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City Councilors come and go while the sparks fly
By John Sollman

 

BAY CITY March 20, 2010 --- The revolving door to the Bay City Council chambers is working well.

On March 9, Attorney Lois Albright administered the oath to newly-appointed Councilor Robert Pollock, whom the Bay City Council appointed to replace Ron Tewalt.

At the end of the March 9 Council meeting, Councilor Amy Fullan resigned from the Council because she is moving out of town. Fullan's seat will be filled through another appointment.

The Council, on a three/two vote, appointed John Gettman president of the City Council, replacing Ron Tewalt in that position. The president presides over Council meetings in the absence of the mayor, and has authority to sign checks, also in the absence of the mayor. But that appointment would be short lived.

Just one week later, at a March 16 special meeting, the Council revoked Gettman's appointment as Council president.

On March 9, an extended discussion centering on employee wages and benefits heated up as the discussion wore on late in the meeting. Councilor Helen Wright suggested that the agenda item dealing with employee wages and benefits be held over until all Council members are present, or until after the budget has been completed.

City Recorder Linda Dvorak said the City starts looking at employee wages and benefits in May, and that the new pay schedule takes effect Aug. 1. Mayor Shaena Peterson commented that the Budget Committee would probably offer some direction on wages and benefits.

Attorney Albright suggested creation of an ad hoc committee consisting of Council members and staff members to review the employee benefits package and make recommendations. Peterson suggested assigning the task to the Administrative Committee plus one or two staff members.

Councilor Gettman pointed out that the current discussion related only to the 2010-2011 budget, and was "not about changing the (personnel) ordinance to correct what appears to be things that we can't afford to pay for."

Because of the economic situation, Gettman proposed to withhold employee step increases, except for employees who had gotten certified, noting that though the step increases were in the (personnel) ordinance, there was no requirement that they be given.

Attorney Albright viewed step increases as a benefit and cautioned that an ordinance revision might be required if the step increases were to be withheld.

Peterson noted that the Council might not be in tune with Gettman's numbers, and suggested that the numbers be fleshed out so they can be seen by the Administrative Committee and by the Budget Committee.

Budget Committee member Christine Clark urged that the figures be available in time for the Budget Committee to consider.

Wright suggested simply having the Budget Committee consider the matter instead of having another committee.

Gettman advised that, "we can't afford to support what (Linda's) going to put into the budget. And that's the point. You ... cannot dig out the information that we're talking about out of the budget document."

Peterson commented that it's one thing to say we can't afford it, and another to know what the numbers are.

"And to know where the money is coming from," Gettman added.

Albright again recommended a subcommittee to deal with the matter and present a summary with options to the Council.

Wright again urged not fixing something which isn't broken, and just "staying where we are for a while until everything evens out and we know where we're going with all the health insurance. ... It's gone on this long, and we certainly have the money to do it."

Gettman asked where the money was going to come from, to which Wright replied, "where we've always gotten it from!"

Peterson interjected that "I don't think we're getting anywhere with this," to which Gettman retorted, "That's right. Let's set it over until whenever you want it done. ... I get so tired of putting figures together for you, Shaena, that you ignore."

"Buster, please don't blame Shaena!" Wright told Gettman.

Peterson answered, "You know I do not ignore ... anyway, I do not see any numbers attached to this agenda to consider. I have not seen it put before this Council as a ..."

"You haven't asked for any," Gettman interrupted.

...

Early the following morning, Peterson, by e-mail, chided Gettman for berating her at the meeting "for not paying attention to your UNPROVIDED numbers on wages and benefits." Peterson suggested that Gettman did not seem attentive to efficient use of resources, noting that "huge saving (sic) are lost on a regular basis."

In his response, which he copied to the other Council members, Gettman challenged the mayor to "provide the Council with specific data where huge saving's (sic) are lost on a regular basis due to the inefficient use of time, materials and equipment by the City Recorder and staff, and the Public Works Superintendent and staff." Gettman went on to advise the mayor of selected items from Bay City Ordinance 639 regarding employee benefit plans and salary schedules, a matter still awaiting action by the Council, and ended with an accusation that the mayor's dissatisfaction with "anything I do or have done" was the basis for her using her position to name herself to two County-wide boards in his stead.

At a special meeting March 16 to revisit council appointments, attended by Councilors Pollock, Wright, Becky Smith and Terri Neimann, Peterson commented on Gettman's assertion why she had replaced him on the Tillamook Bay Estuary Board of Directors and the Tillamook Bay Watershed Council. Both boards, Peterson said, had asked for his unappointment. They had problems dealing with him, Peterson said, adding that she "had no idea what he was doing with those boards because he never reported."

In a further response to Gettman's charges, Peterson said she objected to the use of jargon, such as something being "not sustainable," without the numbers to back it up. Peterson said it is "not the mayor's responsibility to develop policy, to develop numbers for staff ..." She added that Council (members) should never direct staff, that Council members should "never be so closely involved that one of our staff members goes to a Council member or takes directions..."

Peterson added that "In no way do I dislike John. He's given us a lot of valuable things to think about, but in many instances he sent us down the wrong path." But, she added, "if anyone felt that there was any truth in the things he was saying in that e-mail, I am offended."

Councilor Wright, who had asked for the special meeting, noted that Gettman "costs us a lot of money. He takes up our staff time, he takes up David (Pace)'s time, he takes up our attorney's time. Yes he's got a lot of great information and stuff .... He's smart, but he's a pain in the rear."

Stating that Gettman "needs to be stopped," Wright added that "I'm not the only one that thinks this. The whole county thinks it. They're sick of him at the meetings. ... they're just sick of him, because he stops progress."

Councilor Smith said that Gettman's e-mail was "denigrating to the staff and the mayor, and highly inappropriate." She added that Gettman has repeatedly ignored the attorney's advice as to what is not appropriate to send by e-mail, and "puts the City Council and the City in a very vulnerable position."

But, she added, "I appreciate (Gettman's) research, and I appreciate his concern about the City, and his passion for what's best for the City."

Attorney Albright advised the Council that City business must not be done via e-mail. E-mails discussing City business are public documents subject to recovery upon demand, Albright advised, which can be enormously costly in terms of staff time and budget. She cited the enormous cost to the City of Beaverton to recover e-mails during a recent dispute with Nike. Albright cautioned that any discussion which could lead to a decision must be done at a public meeting, and not by e-mail.

Councilor Pollock moved for reconsideration of Gettman's appointment as Council president, which Councilor Wright seconded. Councilor Neimann, who had moved to appoint Gettman council president, cast the sole vote against reconsideration.

The next two motions were adopted unanimously, the first to revoke Gettman's appointment as Council president, and the second to appoint Councilor Smith in his stead.

Gettman, interviewed later, mentioned several unknowns which will affect current and future budgets.

First, he said, the City's group health insurance plan has a new contractor this year. It is not yet known whether there will be any change in premiums.

But a far greater problem involving PERS lurks in the fiscal year starting in 2012. The PERS retirement fund has been severely battered because its investments have lost value owing to the recent financial melt-down. The full impact of that will probably hit in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

That will put the City in a hole, he said, and Bay City's taxpayers, many of whom are without jobs at this time, will have to pay for this.

Gettman, who did not attend the March 16 special meeting, was having dinner with his wife that evening, in celebration of his 84th birthday.

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