STOW – Council and administration disagreed on how to fill temporary positions for the city at the June 11 council meeting.
The ongoing debate centered on the temporary hiring of Steve Groves through Safe Staffing of Ohio. Because the payments would exceed the $15,000 required for the board of control to review, finance committee chair Jeremy McIntire introduced legislation April 23 but would not move it out of committee after the May 14 and May 28 review of the legislation.
"We have a habit of rehiring people who have retired," said council president Sindi Harrison. "As we do that, why aren’t we hiring other people instead of rehiring people back to the same roles. I don’t know if going back to the same person who retired is the right solution for our community."
Groves was hired as a part-time fire and life safety inspector per the request of Fire Chief Mark Stone.
"I asked Steve to return as a part-time employee so we could maintain the efficiency that the bureau has had in recent years," Stone said. "Somehow this request has become derailed under the guise of ‘double dipping’ even though it is not."
Stone defined double dipping as letting an employee retire so the city could rehire them in the same capacity and position.
"In our case, I asked Steve Groves to come back as a part-time employee for 25 hours a week and a significant decrease in pay," Stone said. "His position was replaced upon the promotion of Captain Jason Hartman who took over as the [fire prevention bureau] captain."
Groves has more than 40 years of experience in the Stow Fire Department and has consulted with countless businesses,helping them with best practices for their specific production needs, Stone said.
"We have invested many hours and dollars in Steve Groves over the years and could continue to benefit as a city from his experience," Stone said.
Harrison said she would like to see anyone who has retired and is under consideration to be rehired come before council.
"This is an ongoing frustration of council and the previous council," Harrison said.
Temporary employees work for the city for several months and then when they hit the $15,000 limit, their employment comes before council, Harrison said.
"We need a conversation about why to bring someone back and also when we bring them back," Harrison said.
Harrison also suggested that temporary staffing agencies be used for services like leaf pickup service and painting fire hydrants, and rehires, such as Groves, work under a contract as a private employee.
"I think they need to do it differently than a temporary agency," Harrison said. "They should do it as a contractor with their rates. Going through a staffing agency and doing the same job sounds dishonest if you ask me."
Director of budget and management John Earle summarized that council would prefer any retirees the city wants to employee because of need, specialty or talent, the administration should come to council first and minimize the use of the Safe Staffing agency to temporary workers.
Harrison said when retired employees go through the temporary agency, they’re going around the system.
"If you’re going to bring someone back, council wants to know about it," Harrison said. "There should be a good reason why we’re bringing someone back and not replacing them."
Director of Public Service Nicholas Wren said that the majority of the city’s temporary employees are hired through Safe Staffing.
"We hire through Safe Staffing so it doesn’t hurt their retirement or health care," Wren said.
The council in 2018 gave Wren permission to go out for formal bid and enter into a contract with Safe Staffing.
"We don’t have to come back to council [for approval]," Wren said. "It is an administrative function."
Wren said they came to council when Groves’ pay reached $14,500 "out of respect" and to be "transparent to city council."
"We’re not doing things behind council’s back," Wren said. "We respect the council limits of $15,000. That’s why Mr. Groves came before you and others will come before you. I did have permission. I went to formal bid."
Wren said council members did not talk to the administration about Groves’ employment and because of the delay in approving the legislation, Groves has not been working for the city.
"The fact that the administration wasn’t contacted and we didn’t discuss it at all, it’s disappointing," Wren said.
Law director Jaime Syx told council said there were two things considered. The Safe Staffing was approved in 2018 allowing the city to hire temporary employees; and the board of control has a limit of $15,000 before council’s approval is needed, which is low compared to neighboring communities.
Even though the city had approval to hire temporary workers, the city wanted to inform council when Groves reached $15,000 in the "spirit of transparency," she said.
McIntire said the hiring falls under legislation approved in 2018 and doesn’t require new legislation and by discussing it with council, transparency is completed.
"It doesn’t require an action of council," McIntire said. "The administration can continue with it. You’ve already been transparent and made us aware of it."
McIntire made a motion to remove the legislation from the committee, but the vote was tied with Harrison and McIntire voting "yes" and committee members Mario Fiocca and Cyle Feldman voting "no." The motion failed and legislation was left in committee.
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org