While the skies outside were cloudy, things lit up brightly at a Joseph City Council meeting at the library Oct. 25.
After some hiccups at an executive session earlier in the evening regarding a city employee, the open session that followed started benignly enough.
A fuse was lighted during a discussion about hiring a general clerk for the city.
The council was to vote to make a choice between two candidates when council member Patty Bufford stated she disagreed with having to recuse herself from interviewing one of the candidates. The individual is someone she worked with at Embers Brew House, owned by council member Teresa Sajonia.
“There is nothing in our charter that says it was a conflict of interest just because I work with her,” she said.
She added that she confronted Mayor Dennis Sands about the issue and asked that he show her the applicable law. She also said that it didn’t fit the definition of an “actual conflict of interest” under state statutes.
She also said that Sands refused to let her call the city’s attorney to get his opinion. The council did not resolve the complaint.
A long discussion ensued about the hiring protocol for the city’s general clerk. At least one member was unclear about whether it was a full-time benefited position or a temporary position. Council member Mike Lockhart wondered who would supervise office staff as the city still didn’t have an administrator.
The council voted to hire Belinda Buswell for the position and more discussion followed regarding dividing duties between the general clerk and billing clerk. Council Sajonia offered to write a checklist of daily duties for both positions.
A recurring theme throughout the meeting regarded who would act as a liaison between the council and city staff. The council elected on July 9 to have Sands fulfill the duty, but Sajonia argued at that session and the Oct. 24 meeting that two people should act as liaisons.
Council member Pearl Sturm said that the city needed only one.
“He needs to do it by himself,” Sturm said. “There’s too many people, we’ve had that conflict before. We should have one person come in like he’s doing now, over the staff.”
Sajonia disagreed. She added that it wouldn’t be two separate people giving orders, but people working together as a team.
Sturm refused to back down and the two talked over one another. Sturm maintained the council functioned as a team with one person as a liaison.
“No we’re not,” Sajonia said. “We’re the most dysfunctional group of workers I’ve ever seen. This is the most dysfunctional committee I’ve ever seen. Do you know how many human resources problems we’ve had in the four months, six months, 12 months?”
Lockhart said he thought the problem was systemic. Sajonia agreed and said that the council should have had an outline on what it wanted in an administrator by Aug. 1.
“We don’t have that,” she said. “Here we are going into November and the holidays, and we don’t have that, and nobody seems to think it’s a big urgency.”
“We’re trying,” Sturm said.
“Really?” Sajonia asked.
Lockhart tried to interject that the council had a sense of urgency although in reality, the last city administrator quit in June and the council still hadn’t approved a hiring outline.
“I didn’t sign on to do this,” Sajonia said. “This was supposed to be bettering the city of Joseph for our citizens. We didn’t sign on to do human resource work.” She added that the council didn’t volunteer to react to the types of issues it was facing.
“This is the result of a lack of our leadership,” she said. “This issue didn’t start four weeks ago, and it won’t go away until we start addressing the problems.”
“Bottom line is: Let’s get off our high horse and get down to business and do it like we’re supposed to do it,” Sajonia said. She added the city couldn’t even get members to volunteer for the council because of its dysfunction.
Lockhart said that the dysfunction also had to do with bad decisions the council made in terms of hiring.
That did not mollify Sajonia, and she threatened to get the state involved if the council did not get into line.
Former council member Kathy Bingham said that she heard Sajonia’s frustration.
“You don’t have any idea about the frustration on the street right now -- with what you all are doing and what’s gone on in this office.”
Bingham said that her husband came to city hall to vote, and it was locked up at 10:45 a.m.
“I called up Sandy Lathrop, and I said, ‘I think you ought to move that box out of there.’” Bingham said. “The city is totally irresponsible.”
Apparently not hearing Bingham’s statement, Sands said the city hall was open at 8 a.m. for voting.
“Trying to do business with the city right now is ridiculous,” Bingham continued. She also said Lathrop was considering moving the ballot box to the Sports Corral down the street because they keep regular hours.
“It’s out there on the streets, I can’t tell you how many times I hear, ‘What’s going on? Who’s in charge? I go down there and they’re never open,’” Bingham said.
She also mentioned a neighbor who tried to get a burn permit three times only to find the office closed each time.
Lockhart and Bingham both expressed reservations about hiring more employees until the council settles the office problems. Sajonia suggested to Sands that he lay down some office rules for the staff.
Bingham also asked when the “day care” center would close in the office, as during one of her visits children were playing with envelopes and checks.
“That should not be happening,” Bingham said. There’s confidential information in there.”
Sturm replied that was the responsibility of the office staff and needed to be addressed. She added that she had observed office staff leave the office numerous times during working hours and sign in rather than clocking in when arriving in the morning. Sajonia asked that further complaints be addressed in executive session.