Salted with Sharks

Get It in Writing: Council Approves Additional Compensation for Clerk

In Community Alert, Gov't Watch, Politics, Village Money Situation, Water on October 3, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Photomontage by Jason Soderquist

By Emily Votruba

What follows is a (mostly) direct transcript of the special council meeting that took place on Saturday, October 1, at 1 pm.

Background: In a September 6 letter to council (obtained by me from the clerk by FOIA request), our clerk, Catherine Anderson, asked for salaried compensation for the nonclerk duties she has been performing for the past two years. I encourage Village residents to read her letter and understand the monumental work this one individual has done to bring our Village out of its age of darkness.

At the September 15 regular council meeting, Council tabled discussion of this additional compensation, pending consultation with the Village Attorney and Michigan Municipal League. On September 16, Anderson tendered her resignation from all her official and unofficial Village duties, saying her last day would be September 30. On September 29, Bill Soper, Ken Holmes, and Joyce Gatrell called the special meeting transcribed below.

Several of the nonclerk duties for which Anderson sought compensation have in the past, before Anderson’s arrival, been (a) performed by outside contractors at significant expense to the Village, (b) been performed poorly/incompetently, or (c) have not been performed at all. In this way we were opened up to financial and legal liability, including a lawsuit that cost us more than $60,000, and a state of deficit and inadequate policies and procedures that earned us a position on the state’s list for potential emergency management. A very incomplete summary of the crucial and valuable extra tasks Anderson has been performing for the past two years includes:

  • Website development and maintenance
  • Network administration and IT support
  • Deficit elimination plan creation and management
  • Project management for water and sewer projects
  • Grant writing and management
  • Record keeping for the Department of Public Works
  • Writing and managing contracts for maintenance and other work done by outside vendors in the Village

Under Anderson’s office management, both as a volunteer and as clerk since summer 2014, the Village has seen the following incredible improvement in its fiscal stability:
screenshot-2016-10-03-17-13-36

In addition to this work, Cathy has been serving on the Parks and Recreation Commission as treasurer (I am secretary), compiling our monthly financial reports and contributing her fine mind and range of skills (including engineering and building knowledge) to our projects (new Village welcome sign, signage and project development at EDNA, bike racks, memorial benches, and a grant for restrooms at the Penfold/Farmers’ Market Park).

To say that $15,000 a year in compensation for, as Anderson titles them in her letter, “General Professional Management Services” is a good deal for the Village would be the understatement of the century. This additional compensation would bring her total haul from the Village to a whopping [insert sarcastic tone here] $31,640 annually.

Council members, as you will read below, seem to have failed to read and/or understand Anderson’s letter of September 9, in which she clearly outlines the extra duties she performs; specifies that the compensation is not a raise on the clerk’s salary but compensation for a separately designated position; provides a chart of their monetary value according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; and explains why the compensation should be salaried and not hourly (and this I can attest to: she does this work much faster and more efficiently than most people, and how should she count the nights lying awake thinking about Village problems and devising solutions? The job is 24/7). Anderson even offers a hint for a possible title for the new position (General Professional Services Manager, perhaps?). But Council spent the September 15 meeting and the October 1 meeting ruminating redundantly over these very questions.

President Diane Jenks could have easily addressed her own stated concerns regarding the legality of the proposed compensation with a phone call to the Michigan Municipal League or to the Village Attorney prior to the September 15 meeting or afterward. Instead it was up to Anderson to point out during the October 1 meeting, after she had already resigned her position, that MCL 15.183 provides adequate legal justification for one person in a village our size to serve in several capacities. Indeed, Jenks herself has served in multiple capacities, as does Ken Bonney, who is our DPW Superintendent and Streets Administrator (among other titles).

When one considers how thoroughly Council and the Village have been relying on Anderson for daily operations over the past two years, their failure to address Anderson’s request until now and arrive at an official offer or counterproposal should be considered a dereliction of duty. Since treasurer and acting clerk Mary Kalbach does not currently have a functioning computer in the office, I am providing the official minutes for this meeting (which will be an abridged version of what you read below). I also wrote the offer letter to Anderson today and put it on Village stationery. When I arrived at the office to drop off the letter, Anderson was there volunteering, arranging the purchase of a new computer for the treasurer after determining that Kalbach’s was beyond repair. —Emily Votruba

 

VILLAGE OF ELBERTA BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Special Meeting

October 1, 2016 • 1 PM

 

The Village of Elberta Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Saturday, October 1, 2016, at the Community Building, 401 First Street, Elberta, Michigan.

