WESTMINSTER — The decision to combine the Public Works and Planning Departments has created a rift in the City Council.
Council President William F.Haifley complained Monday night that the speed of the reorganizationand the number of meetings taking place about it behind closed doorsis "troubling" and "not an ethical way of conducting city business."
The council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would combine the two departments and put them under the control of a single director. In addition, the council approved the job descriptions and gavepermission for three new positions to be advertised.
Haifley protested that the positions should not be filled until the council has given final approval to the reorganization.
Mayor W. Benjamin Brownadvocated the restructuring, saying it will increase "efficiency andcoordination" between the two offices.
The restructuring calls for the creation of three new positions: city engineer, development coordinator and planner.
Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein, chairwoman of the Personnel Committee, recommended that the council approve the restructuring.
"The proposed restructuring will achieve efficiency and better service for the public," Orenstein said. "Additionally, the proposed restructuring will result in cost savings to the taxpayers, which is an important goal in these times."
Haifley disputed thecontention the city will save any money.
"The reality is that if you look at the salary scales in the future years, it will cost the city more money," he said, adding that the public is not getting a chance to voice its opinion on the reorganization. "The city should conduct hiring practices in the proper manner and not behind closed doorsor legislated in the press," he said
Haifley also was upset that Planning Director Thomas Beyard was promoted with no public input.
"When any new position is made available, the public should be made aware of it before someone is hired," Haifley said, clearly enjoying his new-found role of advocating open meetings. "I have experienced and known of more private meetings, phone calls, correspondence and closed meetings in the past 10 months than in the previous six years that I've served on this council."
Brown acknowledges that the resignations of three top-level City Hall officials precipitated the reorganization.
Under circumstances yet to be explained by officials, Public Works Director William S. Mowell, Assistant Public Works Director Jonathan Frenzel and Planning Supervisor Kevin Bode resigned.
Brown has refused to say why the men resigned and whether any of them is still receiving compensation from the city. He also denied at the time of their resignations that there had been any criminal investigation.
Orenstein said it "would be inappropriate" to comment.
She did dispute Haifley's contention that closed meetings were held to discuss the job descriptions and flow charts of the new jobs.
"I had a meeting at City Hall with Councilman (Stephen) Chapin and City Attorney (John) Walsh to draft the job descriptions," she said. "I also met with the treasurer to see if there was money in the budget for these positions."
She said that it was at her insistence that the full council discussed the job descriptions and flow charts in open session.