Portage panel takes issue with mayor’s moves
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent November 27, 2012 9:24PM
Updated: December 29, 2012 6:23AM
PORTAGE — The City Council Ordinance Committee on Tuesday tried to thrash out changes to city personnel and ethics ordinances, addressing actions taken by Mayor James Snyder’s administration.
Changes sought by the committee to the personnel ordinance seek to reign in vacation time granted to new personnel hired for department head or assistant positions. The policy adopted by the administration early this year granted four weeks of vacation time, in addition to sick and personal days off, as a hiring incentive to offset lower salary costs.
A 2008 change in the personnel ordinance exempted department heads from personnel policies, granting the mayor wide discretion in hiring incentives. The committee wants to place department heads and assistants back within the personnel framework.
Committee member Elizabeth Modesto wants to reduce vacation time to two weeks, with the possibility of up to four weeks with council approval.
Committee chair Theodore Uzelac wants to grandfather exisiting employees who would otherwise be affected by the ordinance change. “I don’t want this to hurt existing employees,” said Uzelac.
Snyder for his part is happy to go along with whatever the council proposes. “Had we known the contracts needed council approval, we would have sought their approval,” Snyder said.
“We were trying to correct a problem. We did fix the problem. We saved hundreds of thousands of dollars because these employees cannot accrue vacation time,” he said. “The council needs to concentrate on getting the city under financial control.”
Changes to the ethics ordinance were prompted by a vacation that Snyder, his brother Jon, and city engineering consultant John Hannon took with Portage businessman Chuck Shields, owner of Circle R Electric. Circle R had recently been granted a contract by the city’s redevelopment commission to replace light poles at Ameriplex.
Snyder maintains he did nothing wrong and did not violate the ordinance: “Their initial reaction is sinister.”
Modesto wants to see a zero tolerance policy adopted that would prohibit any city employee or elected official that is in a position to influence or award contracts from accepting gifts.
In the end, the committee agreed to recommend that the City Council establish a subcommittee to review and create a stronger ethics ordinance to establish what the proper policies and safeguards should be.