Present:          Diane Jenks, Bill Soper, Ken Holmes, Joyce Gatrell

Absent:          Holly O’Dwyer

Public:            Robin Rommell, Linda Manville, Emily Votruba, Catherine Anderson, Mary Kalbach (treasurer; acting clerk), Sue Oseland, Christeen Crawford

Agenda: Make a decision on Catherine Anderson’s salary for additional duties

Opening Remarks

Jenks: For the record, this meeting was called by Bill Soper, and General Law Village states that it takes three people to call a special meeting to order.

Soper: Three people did.

Jenks: And the three people were?

Soper: Ken, Joyce, and I.

Jenks: OK. Also the topic of salary for duties other than clerk … [proceeds to read resignation letter received from Catherine Anderson]: “Please accept my resignation from the position of Village Clerk and all other Village assignments authorized by Council including but not limited to: Parks & Recreation Commission, Project Manager for Water and Sewer Improvements. My last day in service to the Village of Elberta will be September 30, 2016.” I’m confused as to whether she is clerk.

Mary Kalbach: My understanding of the bylaws is that council has to accept the resignation.

Gatrell: And we didn’t. We’d have to vote on that.

President Diane Jenks called the meeting to order at approximately 1:05 p.m.

Recitation of Pledge of Allegiance

Jenks: For the record, for background: On September 15 at the regular council meeting, agenda item 3, Anderson’s salary, was tabled so more information and advice from State Treasury Department, due to the financial situation of the Village and the attorney to make sure that everything was legal was agreed upon by Council. September 16 letter to council from Cathy Anderson, resignation [requests that it be entered into the minutes]; on Sept 20 I wrote a letter to Cathy about her resignation [requests that it be entered into the minutes]; September 30 Bill posted for the special meeting October 1. My question to Council is, I’m confused about why the rush, why can’t it wait until the next council meeting.

Kalbach: I believe the [special meeting] notice was posted on the 29th.

Jenks: I stand corrected. You call a special meeting, it costs the Village more money. My question to the rest of the council is why are we having this special meeting?

Gatrell: We want to get this resolved before Cathy gets another job. We need her.

Holmes: At this point in the history of the Village over the last five years we’re in the best shape now that we have been, and consequently Cathy’s been handling our sewer and water and every other project; the water and sewer project is a big thing for the Village with bonding and all that coming up this spring; she’s well aware of what’s going on with all this. I don’t think she has asked us for any big raise other than this last time when she asked us for a raise to compensate her for the extra work she’s been doing.

Jenks: And it couldn’t wait till the October meeting?

Holmes: Who’s going to do the work?

Gatrell: Mary can’t do it all.

Holmes: We’ve been in deep doodle before on this stuff. We don’t want to do it again.

Jenks: How is it going to be…is it going to be giving the clerk a raise? I just want to make sure the process is right. Are we giving the clerk a raise?

Holmes: She asked for a raise.

Kalbach: No, it’s not a raise for the clerk. It would be two separate…like what Ken has with DPW and assistant zoning administrator; two different positions, and that’s what Cathy would have; clerk with her normal 20 hours weekly and then a salaried position where she would take care of IT, helping [zoning administrator] Don Tanner with his things…any other thing.

Jenks: Do we have a specific job description for that, for what we’re paying for?

Holmes: For DPW?

Jenks: No. Just a list…

Holmes: There’s a complete list in our files. Also we switched the clerk and treasurer jobs around a year ago because it was a very demanding job. There’s an outline of what the clerk is supposed to be doing and what the treasurer is supposed to be doing and also council members.

Jenks: I know that. My question is: $15,000 salary. I just feel like we should have a list of those duties. And if we do it as an independent contractor or as an addition to clerk. We just have to be clear, to do this legally, to dot our I’s and cross our T’s. As an independent contractor, the General Law Village book [sic] says[*]: “There are a number of benefits to utilizing the services of an independent contractor to perform functions for your municipality. At the same time there are considerable risks in incorrectly designating a person as an independent contractor. When he or she is really an employee. This exposure includes liability for back taxes, overtime compensation, medical expenses and costs related to completing the work assignment. The existence of an employer/employee relationship versus an independent contractor relationship depends to the large extent on the amount of control the municipality exerts over the worker.” So, I’m not saying Cathy isn’t doing a good job and I hope you don’t think for a minute I don’t think she is. I know she’s valuable. I just want to make sure that we dot our I’s and cross our T’s and when we do this it’s legal in every sense of the word, that’s all.

