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COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN -- Council still hot over additional communications post

July 25, 2013

PAWTUCKET — The City Council on Wednesday continued to question the hiring of a second communications director by Mayor Donald Grebien and called for a legal opinion on the way the position came about.

With the subject, Dylan Zelazo, sitting in the back of the council chamber, councilors continued to criticize the mayor's unilateral move to add a second $53,000-a-year Director of Communications and Constituent Services position to his administrative staff. Councilors said the action has prompted them to consider establishing limits in pay plan ordinances that would specify the number of positions that can be hired for particular job classifications.

Councilor Thomas Hodge referred to a memo from Grebien that had been sent to all municipal directors and department heads to limit spending and manage available funds to a level 5 percent below the dollars approved in their budgets. He said that while he “commended” the mayor for this action, adding a second $53,000 position “doesn't show the leadership this memo is asking all the other department heads to do.”

Hodge criticized the administration's claim that an additional communications person could be a go-between the council and department heads. “If the City Council wants someone to do work for them, we can put money in our budget.”

The council voted to support Council President David Moran's request to have the city solicitor provide legal clarification as to what the mayor's and council's powers and authorities are under the City Charter and City Ordinances concerning the hiring of employees and the impact on hiring as it pertains to council budget approvals. He asked for an opinion by the next council meeting on Aug. 7.

In his request to City Solicitor Frank Milos, Moran questioned if a mayor has the authority to hire as many people as he or she would like to any position that has an existing job classification. He noted Grebien had stated publicly that he could hire multiple people if he wanted under an existing job classification without having to get the council's approval.

Moran also asked about two scenarios related to budgeting. He questioned if, when a mayor budgets one person for an existing job classification and the council approves that single hire, the mayor can then hire a second person for the same position without subsequent council approval. Similarly, when a mayor asks for two people for an existing job classification and the council only approves one, he asked if the mayor can hire that second person even though the council specifically refused to fund the second position.

Additionally, Moran asked Milos to look into the council's ability to establish limits in pay plan ordinances that would specify the maximum number of positions that can be hired for particular job classifications. He noted the council had recently approved the creation of a job classification titled Certified Computer Repair Technician and the accompanying ordinance had stated it was for a maximum of four positions. The fiscal year 2014 budget contained these four positions and the council approved them within the overall budget approval process. “Can the mayor hire more than the four positions approved in the pay plan and the budget?” Moran asked.

Later in the meeting, after the council approved an ordinance change establishing a pay plan for a clerk III-highway position, Councilor Terry Mercer also raised the point about whether this meant additional employees could be hired under this job classification umbrella and reiterated the need for clarification on the matter.

In other matters, the council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to terminate the city's lease with the Elizabeth J. Johnson Pawtucket History Research Center.

Pawtucket Library Director Susan Reed explained that the action was just a formality because the research center's contents had all been moved to the library where it will now be housed, and Johnson's historic home on Fruit Street will be deeded to the Pawtucket Preservation Society.

During the public input portion of the meeting, Ken Postle, who spearheads a group of volunteers involved with restoring the Mineral Spring Avenue Cemetery, spoke of his frustration over the way city officials have handled his request to have a private company use ground penetrating radar to help locate graves and buried tombstones.

Postle expressed dismay over the way an original New Bedford company's bid to do the ground penetrating radar work had been overshadowed by the city-based Public Archeology Laboratory's (PAL) more elaborate plan to perform the job in return for cemetery maintenance contracts. He also said he was concerned that the volunteers, who have been working to restore the city cemeteries for the past three years, would be squeezed out of the project under the PAL proposal.

Postle said it appeared to him that there was “undue influence” going on among city officials to push the project to PAL when the other firm, Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project, was more suited to the scope of what needs to be done at the Mineral Spring Avenue cemetery site.

However, councilors bristled at Postle's remarks and denied there was any kind of undue influence going on over the cemetery work. An irked Councilor Albert Vitale denied that the council would ever be “strong-armed” over a bid and told Postle to “Stop talking like that.”

Councilor John Barry, a member of the council's Public Works/Cemeteries Subcommittee, reminded Postle that he had called for a more formal bid process to take place, and that no company had yet been selected.

Barry also noted that Postle, along with Planning Director Barney Heath and DPW Director Lance Hill, had been asked to come up with a master plan for the renovation and continued upkeep of the two city cemeteries, Mineral Spring Avenue and Oak Grove, and to report back to the Cemeteries Subcommittee in 30 days.

Follow Donna Kirwan on Twitter@KirwanDonna


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