouldn't run again and began searching for private-sector employment last month.

A few job opportunities sprung up quickly, some that may come to be in the next few weeks, Tucker said. After a recent conversation with his wife, Tucker said he made the decision to move on.

"There comes a time when you know," he said. 

Tucker also denied any rumors that he was taking a position in the public sector, such as working for the state Department of Transportation, the state Canal Corp. or the New York Power Authority.

"I want to go into the private sector," Tucker said. "When an opportunity knocks, you have to seize it."

McCaffrey will also have to appoint a new 2nd Ward alderman to replace herself, as well as a new Common Council president, as per the city charter, said City Attorney John Ottaviano. The newly-appointed alderman would serve for all of 2014 and have to run for election in November.

McCaffrey declined to be interviewed on Friday, instead releasing a statement in which she said she was surprised by Tucker’s decision. She thanked Tucker and wished him the best, saying he accomplished some significant things during his tenure.

"Clearly, Lockport is faced with some tremendous challenges right now. I am fully prepared to step into the mayor’s office immediately and begin working to address these issues," McCaffrey said in the statement.

There's been a few challenges for Lockport over the past few months. State auditors came in the fall, after the city was labeled as a municipality in “moderate fiscal stress,” and stated poor accounting and budgeting practices were two major reasons.

In the report, auditors claim city officials did not use realistic estimates in developing the 2013 budget. Revenues were overly optimistic, resulting in operating deficits, auditors reported. The city treasurer's office did not properly record or report the city’s financial position, the audit report charged. If it had, it is very likely that city officials would have been aware of the city’s declining financial condition and could have taken corrective action sooner, auditors said.

Tucker has served as mayor since 2004, winning re-election in 2007 and 2011. He previously served as an alderman for the 7th Ward and was Common Council president from 1996 through 2000.

A 1975 Lockport High School graduate, Tucker worked at Harrison Radiator Division of General Motors for 30 years.