Holmes: 64.9.9 in the book says the treasurer shall do the following: have the custody of bonds and official bonds filed under chapter 2 mortgages, notes, leases [inaudible]; keeping account of all receipts and expenditures; collect and keep the account of all taxes and all appropriate [inaudible] and keep a separate account for each fund; paycheck disbursement, authorization of a particular fund for the disbursement [inaudible]; perform duties described by this act related to assisting properties and levying taxes, and on and on. That’s just part of her job. She didn’t ask for a lot of money in the first place. And we should not have questioned it, for the simple reason that the duties she has been doing for the Village and representing the Village, the Lifesaving Station and the parks and everything that’s going on in this town, and not complaining, the fact that we can come to our council meeting and look our budget and money and where it’s at and how it’s being spent; this is probably the first time in many years that’s happened. Basically, maybe we want to add another appointment, add her as an overseer.

Jenks: At the September 15, 2015, regular meeting, Clerk and Treasurer Wage Resolution: “Whereas the Village of Elberta is operating in a deficit condition, with reduced hours and pay for the Village Clerk and the Village Treasurer; whereas the Village operations may require additional effort from the Village Clerk and Treasurer to perform activities above and beyond those specified in the Michigan General Law Village Act, now therefore let it be resolved that the Village Clerk is a salaried position with a compensation of $16,640 per annum representing a nominal 20 hours per week for 52 weeks of the year. Such compensation is for duties pursuant to MCL 64.5 through 64.8…. [those duties] shall be compensated at $16 an hour prorated for each one quarter hour. Therefore let it be resolved that the Village Treasurer is a salaried position with compensation of $15,600 per annum representing a nominal 20 hours per week for 52 weeks of the year. Such compensation is for duties pursuant to MCL 64.9–64.10. Village work performed in addition to the duties specified in MCL 64.9–64.10 shall be compensated at $15 an hour prorated for each one quarter hour. Adopted and approved this 17th Day of September 2015.” So there’s always been a provision to pay the office staff for extra work, and it’s not the council’s fault that those hours were not put on the time sheet.

Holmes: There’s no way that this Village can afford to have her out of the office for another 15, 20, 30 days. Who’s going to do the job? How far back are we going to get? She asked at the last meeting for a small pittance of wages. I made a motion and it was ignored, that any money that she had coming [inaudible]. I can understand why anyone would get mad and discouraged about their job. We laughed in her face. Is that right?

Jenks: No, that’s not right at all.

Chorus from crowd: Yes it is.

Cathy Anderson: Stop lying, Diane.

Kalbach: First off, she’s asking for a salary, not hourly.

Jenks: I’m just asking how are we going to do it. How are we going to write it up.

Kalbach: How are we going to write up the Assistant DPW and Assistant Zoning Administrator positions that don’t exist? [In May, Council approved compensation for 40 hours per week for Santana Keeler as DPW assistant; and Ken Bonney was approved one hour overtime on the weekend for park cleanup work over and above the 4 hours of overtime pay he receives total for water and sewer work done on Saturday and Sunday, before the regular workweek begins.]

Jenks: $75 a month for zoning administrator work is a whole lot different than $15,000. That duty, for the assistant zoning administrator, is very well described.

Kalbach: That position doesn’t exist in the Village of Elberta, though, so we do need to do something [come up with a written description]. And for Cathy that’s what we need to do too. We need to offer the $15,000 for the other services, and we can put whatever [title] you want on that.

Holmes: It could be put under “Adminsitrative.” Let’s get it settled and no hard feelings. We need good people in the office and we’ve got good people so let’s keep it that way.

Jenks: I don’t mean to be the devil’s advocate here. If you’re doing that under a title of Clerk Adminstrator or what have you, is that something we can just do—

Emily Votruba from crowd: It’s in the law.

