During a regularly scheduled Wellington City Council meeting Aug. 7, local resident Lynda Jewkes looked to city officials for answers to several questions. Jewkes voiced concerns at a previous public meeting about the council’s relationship to city employees and spending practices.
Council member Kirt Tatton prepared and read a letter answering Jewkes’ questions. Tatton began by saying that the response would not be open to discussion. However, further questioning ensued.
Tatton began the response letter by explaining that the Wellington City Council is set up in a six member form, meaning that the council is made up of five council members and one mayor. Tatton explained that in this form of government, the mayor is a non-voting party and the council is the executive branch.
He continued by addressing the departure of former police chief, Lee Barry. “We should have re-appointed a chief at the beginning of the year,” Tatton explained. “This was an oversight. We wish the best for Barry and feel that the police department as it stands now is doing a fine job and we trust in them to keep the community safe.”
Wellington City is an at-will employer and the council feels that its employees are special. “The mayor made an increase in salary and better health insurance because he was concerned about city employees,” Tatton stated. “Job plans are currently in the works,” continued the council member. “The mayor did not meet with each employee, they need to meet with the mayor. This is their (employee) responsibility.”
Budget concerns were also addressed in the letter. “The mayor inherited an unrealistic budget,” Tatton read. “He started from scratch where the last council left off. It’s difficult to succeed with funds that lead to workforce reduction. Our at-will employees stepped up to help with this. Wellington City does not have a large turnover rate,” continued Tatton. “We have had a reduction of workforce only due to budget and due to tax revenue.”
The recent addition of a stage in Wellington City Park has many in the community upset. Council members addressed this concern through the response letter as well. “Rental costs were present each year for a stage,” explained the council. “It was the drive of Mayor Ben Blackburn that lead to the stage for everyone to enjoy.” The council further explained that the stage was built using donated material and funds from local businesses and individuals.
“We care for our employees and citizens and the mayor is dedicated to the city.” said Tatton, concluding the council’s response.
Jewkes quickly responded to the council’s letter by stating that general fund money was used to fund cemetery projects. “Leftover general funds should be allocated accordingly, not replaced,” she stated. “It seems like you are robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Council member Pete Yakovich assured that the city’s financial record is clean. “I haven’t seen any ethical concerns in the two years I have been here,” explained Yakovich.
Jewkes questioned the fact that mayor Blackburn was not in attendance at the public meeting Aug. 7. The mayor’s absence was not explained but the concerned citizen did take note. “You are all scared of the man who sits next to you who is not here tonight,” Jewkes stated.
“You are making a lot of blind accusations,” responded Tatton. “We aren’t on trial here.” He continued to question Jewkes about the process in which she went through to request public city records. “When did you get the minutes to previous meetings,” Tatton quizzed. “It was after business hours, which is a breach of government. So why did you do it? It’s okay for you to do it, right?”
As the discussion continued between Jewkes and the council, tension began to rise. City Attorney John Schindler advised the governing board that the comment period was beyond the scope of the agenda. Council member Glen Wells agreed. “We won’t go on because you are getting an attitude,” Wells advised. Jewkes responded by saying she felt that council had a bad attitude as well.
Following the lengthy discussion, former Wellington Mayor Gary Rich asked to address the council. “I was mayor from 1982-1990, and I know that being mayor or a council member is a thankless job,” Rich explained. “I think that Ms. Jewkes may have been mislead in what she thinks. I personally think the council is doing a great job.”
Rich continued by explaining that former police chief Barry was hired during the former mayor’s term. “I hired Barry, but I think he resigned and was not fired,” speculated Rich. “I’m kinda happy he’s gone. He didn’t have a good rap with upstate police. I don’t know and don’t care why he left.”
Although many questions were answered, many more were created during the city council meeting. Further discussion will likely continue during upcoming public meetings.