NEWBURGH – By a vote of five to two, the Newburgh City Council voted Thursday night not to renew City Manager Joe Donat’s contract and instead, named City Comptroller Todd Venning as the new administrator. He becomes the 55th city manager since the position was created in 1916.
Only Councilmembers Robert Sklarz and Patty Sofokles voted to retain Donat.
“Here we go again,” Sklarz said, expressing his disappointment with the removal of Donat, who he noted just three months before, received high performance ratings from six of the seven council members.
“To say I am deeply disappointed the way this was handled would be an understatement,” he said at the special meeting. “To make critical decisions of this manner via a straw poll with no group discussion or follow-up is not the way to make critical decisions for our city. It clearly does not foster team building within the city council. I thought we were better than this.”
Sklarz said the council has a habit of micro-managing city operations and he praised Donat for “helping keep us safe.”
He also blasted the council majority for not caucusing on the decision to let Donat go or promote Venning.
“I haver never seen anything like this since the firing of Harry Porr,” said Sofokles. Porr was fired without any warning some 20 years ago. “Nowhere else but Newburgh,” Sofokles said, noting she only learned of the majority’s plan not to renew Donat’s contract on Saturday.
No one spoke negatively about Donat, but Councilwoman Monteverde said those who voted for the change felt the city needed to go in a different direction.
The council gave Mayor Torrance Harvey the power to negotiate a severance package for Donat whose last day was May 23.
Donat has written an email to all city employees saying, “how proud I am of the accomplishments we have achieved together over the last 2 ½ years.”
In the email, Donat said, “Some may be happy to see me go, others of course are fearful of the road ahead. Whatever the case may be, all of the great work will continue as long as we keep our integrity and humility front and center.”