Cathy Anderson: It’s explicitly allowed by the state legislature, it’s in section 15.183 [MCL 15.183(4)(c)], for small communities to assign more than one role to employees and officials. It’s what allows you to have that resolution that we had last year. It’s what allows you to pay the water operator and sewer operator and street administrator and DPW superintendent all in one person [Ken Bonney]. It’s what allows you to pay the clerk to do something besides clerk duties. It’s what allows you, Diane, to be on the Council and on the Planning Commission. It’s what allows Bill Soper to be on the Council and on the Parks & Recreation Commission. [It’s apparently what allowed Ross Thorsen to be on the Council and also be paid as a contractor to work on the Life Saving Station several years ago.—Emily Votruba] It’s because the state legislature acknowledges that in small communities people have to wear more than one hat. And it is specifically allowed.

Kalbach: [to Jenks/Council] Did you call the attorney to see what they had to say?

Soper: She will not be an independent contractor. I have to agree with Diane that the council did not laugh in your face. I didn’t see that at all. Everybody was praising you.

Jenks: Myself included.

Soper: But she will not be an independent contractor. I have a motion here. I make a motion that we offer Catherine Anderson $15,000 per year for work above and beyond the duties of Village Clerk. This work would include but not be limited to: information technology and website management; drafting documents such as ordinances, policies, and procedures with attorneys and council review; drafting capital improvement plans to support the budget; and project management of infrastructure improvements.

Kalbach: Did that say salary?

Votruba: It didn’t.

Kalbach: Can you word that to say salary so there’s not any misunderstanding later?

Soper: Well, I’m not sure about that.

Kalbach: It’s got to be called something in order for me to put it in the computer, is it an hourly wage—?

Holmes: Let’s get it done.

Soper: At that council meeting we passed a resolution that she will be compensated for duties above and beyond.

Kalbach: That was hourly.

Soper: Correct. That’s what this will be.

Votruba: No. No. It’s not hourly.

Linda Manville: It’s a salary of $15,000 a year.

Holmes: Just combine that…

Kalbach: And leave it at 20 hours a week…?

Holmes: That 20 hours a week was the biggest farce this Village has ever…and the guy involved in that 20 hours, we paid him $10,000 and got nothing [referring to Chris Olson’s contract to produce a deficit elimination plan for the Village].

Kalbach: I work 30 hours a week but I’m paid for 20. I just throw away the rest of it because I love my village. Cathy can’t afford to throw away hours—

Holmes: She can walk out of here and get a job tomorrow. She doesn’t need us. We need her.

Kalbach: We need it to be salary.

Soper: We also need some documentation of what is actually happening.

Kalbach: I don’t know if I’m out of line or not but you’re right! We need documentation on what I do, on what DPW does, and what everybody else does but we don’t have it. I’ve been asking people, but it’s none of anybody’s business—I don’t want to get involved in these petty things. I just want to do my job, but I want everybody else doing their jobs. But who’s the boss? Who sees if we did anything? I’d like to see our [new street] signs up. I keep asking when it’s going to happen.

Jenks: That’s not part of the motion.

Holmes: I second [Bill’s motion].

Motion by Soper. Seconded by Holmes. Roll call: Holmes: Yes. Gatrell: Yes. Soper: Yes. Jenks: No. O’Dwyer: absent. Motion passed.

Public Comment

Sue Oseland: I would like to thank the council members who definitely see that Cathy is a huge asset to the Village, and I agree with Ken that the Village is in a different place than it was two years ago with both Cathy and Mary taking care of the office for us, and I really appreciate that. I wish that the council in general, five people, and Cathy, and Kenny and Santana and Mary could all meet on a consistent basis and try to deal with all these differences, personalities. I’m kind of tired of it. I see where things don’t get done and it’s very aggravating as a volunteer in the community that [volunteers are] doing some of the things that really should be done [by staff]. I think the only way that’s going to happen is if Council takes a leading role in oversight with every employee in this Village, not just Cathy; I mean all four.

Emily Votruba: I’d like to echo what Sue just said and add that I think we need a list of duties and transparency for the DPW, because I’ve come to realize over the past couple of months that I really don’t understand what kind of work is being done by the DPW team. As a taxpayer and resident I want to see—it shouldn’t be anybody else’s job besides Council’s to oversee the DPW and make sure that work gets done. It puts a strain on the office staff to have to be feeling like they have to monitor what’s going on with the DPW. I don’t see what’s being done. I think it would be awesome if it was on the website: this is what the DPW is doing this week. It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list. He [Ken Bonney] should have to, as a manager, come up with a task list.

