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City makes employee cuts

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Eliminates director of economic development/tourism, lays off 3 workers

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Saying that they were unable to avoid the inevitable, Vandalia officials on Monday approved personnel cutbacks that include the elimination of the director of economic development and tourism position.
In addition to cutting the post held by JoAnn Sasse Givens for the past 3½ years, the city council voted to lay off three city employees and not fill three vacancies.
The council OK'd the personnel items, after a 45-minute closed session, in a 6-2 vote, with Mike Hobler and Dean Black voting against the motion. While Black did not give a reason for his vote, Hobler said he had some concerns with the budget.
Position Cut
Eliminating the director of economic development and tourism post is effective immediately. Givens was notified of the pending action earlier on Monday, her last day of work.
Givens was about 17 months into a four-year contract approved by the council on June 15, 2009. Under that contract, her salary for the current year was $62,050
That contract was approved in a 7-1 vote, with the dissenting vote cast by then-Alderman Chad Feldpouch, who did not want to include a severance package in the agreement.
Givens, who told Feldpouch that she would not agree to the contract without the severance package, will be paid a lump sum payment equal to three months’ salary, health and life insurance for three months and compensation for all accrued personal leave, vacation time and paid holidays.
Givens, a native of the Vandalia area and graduate of Vandalia Community High School, was hired as the director of economic development and tourism in October 2007.
Layoffs
The council agreed to lay off three city employees:
• Brian Tedrick, who works at the city garage.
• Judy Kaiser, who works in the office of City Clerk Peggy Bowen.
• Linda Townsend, custodian at city hall and the public safety building.
Vacancies Not Filled
The council agreed not to fill three open positions, two on the city’s police department and one on the public works staff.
The vacancies were created by:
• The resignation of patrolman Judd Newcomb, who took a firefighter position at Scott Air Force Base.
• The resignation of patrolman Jason Caraway, who accepted a police officer position in Effingham.
• The recent death of Clifford Ray, a long-time employee working out of the city garage with the city’s water department.
Other
• Merle Adermann, who serves as the city’s fire chief, agreed to give up the position of emergency management coordinator. Those duties will be added to Police Chief Larry Eason’s daily duties, with no stipend added to Eason’s pay.
Coverage of Work
• Mayor Rick Gottman said that he and Executive Secretary LaTisha Paslay will take over the duties formerly handed by Givens until the city feels comfortable financially with hiring a new city administrator.
When that time comes, the duties of the director of economic development and tourism will be merged with those of the city administrator. Gottman noted that that was the setup of city government when the city hired Ron Neibert as its first city administrator in 1997.
City officials estimate that the personnel cutbacks will reduce its budget expenditures by $484,751.14.
“It was not an easy day,” Gottman said at Monday’s meeting. “I did not want to do this, but we had no other option.”
City officials have been looking at ways to trim its spending for more than a year, holding numerous meetings to talk about possible cutbacks.
Representatives of the city’s auditing firm, Timmermann and Co. Ltd., have been present for many of those meetings, with Dale Timmermann repeatedly telling city officials that they would need to take a serious look at its staffing.
“You’re going to need to make some tough decisions, and the longer you wait, the harder the decisions are going to be,” Timmermann said during a meeting last September.
With the personnel cuts, Gottman said, the city could pass a balanced budget. Without them, he said, the city would have continued to have deficits of “several thousands of dollars.”
In a press release he issued as the council approved the personnel measures, Gottman said, “I want the citizens to be aware that even though the number of city employees has been decreased, the city will work diligently to ensure that current service to the citizens will not be hampered in any way, and I ask that the citizens be patient with us while we adjust to the new work structure.”
As to how city officials reached the decision on what employees to lay off, Gottman said that they relied on input from department heads.
With union contracts entering into the decision, he said, the council considered “performance, evaluations and seniority.”
Gottman conceded that one of the factors in deciding to eliminate the director of economic development position is the economy.
“There is not a lot of development movement out there right now,” he said, “and what there is, I feel that myself and LaTisha can handle it until we feel that we are in a position to hire a city administrator.
“And, usually, a city administrator has a background in economic development,” he said. “That’s the way this city operated when the city council decided to go to a form of government with a city administrator.”