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NM Council Reduces Raises, Nixes Some

By Staff | Jun 18, 2014

At a special meeting of New Martinsville City Council June 11, council member Doris Fannin recommended passing the water and sewer budget, including giving the water and sewer department employees a three percent raise across the board. The department had requested a six percent raise.

Councilman Chris Bachman stated he had spoken with Dave White of the Electric Department, who is asking for six percent. “Dave has a project out there that I would like to see finished. It started when I was on the electric department. Is there something out there, Pat (Durant) that you could put that extra three percent towards that would help something. That’s where I am at. Is there something out there that you’ve got to finish?”

Durant, Water and Sewer Superintendent, stated that there was not.

The vote to accept the budget with three percent raises failed, as only Fannin and Bachman voted in favor of it.

“I just don’t understand why we can’t give the full amount to them,” Councilwoman Holly Grandstaff stated. “There’s going to be a ripple effect anyway. They produce their own money to pay bills and then they have money to use it. I just wish there was a way we could find some way to make it a go at six percent.” Grandstaff added that the department was underpaid. “We are all underpaid, and that’s just my feelings on all of that. I don’t know the answers, but that’s what I’d like to see happen.”

Councilwoman Kay Goddard made a motion to accept the water and sewer budget without raises. Grandstaff seconded it.

“What happens if we don’t approve this budget?” Bachmann asked.

Council agreed that they would have to come back again. “I’ll give a new budget to (Recorder) Bonnie (Shannon) if you aren’t going to approve the raise,” Durant stated.

Another special meeting, to address the water and sewer budget, will be held today at 5:30 p.m. at the city building.

Electric Superintendent White stated that he felt that the outcome that befalls the water and sewage budget “will befall our budget,” White felt that from the remarks Grandstaff had made, that “this is something she feels is fair.” White asked if a vote could be held on approving the budget with a six percent increase. In response, White was told that the three percent raise wasn’t passed, so they did not feel a six percent was going to pass, “So we are just kind of in a mess right here,” Grandstaff noted.

All council members present, except for Fannin, voted in favor for the budget, minus the requested six percent raise in wages. Councilman Steve Pallisco was not in attendance.

The next item up for vote was approval for the electric department budget, which also included a six percent raise. Fannin made a motion to approve a budget with a three percent raise, which Goddard then seconded for discussion purposes.

Council voted in favor of the three percent raise, with Fannin, Bachmann, and Grandstaff voting yes and Isaac and Goddard voting no.

In a final matter, Councilwoman Goddard retracted a motion she made to revise the City Vehicle/Equipment Policy in the employee policy manual. Goddard first stated that she was making a motion, due to a state ethics violation, that the matter of allowing employees taking city equipment home or to other places, be stricken from the policy manual. “So no one takes the car home, cell phones not used for anything except for business . . . is that what you are aiming for?” Fannin asked. “When we say personal use of public equipment, it covers a multitude of things that is equipment . . . Where do we draw the line?”

White stated that he felt the issue was one that has been addressed “many times in the past.”

“Council has always affirmed that the employees’ use of equipment is part of a benefit that they see as being hired,” said White. “The information being provided to you now is incomplete and not very specific to the city of New Martinsville . . . It’s specific to a municipality in another part of the state. That information, which was an Ethics Commission case that references a city that had no policy, no written policy at all. The difference in this situation is we have a policy written.” It was noted that copies of the information had been put in the mail boxes of the council members.

“Unfortunately, my opinion is that this information is being pushed on all of you . . . whether it is just to exercise one person’s will of control over a group of employees, who are considered to be rouge . . . but there’s no indication that is being violated or abused, and it’s not something that happens very often,” said White.

He continued: “Our city has already deliberated on it, passed it in the employee manual, and ordained it, so most of the people hired here when this was being done, took this understanding as benefit to their employment, because of what I discussed at the last meeting.

“This case has already been fought and determined in this city. This exact complaint was filed with the ethics commission on several employees, and some are in this room right now. It was an 18-month-long investigation, and it was ruled by the Ethics Commission Board of Review that it was dismissed because, if you want to quote it, because the City of New Martinsville had granted permission because they had included it in a previous policy and had ordained it in their ordinances. Now that is a case that has already been investigated and ruled on and here we are beating that dead horse again. What do we have to gain by kicking these employees?” asked White.

Of the paperwork given to councilmembers anonymously, Mayor Keith Nelsen noted, “This opinion was written for a specific case out of bounds. This is paraphrasing that decision. Dave (White) is holding the one from New Martinsville . . . four years ago.”

White noted that the decision said employees were allowed to use equipment, “it’s allowed to happen if they have a policy.”

“To me that’s pretty plain and simple,” Nelsen noted. “This is written for someone else. That is ours.”

“In my mind, and probably a lot of guys’ minds, is what sparked this?” Bachmann questioned. “Was it the anonymous letter that suddenly appeared? Was it a specific incident? And then I hear a bunch of this letter, and I think a lot of these guys want to know why this is on the agenda tonight. I know we talked about this in the past. I just think that where I live, on my corner, I don’t see a lot of the stuff going out.” Bachmann stated that he doesn’t see anyone “hooking up the dump truck or back hoe . . .”

He added: “Maybe they have an occasional weedeater, but I don’t see that. I know we talked about this in the past. I think if they are using stuff, it is very minimal. If someone doesn’t want people to use this equipment, that’s their opinion. I think we are going to have people coming in here more often the more we talk about it, and that’s going to be the end of it. So we went this long, and we haven’t had an issue that I know of.

After looking over the ethics ruling for New Martinsville, Goddard decided to retract her motion.