The Crestwood Board of Aldermen last week granted City Administrator Jim Eckrich’s request to once again become director of public services.
Aldermen voted 5-3 on the appointment, which took effect immediately and put Eckrich in charge of the city’s public works and parks and recreation divisions.
Opposed at the April 12 meeting were Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach, Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink and Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild.
Eckrich has said the opportunity to return to his previous position arose with the resignation last month of Public Works Director Dzenana Mruckovski. Her departure followed that of Parks Director Amy Meyer last year.
Under the approved arrangement, Eckrich will continue serving as acting city administrator until the board hires his successor.
Once that takes place, Eckrich’s salary will decrease to $90,000 from $93,000. He previously was paid $89,000 as director of public services. Since that time, all employees have received a $1,000 pay increase.
He also now can use the city’s 2008 Ford Escape, a vehicle he drove previously as director of public services.
In addition, Eckrich will be paid a minimum three months’ salary and benefits if he is removed from the director of public services position without cause.
That provision in particular, which is part of Eckrich’s current employment contract, drew objections last week from Wallach and Duchild.
“I’m open-minded to the three months … until we find a new city administrator to take over,” Wallach said. “For example, if the position isn’t available until Aug. 1, I wouldn’t mind having that three months option until August, until we find a city administrator. But when (Eckrich) is appointed full time as public (services) director, that’s when that three months’ options should be waived and void because we don’t have that same three months’ severance for the other department heads …”
Former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder told the board “many residents, myself included, are puzzled” by Eckrich’s request.
Nieder questioned why the city was again merging the public works and parks and recreation departments when Eckrich separated them after becoming city administrator in July 2008. He noted that Todd Stover, who was named parks and recreation manager after Meyer resigned, “has not only performed well but is fulfilling the responsibilities of a department head.”
“Now Jim wants his old job back, and he wants to once again rearrange the reporting structure,” Nieder said. “Is this his way of justifying a $90,000 salary? Why is it assumed that the current parks and recreation manager requires additional supervision?”
Nieder further questioned why Eckrich’s proposed salary exceeded the roughly $72,000 he previously recommended for the public works director position; whether use of a city vehicle and three months’ severance provision was a reward for a “demotion” and if Eckrich’s self-recommendation, as personnel director, to his old job was a conflict of interest.
Nieder said he agreed with a promise Mayor Roy Robinson made in his 2005 mayoral campaign “to separate the duties and powers of the city administrator and police chief,” “put an end” to car allowances and “restrict perks” to city officials.
But “(f)ast forward six years, and here we find ourselves in exactly the same position,” Nieder said.
He requested the board — which he said is “duty-bound” to represent residents’ interests first — table Eckrich’s proposal, create a job description for the director of public services, develop a salary schedule for the position and post the opening internally and externally.
“The board needs to demonstrate this time to residents that conflicts of interest are unacceptable and the best way to resolve this issue is through a fair and well-considered process,” Nieder said.
Robinson responded that he kept the campaign promises Nieder mentioned. He said the proposed arrangement would allow the city to still have an administrator while Eckrich returns to public services director.
“If the new mayor doesn’t want him to perform that duty, that’s fine,” Robinson said, referring to Schlink, to whom he lost in the April 5 election.
He explained, “Jim came to me and asked me if I would be willing to allow him to go back to the public services director job. After serious consideration, I said yes, I don’t have the authority, but I’ll go to the board, which we did.”
The matter was discussed during a closed session following the March 22 aldermanic meeting, Robinson said.
“The reason why it didn’t come out before the election is that it was requested by a couple of aldermen that that not be done because it might have an effect on the election. So if there’s any question as to why this was put off until tonight, that’s the reason …”
Nieder said, “I didn’t ask that question.”
Robinson responded, “Well I’m telling you. You’re up here talking about unethical things …”
Nieder interjected, “I didn’t say anything about unethical. I did not use the word ‘unethical.’ You are misquoting me …”
Robinson said, “… I’m not misquoting you. I’m not misquoting you at all.”
“Yes you are. Look on that piece of paper and find where it says ‘unethical.’ I challenge you. Find it,” Nieder said, referring to a copy of his remarks provided for the record.
Robinson said, “You’re saying that there’s problems …”
Nieder interjected, “I didn’t say there were problems.”
Ward 4 Alderman John Foote said, “Can I call a point of order? It’s getting too far out of control.”
Robinson said to Nieder, “The other thing is, everything (Eckrich) asked for is the same things that he had before he became city administrator.”
Nieder said, “No they’re not.”
Robinson said, “… Every employee got a $1,000 increase by the board’s direction several years ago …”
Foote again interjected, “Can I call a point of order?”
Robinson said, “I’m going ahead.”
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said to Foote, “State your point.”
Foote said, “My point is, this discussion has been held, and I’d like to call the question.”
Robinson said, “Is that a motion?”
Miguel said, “… The mayor needs to rule on the point.”
“We will end the discussion. I’ll make a ruling on that, OK?” Robinson said, and later told Nieder, “… If you’re trying to make my last couple of meetings something you can have fun with, I’ve got news for you: It’s not going to happen. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to rule on Alderman Foote’s point of order. We’re going to say we’re going to end the discussion and I’m not going to explain to you anything. So end of discussion, and we’re moving on.”