Linda Manville: I just want to thank Ken, Joyce, and Bill for your efforts to have this motion passed today; Diane for your willingness to be here and participate. I understand your concerns. I think there’s a gap in here as to understanding exactly what’s going to take place as far as this position goes. I see Cathy’s role as going beyond her original duties and, as Ken commented, he read about them this morning. I especially appreciate the vote in support of Cathy. I haven’t lived here forever like a lot of you have, but I’ve been here for quite a while. I’ve sat in the seat you’re sitting in now at that table and seen us through some hard times, and I do believe that the council is on the right track; the Village is on the right track, finally. I see us moving forward. And it would break my heart and the back of the community if we had to go backwards. So thank you so much for what you’ve done today.

Robin Rommell: I just want to echo what everyone else has said. I appreciate Ken, Joyce, and Bill for being willing to see what needs to be done and take action. I appreciate Cathy and I have from the time she began to volunteer, and she volunteered at the office for months before we hired her as the clerk; she has given I don’t know how many hours of free time to this Village. The thing that makes me confident about what you just did, even without a complete list of her responsibilities, is that Cathy is one of the most motivated, forward thinking, hardworking people that I know. She sees what needs to be done, she knows her duties as clerk, she does that but she sees beyond that; she doesn’t see today or tomorrow, she sees a year down the road and five years and ten years, and that’s what’s going to keep this village moving on a path it needs to be going. I appreciate the fact you’re being proactive about this and I feel like everyone else does that we’re in a better place than we’ve been in a long, long time and a lot of that is because of what Cathy has done.

Christeen Crawford: I fully support what Council has done today and all the things that Cathy has done. She has more than proven herself. She is truly dedicated to our village. The Village means a great deal to me because my ancestry goes way back. But I just want to see everything done correctly and to the advantage of the taxpayers of the Village.

Soper: One question I have is her resignation letter. How do we resolve…

Jenks: It would have to be an agenda item at the next meeting.

Soper: It’d be nice to have her in the office [before then], but I’m not sure we can until the next meeting.

Holmes: All Cathy has to do is rescind [her resignation letter]. The fact is we didn’t vote on it.

Soper: [to Cathy] So you’d still work in the office.

Anderson: I could volunteer. But in reality, until something comes in writing, I am pursuing interviews elsewhere.

Votruba: So someone’s going to have to write a letter. Besides the clerk.

Holmes: Personally I want to thank Cathy for the work I’ve seen her do, and all the extra. And when it gets right down to it, I’ve been working on this noise ordinance here for two months and it’s almost driving me nuts. So I don’t know how she [does] it.

Soper: I make a motion we adjourn.

Votruba: Who’s going to write the letter?

Jenks: Support.

Votruba: Who’s writing the letter?

Jenks: All in favor?

Soper: Aye.

Oseland: This is what always happens. Council never resolves anything. Who’s writing the letter?

Votruba: Who’s writing the letter?

Soper: Do we have to write a letter?

Holmes: We don’t have to write a letter.

Votruba: Cathy just said she wasn’t going to accept anything unless she had something in writing.

Manville: Would it be part of the minutes?

Kalbach: That’s what I was just going to say, it’s recorded. My phone’s got it.

Votruba: But—do you want me to write the letter?

[Someone]: You can write the letter and put it in the Alert.

Votruba: But it’s got to be an official letter.

Rommell: Mary if on Monday you’re covering the clerk’s duties then this is one that falls on you.

Anderson: [to Mary] There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing your work.

Rommell: Emily can write it—

Votruba: I’ll write the letter.

Rommell: —and Mary can sign it as acting clerk. Done.

Kalbach: I don’t have a computer so you’re going to have to print it out, because I don’t have anyone [gestures at Cathy] to work on my computer. And she [gestures at Jenks] really wants me to call somebody to fix it.

Votruba: Unbelievable.

Rommell: Shortsighted.

Kalbach: I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on.

Votruba: It’s very confusing.

Kalbach: Are you writing the minutes, Emily?

Votruba: Ah, fucking shit.… Yes.

[Various conversation; meeting not legally adjourned. Council departs.]

 

[*] Quotation is actually taken from the Handbook for Municipal Officials, published by the Michigan Municipal League July 2015, chapter 13, page 58. Minutes reflect Jenks’s wording and not necessarily that of the original.

  1. Definitely a step in the right direction.

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