City Council: Mayor Changes Vote, Salaries Cut
Emotions ran high at Thursday night’s meeting of the Morgantown City Council as the Council unexpectedly reversed its votes on salaries and the longtime head of concessions at the city ballfields sparred with the mayor over her salary. The Council also took swift action to assist the Butler County Rescue Squad.
Council member Russell Givens began a string of unexpected salary actions by moving to reduce the six-person Council’s collective salary to $30,000 per year. When it was mentioned that the Council had already acted, Givens replied that the Council could legally act any time before the first Monday in May to change salaries. City treasurer Anita Gossett told the Council that any salary action would have to be put into ordinance form and published and a special called meeting held for another vote. Mayor Linda Keown called for a roll call vote, and the Council approved the reduction by a 4-2 vote, with Council members Sharon Johnson and Gary Southerland voting no. Givens then moved to cut the salaries of the Morgantown Utilities board members from $418 per month to $200 per month. Mayor Keown contended that she had sole power to set that board’s salaries, but after researching the issue all agreed the Council could vote on their salary. The Council approved the reduction on a 6-0 roll call vote.
Council member Allen Meredith then moved to reduce the mayor’s salary to $36,000 per year. On the roll call vote, Council members Dionne Merritt, Terrell House, and Allen Meredith voted in favor, and Council members Sharon Johnson, Russell Givens, and Gary Southerland voted against. Mayor Keown at first wanted to abstain from breaking the 3-3 tie, but House said abstention would allow the motion to pass. Keown then reversed how she voted in a previous meeting and broke the tie in favor of reducing the mayor’s salary.
Givens then launched into a stern lecture of local media, blasting an unnamed publication for calling him “selfish” and “greedy” after his previous votes against cutting salaries. He stated “I’m a team player – there’s no ‘me’ and no ‘I,’ and “When you question this ol’ boy’s integrity, he starts pushing back really fast.” He apologized to Keown for not informing her ahead of the meeting of his salary actions but expressed his displeasure with those who have used the salary issue as a “political game” for the last several years, hoping the issue will be put to rest. Givens challenged current and future office holders that “We can not let things go back to the way it was four years ago” which he characterized as a time of “grown adults acting like middle schoolers.” Meredith offered that the city should take the money that would be saved and “Let’s fix these streets, let’s fix these sidewalks, and let’s get Morgantown looking good.” Givens said that “I won’t take less” than what has been done by city government in the last four years.
Sara Cannon addressed the Council in her capacity of running concessions at the city park ballfields. Cannon said that Mayor Keown informed her that her pay for the job would have to be lowered. The exchange between Cannon and Keown became heated, with Keown saying personnel matters should be discussed in her office and not at an open meeting and Cannon replying that Keown had not returned several calls. Cannon repeatedly said “Go ahead and fire me” and contended Keown didn’t want her in the job. Keown said she would not fire Cannon, and everyone agreed to retain Cannon with her salary unchanged starting with the first game on Saturday.
Jacob Todd Williams of the Butler County Rescue Squad presented their budget to the Council in support of a request for $5,000 in annual funds for the coming fiscal year. Brandon Keown went over their budget, reporting that the squad has made 36 runs since January and that fuel is a major expense. Their March fundraiser collected $742 in donations. Williams said that at the rate of increasing expenses and declining funds raised, the Rescue Squad may not exist in 3 to 5 years. Southerland stated that the Council needed to help now, and after some discussion House moved to give the Butler County Rescue Squad $5,000 out of the current fiscal year’s budget. The Council approved the motion unanimously and said they would consider a request for funding in the coming fiscal year.
Josh Hampton and other employees of Yellowberri gave an update on the city website on the overhead display. Hampton said the website is ready to launch on April 18 if the Council approved. The Council informally agreed to the launch date, and Hampton urged Council members to check the site on their computer or smart phones and make any needed suggestions, stressing that updates can always be made as needed.
In other business, the Council approved the 2nd reading of an amendment to the FY 2013-14 budget and the 2nd reading of the Planning and Zoning Board’s amendment to the political sign ordinance. Both votes were approved 6-0 on roll call votes.