Finance Committee and citizens haggle over salaries
By Matt Echelberry
The Galion Finance Committee held a meeting on Feb. 28 to discuss the salaries for the government positions that go into effect on June 1, 2013 (mayor, law director, auditor, treasurer, council president, council-at-large and council ward). Committee members Gail Baldinger and Cathy George were present, along with City Finance Director Paul Robinson.
At the beginning of the discussion, Baldinger said he previously spoke to current Law Director Reese Mills, who said current city officers who are running in the May election should not vote on setting wages for the new positions, which included three current members of City Council. Baldinger said Mills also advised that anyone running unopposed in the election should not be a part of the decision making, only the discussion. Baldinger added that the committee will need to look further into the legality of the issue.
Several of the Special Election candidates were present for the meeting, including Mayoral candidate Tom O’Leary, Auditor candidate Brian Treisch, Treasurer candidate Paula Durbin and Council President candidate Don Faulds. Also in attendance were some current department heads: Police Chief Brian Saterfield, Fire Chief Phil Jackson, Electric Department Supervisor Mark Triplett and City Building Inspector Matt Ross.
Baldinger also indicated that there is currently nothing in writing for candidate qualifications and not many guidelines under Ohio Revised Code (which Galion will be governed by beginning June 1). He said it would make it difficult to come up with fair salaries for the new positions.
According to Baldinger, the committee would also need to decide what positions would be full time and part time; when Galion was previously under a statutory form of government, the mayor served part time and the service-safety director full time. Complicating the matter, Baldinger pointed out that, under Ohio Revised Code, the service director and the safety director need to initially be separate positions, but may be combined later by a vote in a general election.
O’Leary interjected, saying that ORC does not detail part time or full time for any positions. Baldinger argued that City Council will need to decide on that detail, which was met with debate from audience members.
Baldinger maintained that, ultimately, the City would need to follow state statutes and the current government is limited on its authority for determining the details for the incoming positions.
When discussion moved on to City Council members, George thought there were only seven council members under statutory government.
Faulds pointed out that Council President is a separate position, for a total of eight council members (the current Charter form of government calls for seven members in total).
Baldinger agreed, adding that the President does not vote, unless a Council member is absent and there is a tie vote.
Throughout the meeting, there were debates between the committee and the audience in regards to access to city financials records and public records in general, and what was legal within Ohio Sunshine Laws.
“In the spirit of a smooth transition, ask Mr. Toy to instruct the finance director to open up the books so that people who are going to be auditor, treasurer or mayor can have the same access to financials as Council,” O’Leary requested.
“I don’t think that should be done until that person is voted in and bonded,” Baldinger replied.
Because no one present had copies of the Ohio Revised Code, Sunshine Laws or the Freedom of Information Act, no one could say for sure what was applicable and what was not.
O’Leary pushed the issue, saying it would be helpful if the public could look at year-end expenditures and vendor histories.
George noted that the State Auditor’s website breaks down much of that information for the City of Galion and could be accessed there.
Robinson added that monthly expenses can be generated at the Finance Department, but those wanting those records must make a public records request at the City Municipal Building.
There seemed to be a misunderstanding of what specifically O’Leary was requesting. He emphasized that he was looking for monthly breakdowns by department, which he said are “basic budgeting tools” that “would help incoming office holders hit the ground running.”
After extensive discussion over policy and legal confinements, O’Leary concluded: “So the short answer is: Figure out the line items you want and make a public record request.”
Audience members continued to insist that incoming candidates need baseline information about city financial records.
Baldinger and George emphasized that they must operate within the state and Sunshine laws.
“Nothing I’ve asked for is in violation of the Sunshine Laws…Read the code,” O’Leary maintained.
In an effort to simplify the issue, Saterfield suggested that salaries for incoming City Council members are currently established in the budget, at least through 2013. “You should be able to establish that right off the bat, then if the next government wants to change [Council’s salaries] for the next term they will be able to.”
Also, Treisch suggested the committee check with comparable communities in the area for what salary levels and pay structures are, such as Bucyrus and Shelby.
At that point, Baldinger added that Belinda Miller, the city’s financial supervisor from the State Auditor’s office, would need to be consulted as well. “For a beginning point, I think we oughta present what was in place 25 years ago to her, to see how that would fit into the budget.”
Several audience members disagreed with the notion.
O’Leary commented, “It’s fairly evident that it’s designed to set [salaries] at a real low level as kind of a ‘we’ll show them’ way.”
“Those making the decisions were adamantly against the change [in government], adamantly protested and voted no. You continue to put out political and personal hurdles from achieving a safe and easy transition into a new form of government,” accused Faulds.
Baldinger responded, “I’m only one vote out of seven members. So I personally cannot do what you’re accusing me of doing…I have a right, too, as a citizen of this community.”
Audience members went on to indicate that the committee members were ill-prepared that morning.
Treisch said that salary information should have been researched before the meeting. He noted that the election was in November and the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the change.
“Information is power,” O’Leary began. “The philosophy about public information is to make sure that all people who want to be involved have access to it.”
George argued they were not dragging their feet, but simply bound by state law.
After the meeting Faulds summed up the audience’s frustrations: “Twelve individuals have said they want to move forward and work for the community, but they don’t even know what their positions are going to pay and cannot get the information that they need.”
The Finance Committee’s next meeting is for March 21 at 9 a.m.