Stow mayor: Cooperation needed between city staff, council members

LAURA FREEMAN Reporter

STOW – The mayor and some council members are pleading for better cooperation.

The June 11 council meeting lasted three hours with heated discussion on topics of temporary employment, rehiring retired employees and communication breakdown between city staff and council members.

Ordinance 2020-77 was introduced by council president Sindi Harrison and updates the board of control limits as it relates to labor contracts, hiring temporary labor and other similar personal and professional contracts. 

The legislation would eliminate previous city employees from working through a temporary agency and require them to enter into a contract with the city instead. It received a first reading.

Council member Jeremy McIntire introduced Ordinances 2020-78; 2020-79; and 2020-80. The first authorizes the mayor to enter into a contract with Oak Group Inc. for professional consulting services for the city’s building department. The second updates rental fees for rooms located at City Hall; and the third amends building permits and fees. 

McIntire said Oak Grove could provide a consultant instead of hiring Richard Hickman, who McIntire said would use only a third of his time for plans examination. Hickman’s hire as a plans examiner was tabled May 14, May 28, and June 11.

Council member Cyle Feldman said he approved the hiring of Hickman.

“We’re going to ask people to do multiple jobs and collaborate to get things done,” Feldman said.

City engineer Jim McCleary said the city lost a plans examiner with 34 years experience and the building department lost a backup building inspector, building clerk, and a plans examiner who was an assistant city engineer.

“Our employees serve other duties,” McCleary said. “The master plans examiner must have primary and backup positions even though he can do multiple jobs.”

The city has major projects with the Summa building on Fishcreek Road, an assisted living facility on Hudson Drive, 220 commercial units on Gilbert Road and development at the former Ritchie Turkey Farm.

“All of these go through the building department,” McCleary said. 

Director of Public Service Nicholas Wren asked McIntire if he reached out to McCleary, the building department or anyone in the city before presenting the legislation and he said “no.”

“This is an administrative function,” Wren said. “You do not do interviews on our behalf. You are a legislator. This is not your role. You need to learn your job.” 

Mayor John Pribonic read a prepared statement as he addressed the four pieces of legislation presented by Harrison and McIntire. 

“In my estimation, all four pieces of legislation are outside of the legislative purview of council and infringe on the rights of the administration to make the best possible decisions based on facts, data and experience,” Pribonic said. “Some council members deemed it appropriate to draft legislation without contacting or advising the departments that said legislation might affect.”

Pribonic said the six department heads for the city of Stow represent 190 years of collective experience in their chosen professions.

“Council should make it a priority to consult with the professionals that must administer and enforce the legislation once it is passed,” Pribonic said. “This is best practice and will ensure that what is requested is appropriate, feasible and enforceable.”

Pribonic admitted council and staff would not always agree but should communicate and collaborate. He reminded them that the law department can provide training on issues.

“I must reiterate that I believe training is an outcome we need to explore,” Pribonic said. “To the members of council who have chosen to have an open dialogue with the administration, I would like to thank you for your willingness to collaborate and work as a team to better serve our community.”

Pribonic praised the community for staying positive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, I cannot in good conscience sit back and have this type of inconsiderate behavior reflect poorly on our great City,” Pribonic said. “I hope that we can begin to work together and communicate more effectively for the betterment of our residents before it is too late.”

Pribonic said council controls the purse strings, but the administration controls the day-to-day operations of the city. Once the budget it set, the administration hires personnel based on the budget for the positions they determine are needed for the city to operate correctly, efficiently and safely.

“The roles of council and the mayor are for checks and balances,” Pribonic said. “I’m open for ideas from council and the public but let’s have a discussion before we make legislation.”

Council member Steve Hailer said he hadn’t slept in a week.

“I’ve been troubled about the relationship between council and administration,” Hailer said. “We have a breakdown in trust. I hope tonight is a new era.”

Hailer said council lacks training and in an effort to be transparent, “they overshot the runway.”

Hailer said they need to be clearer on what is an administrative duty and what is council’s role.

“I don’t want to manage the city,” Hailer said. “It’s time for this to end and find areas we can trust each other. I think it begins with education and the basics of what takes place procedurally in the city. We’re a brand new council six months old.”

Hailer said the council shouldn’t do the business of the city, but they should provide guidance and leadership.

“I don’t know what our objectives are for council,” Hailer said. “I think we need identifiable goals. There are some issues out there that can tear us apart. We need to find a spirit of cooperation. We can’t be a council divided. We can’t be a city divided.”

Council member Christina Shaw said she was disheartened coming into the meeting.

“I feel that this council needs some training all together,” Shaw said. “We need to work with the administration more. We shouldn’t fight the administration and should move forward in a positive way and not negative.”

Other legislation such as stopping for school buses has been tabled since March 26 after two readings; and the hiring of a plans examiner has been tabled since May 14 after two readings; and the use of Safe Staffing of Ohio and the hiring of Steve Groves remains in committee since April 23.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com