2018-08-30 / Local News

Procedural issues cause delay in hiring new Empire Village clerk

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

A special meeting has been called to possibly hire a new Empire Village clerk after the Village Council on Tuesday deadlocked on a proposed contract.

The council did, however, vote unanimously to schedule a special meeting for 5 p.m. next Thursday Sept. 6, to consider a professional services agreement (PSA) for Derith Smith.

The decision came after a motion failed 3-3 to hire Smith, the former Elmwood Township clerk and supervisor, to replace former Empire clerk Traci Cruz. Cruz was removed from her position in April, and has filed a lawsuit against the village.

Trustee Dan Davis was absent.

Sue Carpenter, chairman of the council’s personnel committee, presented the group’s recommendation to hire Smith along with a PSA for adoption.

Procedural questions about the recommendation and contract made the vote a no-go.

Trustees Chris Frey and Soni Aylsworth questioned whether the hiring was clearly identified on the agenda. They also said that they were not provided copies of the proposed contract prior to the meeting.

“Personnel — Clerk position” was listed under committee reports.

“I didn’t realize this was going to come before us tonight,” Alysworth said.

Frey supported Alysworth.

“The public hasn’t seen this (issue on the agenda). They don’t know what we’re doing.”

But village president Sam Barr held a different position.

“There’s no question that it’s on the agenda. The clerk’s position has been on every single agenda for the past several months.”

A memo from Carpenter outlined duties for Smith.

They include:

 A 16-to-20 hour work week with a commitment to keep the village office open on Fridays.

 A commitment to work with Sheree Nelson to familiarize herself with the accepted accounting practices of the village.

 A 60-day probationary period for training. At the end of those 60 days a performance review will determine her level of expertise and her abilities.

 Compensation would increase from $22,000 to $24,000 with a favorable review.

The agreement would run through March 31, 2020.

Frey and Alysworth, who also voted “no” on the former clerk’s dismissal, noted that the PSA had not been included in the council’s meeting packet.

Members of the personnel committee and Barr had copies of the agreement.

That was also a problem for Trustee Maggie Bacon. She didn’t feel comfortable action on the PSA which she didn’t have to review prior to the meeting.

“I have no issue with (Smith). My concern is with the process,” she said. “I’d be approving something I haven’t seen.”

However, Barr said the council’s attorney, Dick Figura, had instructed the resolution to appoint should come first, followed by the PSA.

Smith was one of three applicants for the position and one of two interviewed.

Carpenter declined to identify the other two applicants, deferring to their requests that their names not be released.

Smith will take over for Sheree Nelson, who was brought on to update the village books after Barr suspended Cruz Feb. 25, claiming to find “many grave and egregious errors” in the proposed budget.

Cruz was placed by Barr on paid leave until the council took formal action to remove her from office on April 18.

In May Cruz filed a 10-count lawsuit filed against the village claiming that Council members engaged in acts of “intimidation, badgering and abuse.”

She is seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

A 4-day jury trial has been scheduled to hear the case April.

In other business during the more than two-hour meeting the council:

 Learned that more than $34,000 had been generated by parking fees at the village-owned Empire Beach, up from $29,800 at this time last year.

 Authorized council member attendance at a Citizen Planner program next month in Benzie County. The training is offered by Michigan State University Extension.

 Decided against pursuit of a “Prosperity Grant” offered at the state level citing the Sept. 10 deadline for applications.

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