BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN
For Rochester Mayor Tom Richards, it may be a case of be careful what you wish for.
Richards said in an interview today that he encouraged Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to find a high-quality person to manage the district’s finances so Vargas could concentrate on other things. Richards said he even tried — unsuccessfully — to find someone for Vargas.
Everyone knows by now how the whole thing turned out: Vargas ended up hiring city budget director Bill Ansbrow away from City Hall. But not before Vargas asked the mayor if it was OK to approach Ansbrow.
“Not that he needed my OK,” Richards said. “The attitude I had about it is, ‘Y’know, I’m not in favor of it. But if that’s something Bill decides he wants to do, you could make a pretty good argument that it’s in the city’s general best interest that he do it. I’m not going to try to convince him to do otherwise.’”
“Having the school district well-run financially is very much in our best interests,” Richards said. “Remember, the school district is technically part of the city. And so the school district’s financial performance affects our credit rating. Ultimately, if the school district gets into financial trouble, we go with them.”
But there’s more to it than finances, Richards said. The overall picture for the city will not substantially improve until the school district improves, he said.
The school district’s other big — and controversial — recent hire is Patty Malgieri as Vargas’s chief of staff. Richards, who was city attorney when Malgieri was Rochester’s deputy mayor, said he had nothing to do with that hire and that he’s not going to second-guess Vargas.
“Those are choices he has to make and he has to live with,” Richards said. “But they’re both quality people with relevant experience, and I think that’s good for the school district.”