Clerk hiring challenges council

Although it appeared that few people on Bellevue Council actually wanted to pay a new part-time office clerk $15 per hour, a resolution doing just that was approved by officials at Tuesday’s work session.

Miscues, misinformation, lack of preparation, bad acoustics and outright distrust factored into a series of events that ended with the hiring of a temporary office clerk at the same salary paid to the former assistant director of administrative services.

DAS Doug Sample defended the higher hourly pay rate, arguing that job would entail more than just clerical work.

“There’s a thinking component to this,” Sample said. “I look at this as an assistant to myself to help with day-to-day operations.”

Sample said that the person hired would be involved in grant applications and other administrative tasks.

Mayor George Doscher pointed out that this was not the position council agreed to fill.

“Council directed a part-time temporary clerk, not a grant writer, not a window washer, not a police officer,” he said. “Every time council directs something, it changes.”

The issue of who should be hired -- in fact, the hiring process itself -- also came into question.

Council member Jane Braunlich said that all of council should have seen the three applications submitted, and that the recommendation of who to hire should have come from the finance committee, not the DAS.

Sample said in a later interview that no one on council had questioned that a full-time library clerk was hired just moments before without ever having been vetted by the parks and recreation committee, and with the hiring recommendation coming solely from the library director. Braunlich distinguished between the two, stating that council was more involved in working with administrative employees.

Braunlich read from finance committee meeting minutes that indicated that two applications had been received by the time of the meeting the week before, and that Sample planned to make a hiring recommendation at the work session. A third application was submitted after the committee meeting, but before the Oct. 7 deadline, Sample said.

The DAS said that the clerk ultimately hired -- Valerie Faust of Ross Township -- was one of the first two applications received. He said that she was chosen because is experienced with computers and social media, and is working on a master’s degree in leadership studies.

Although Sample maintained that Faust was the best qualified of the applicants, council member Linda Woshner said that she was being hired over two Bellevue residents, and at a higher than usual salary.

“I’m just wondering who she knew,” Woshner said.

Although who she knew became evident -- Faust is active with the Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization (BIGr) group formed by council president Kathy Coder -- Sample said that his choice had nothing to do with contacts, and everything to do with qualifications. He said that Coder played no part in his recommendation.

With officials agreeing to disagree on that point, the issue once again became what to pay the new clerk. As council considered the adoption of the hiring resolution, Braunlich made a motion to set the pay at $11 per hour, while David Gillingham Jr. made a motion to set it at $12 per hour. Both motions died for lack of a second.

After additional discussion, Braunlich again made a motion to set the pay at $11 per hour, and this time the motion was seconded by council member Susan Viscusi.

That second, however, was not heard by council vice president Woshner, who chaired the meeting in Coder’s physical absence (she participated by phone), or by Sample or solicitor Tom McDermott, who sat on either side of Woshner. As a result, what should have been a motion to amend the resolution was ignored, and council instead turned to a vote on the original resolution.

At that point, finance committee chairman Mark Panichella announced that no pay rate was included in the resolution. Sample corrected him to say that $15 per hour was part of the document, but that correction was not heard by either Susan or Jim Viscusi.

The vote to hire Faust was 5-2, with Braunlich and Woshner opposed. Voting in favor were Gillingham, Panichella, both Viscusis and Coder. Mark Helbling and Lisa Blaney-Stewart were absent.

Almost immediately, council members realized what had happened, and McDermott said that council would need to approve a motion to reconsider in order to eliminate the first vote on the resolution and change the pay rate.

Noting that a vote on a motion to amend should have been conducted before voting on the actual resolution, Doscher asked, “How can you vote to undo something that wasn’t procedurally correct in the first place?”

Susan Viscusi made the motion to reconsider the resolution, seconded by her husband, but by that point Braunlich said that she had had enough. Stating that officials would have to take responsibility for what they had done, she voted against the motion to reconsider, along with Gillingham, Panichella and Coder. With only the Viscusis and Woshner in favor of the motion, it was defeated and the rate of pay remained at $15 per hour.

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