A routine Wauseon City Council meeting on Monday erupted slightly near its close over a perceived violation of protocol in discussing personnel matters.
During new business, Councilor Steve Schneider mentioned an informal conversation he had last weekend with Wauseon community pool manager Tom Burkholder. Burkholder told Schneider that several lifeguards are considering working next summer at Napoleon’s new city pool complex. They cited higher pay there and the ability to wear modest two-piece swimsuits on duty as opposed to the the one-piece suits Wauseon assigns.
“He says, as of right now, he’s very fearful we’ll be understaffed next year,” Schneider told Council. “So, I want to discuss – I might even bring a proposal up – to increase the pay for all those people like $2 an hour. I would also like to see it go retroactive to July 1.”
He said that may sound like a lot of money, but it would amount to $12,000 to $13,000 more per year, an amount that pales in comparison to the cost of other city projects.
“What good’s it going to do us if we can’t open the pool,” Schneider asked. “That’s my concern.”
He mentioned that Wauseon lifeguards have so far this pool season performed 20 saves. He said Burkholder also mentioned that the lifeguards must pay for their own initial certification, a cost of $190. “He said the lifeguards have to work 20-some hours to make that up,” Schneider said.
He said people working at Walmart can make up to $15 hourly and don’t require certification.
Huner said she understood Schneider’s compassion but wondered if Public Service Director Keith Torbet, who determines the lifeguards’ salary, had even been apprised of Schneider’s suggestion prior to the meeting. Torbet testily replied that Burkholder came to his office to discuss the issue and to ask for a raise, then added, “And I don’t like this being brought to me (at Council).”
Huner said Burkholder, like all other city employees, should have first brought the issue directly to whomever makes the particular decision in question, in this case Torbet, rather than discuss it first in a private conversation with someone else. “I wish he would have at least gone to Keith about this first and expressed his concerns to him, because he is the one who makes decisions on wages for the lifeguards,” she said.
The mayor said she preferred not to discuss the matter during Council until Torbet and Burkholder formally meet. “Council has every right to hear, but employees should go through their supervisors,” she said.
As the discussion continued it became slightly heated when Councilor Shane Chamberlin suggested city administrators know the city can afford to extend the lifeguards the raise.
“I don’t know if we do know, Shane,” Huner countered. “We don’t know how many employees we do have down there and what the budget at the end of this year is…I would like to see at least what the end of the year budget is for the pool before we go make an increase on this now.”
“We’re just trying to help the retention of employees,” Chamberlin responded. “…We have every right to haggle legislatively and entertain the idea.”
“After he follows the protocol that every other employee in the city has to follow,” Huner said.
“The problem is, if we don’t pay more we’re going to be hurting next year,” Schneider added.
The conversation continued with Torbet advising that the suggested $12,000 boost could add up to much more when benefits are included.
The meeting began with Huner swearing in Sarah Heising, who was appointed to a Council seat vacated upon the June death of Councilor Jeff Stiriz.
In a Park Board report, Patrick Griggs reported that local businessman Tim Dennis requested that soccer goals be placed at Dorothy B. Biddle Park. Dennis has offered to buy the netting for the goals.
Griggs also mentioned the Jeff Stiriz family’s request to place a memorial bench in his honor in Homecoming Park. Griggs said the board will first investigate creating an official memorial bench program before making that decision.
Motions for both issues were approved.
In department reports:
• Police Chief Kevin Chittenden said Mike Oehlers has been assigned as the new school recource officer, replacing John Borcherdt, who left the department in March.
• Public Service Director Keith Torbet reported that Shoop Avenue closure from Elm Street to the Fulton County line beginning July 26 to begin road construction.
Fire Chief Rick Sluder and Finance Director Jamie Giguere did not have reports.
In legislation, the council approved the emergency reading of a resolution recommending the city’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee authorize an agreement with Pam Seiler.
In other new business, Law Director Tom McWatters III was authorized to sign the electronic ballot to approve on the city’s behalf a possible stake in a Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization of Purdue Pharma L.P. and its affiliated debtors in regard to Purdue Pharma L.P. et al, United States Bankruptcy Court.
And a motion was passed authorizing the mayor to enter into a fishing agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in Wauseon reservoirs 1 and 2 for 25 years, expiring April 30, 2046.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.