MONTESANO — Mayor Ken Estes says he will be approaching the City Council during budget talks this fall to hire at least one more employee, maybe more, to ensure that the city can continue to function even if the city administrator is away for a period of time.
Estes came under fire for saying that City Administrator Kristy Powell was too invaluable to place on paid administrative leave after two employees came forward alleging sexual harassment allegations and three other employees came forward alleging age discrimination issues. Following several weeks of an investigation, an independent attorney issued a report last week concluding that no real harm had been done and that there were just a few “isolated incidents” that may be considered sexual harassment, not a continual trend. The investigator didn’t uphold the other allegations.
Although there have been several harassment investigations in recent months, Estes says the only employee ever put on leave was former public works lead Russ Burke because of a criminal investigation. Estes says he never placed employees on leave who were suspected of harassment and followed that trend with Powell.
However, there have been dozens of people at recent council meetings mocking the mayor for saying that Powell was too invaluable to do without.
“This is a small city and we’re stressed and stretched on resources,” Estes told the council during the June 25 council meeting. “At council meetings, we’ve heard that we may be requiring too much from one employee, the city administrator. I want the council to be aware the administration is studying this issue.”
During an interview last week, Estes said that Powell’s position is not just city administrator, but it’s also the public records officer, the finance officer, the comptroller and the city clerk.
Asked if it’s possible to cross train current employees to receive and handle public records requests, for instance, Estes says that option is still being researched.
“We’ve been told all of these positions are exempt positions because a union employee can’t be giving out information about another union employee,” Estes said.
“That’s against union rules. When a public records request is made to look at council emails, an employee that is nothing more than a clerical union employee and can’t order the council to give them the records. Kristy can do it because she’s their liaison. They hired her.”
Estes says he doesn’t specifically have an idea how the city would fund a new employee, because there’s not a whole lot of new money coming into the city.
But, he says, the discussion needs to be had during the upcoming budget talks with the council.
The city will hear budget reports this fall. Budget approvals need to be done by the end of December for the 2014 fiscal year.
Powell says the city’s sales tax revenue has been lackluster, however, the city’s property taxes remain steady. The city of Montesano chose not to increase property taxes for the 2013 fiscal year.