Two Harbors City Council meeting heats upDebate swirled constantly at the Two Harbors City Council meeting on Monday. After much deliberation the City Council picked a prosecuting attorney for 2012 from among the two attorneys who bid.
Debate swirled constantly at the Two Harbors City Council meeting on Monday.
After much deliberation the City Council picked a prosecuting attorney for 2012 from among the two attorneys who bid. Councilor Seth McDonald said both the Costley Law Firm and the Lake County Attorney were capable professionals and that it was a difficult decision. But he said it came down to the numbers. “We had one who was willing to provide their service for 25 percent less than the other service,” he said.
The Lake County Attorney proposed a $7,500 yearly fee while the Costley Law Firm bid $10,000 with an additional $125 per hour fee for contested criminal hearings or trials. Councilor Mary Rosati said she was concerned about the numbers but she was also concerned about the type of service the city would receive.
“We have to take a good hard look at what we’re getting for our dollars,” she said. “Both attorneys are excellent. But which office has the time to look at some of the problems we’ll be looking at down the road.”
Council members voted 4-2 in favor of the Lake County Attorney, with councilors Mary Rosati and Jerry Norberg voting against. Council President Dan Jones abstained from the decision. He later explained it was because he is a Lake County employee.
Debate also sparked over the council’s approval of the confidential unit’s contract with the city, a decision they delayed at the Jan. 3 meeting.
According to the confidential unit’s contract, the city administrator, finance director, city clerk, and confidential administrative secretary make up the confidential unit. McDonald said he thought the confidential unit’s contract was in line with the supervisors’ contract which the council has already approved. “How do we unwind that,” he said.
However other units that have contracts with the city did not have language about the 60 percent vacation payout that was in the proposed confidential unit’s contract and in the already approved supervisors’ contract. Councilors Chris Swanson and Mary Rosati had voted against approving the supervisors’ contract at the March 7, 2011, meeting. Mayor Randy Bolen said that the other units decided that other policies were more important than the vacation payout. “When it comes time for bargaining this fall, everyone has the opportunity to bring anything to the table,” he said.
But Lake County resident Mark Broin, who came forward to offer his help to the council, said some of the language in the contracts could be improved. He said he looked at the most recent copies. “I don’t see an issue with fundamental structure or the approach to treating people fairly,” he said. “But what I do see is at least at the administrative level there’s some control issues where the proper wording wasn’t put in the contracts.”
Councilor Rosati said she thought the city had really faithful employees and that she wanted to make sure they were fairly compensated. But she had reservations about the vacation payout.
“If you’re a salaried employee you are getting paid to take your vacation. And you work through it so you have your salary. But then you don’t get to take your vacation so therefore we pay you 60 percent of your vacation,” said Rosati. “If I pay you 100 percent, I’m saving 40 percent. But if you’re working and not taking your vacation, am I paying you twice?”
Swanson said he would prefer a straightforward increase in salary for employees over this situation and pointed out that newspapers across the state were writing articles about public sector employee contracts. “I want to make sure we’re clear on this language,” he said.
The contract’s language reads: “An employee may carry over five days of vacation from one year to another. In the event an employee has used at least 50 percent of available vacation during a year and has in excess of five days of unused vacation at year end, such unused vacation over five days shall be paid to the employee at a rate of 60 percent of the unused vacation. If an employee is unable to use their vacation because of service to the public or illness, more than five days may be carried over if approved by the City Council.”
The council approved the confidential unit’s contract 4-3. Councilors Rosati, Steve Detlefsen, and Swanson voted against while Councilors Norberg, McDonald, and Mayor Bolen voted to approve, with Council President Jones breaking the tie by deciding to approve too since “the language was the same” as the supervisors’ agreement.
Previously, Jones has abstained from voting on the contract issue. “I haven’t voted on contracts that involved my sister before. The first time it was tied, they wanted a response from [labor relations consultant] Bill Sample about whether or not the contracts were like the supervisors’. I didn’t break the tie that time,” he said the day after the vote.