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The Richmond City Council enacted temporary freeze on hiring at a special meeting that was called Friday night.
Councilmen Roger Kepple, Jim Dunwoodie and Terrie Stanley called the meeting after Mayor Lance Green informed them the city was hiring two individuals.
Green told the council Friday night one fireman had been hired prior to last Tuesday and that another person was being considered for another department.
Kepple told the Mayor and large audience, mostly comprised of city employees, that the new council wants to get a grip of the city’s financial situation before anymore hiring moved forward.
“We need to stop where we are now until the new council can get a grip of income and expenses of the revised budget, and then go forward from there,” Kepple said. “If a city or business or anything is not careful, personnel can destroy you. We need to make sure that we understand, to fulfill the obligation we have to the citizens.”
Green responded by saying he’s concerned about having enough people for services.
“I’m also concerned about having enough personnel to carry on the services that we provide for the city,” Green said. “That’s the real purpose we’re here.
“Rather than put a hiatus on what were currently doing that seems to be working – I would rather you dig in and learn the information as quick as you can rather than making some hasty decisions,” Green added.Kepple responded by saying, “I’m not making a hasty decision. I want to put a curb somewhere and I want to do it now.”
Green said the city’s budget is in good shape primarily because the city staff has done a good job of monitoring revenues and expenses.
“I feel very confident in the staff that we have,” Green said. “They have worked very hard for the last two years. I would like for you to trust them.”
Stanley responded to Green by saying, “We just got here. Trust takes awhile.
Let us see what’s going on, ask the questions and then we’ll take it from there.”
Green told the council that taking any action could jeopardize city services.
“In the process of doing that, you might cause some damage to the services that we provide,” he said.
Kepple responded by saying that the city’s problems and issues are now on a new watch, and those involved overseeing the city need to be informed and that the city’s finances need to be looked at on a regular basis. The council took the first step of those checks and balances by requesting that the city’s monthly expenditure report be included in the council packets. For the last couple of years, the city has not reviewed expenditures–only revenue.
Green advised against it, saying it would make the council packets too large. Last month’s report was about six pages long.
Kepple said every economic indicator says that revenues are declining.
“If they’re [revenues] going to be down, why would we say, ‘Well it’s in the budget so we can spend the money?’” Kepple said. “It’s not the city’s money; it’s the citizens’ money. I’m not going to say it’s in the budget so spend the money. It [the budget] needs to be looked at continually. I understand it is, but we haven’t. I want to make sure that if it’s on our watch, that we are in control of what’s happening.”
Rob Kinnard, a city firefighter, spoke before the council as a citizen and said many city employees are concerned about what is happening and some are worried about their jobs. Kinnard said that although the council says they are going to work together, some are still skeptical.
“I know that you’ll tell me that’s what you’re trying to do, but I don’t know if I’m sold on that 100 percent,” Kinnard said.
Kinnard called on the entire council to forfeit their pay to help the budget.
Kepple said that Green and some of the city staff are jumping to conclusions about their intentions.
“We’re not removing anybody from the payroll,” Kepple said. “We’re being prejudged before we are even being heard as to why we’re having this meeting.”
Green told the council that the council’s actions are hurting morale at City Hall.
“It causes a little animosity when you want us to stop what we’re doing, and it makes us feel like you think we’ve done something wrong when we haven’t,” Green said. “You’re wanting to take control of something we’ve done very well. The animosity comes from, they feel like they’re not being trusted to do their jobs when they have done well.”
Green later clarified his statement and said every councilman has the right to know what’s going on.
“Do you want us to just say ‘OK?’ Or, do you want us to use the brains God gave us?” Stanley asked. “Can we get acclimated a little bit here?
“What if we do feel like we need to bring it to a screeching halt?” she asked. “Are we going to be reprimanded for it? Will we have animosity in the crowd because we do that? We’re sitting here trying to do the best we can, and we’re getting daggers thrown at us because we’re doing that? I’m doing what you’re trying to do.”
Councilman Jim Dunwoodie said if this many people are going to show interest in the city’s affairs, he would like to see more special meetings.
“The citizens of this town need to know what’s going on,” Dunwoodie said. “They need it all out in front of them. The ones that got elected to this council – I think that’s why they got elected to this council. Citizens are wanting change. If it takes special council meetings to get somebody in here to talk maybe that’s what we ought to have.”