This opinion was submitted to Racine County Eye as was read at Public Comment tonight (Monday Dec 12, 2016) by Kelly Gallaher to the Mount Pleasant Village Board.
Over the last 20 months, residents have had the opportunity to learn in far greater detail some of the practices and agreements made between village staff and the board of trustees by the previous administration. Access to this information has revealed some very concerning and alarming arrangements that simply do not exist in other municipalities and defy even the most casual understanding of best practices and responsible public stewardship.
We have learned that nepotism rules were rewritten so that relatives of board trustees and staff could become village employees. Certain village department heads were granted lavish golden parachute severance packages created the week following the election of the new village president in 2015 – the timing of which could not have been more telling in its intent.
Further exploration revealed that “contracts” had also been extended to some at-will staff, which guaranteed their jobs with no expiration or review date. Not only is such an arrangement for indefinite public employment illegal – it appears to have been created to either shield certain employees from the possibility of dismissal or establish grounds for a lawsuit against the village should a new board decide to hire others for those jobs.
Some of these measures were voted on by a compliant and complicit village board and some were conducted outside of the public eye – both constitute – in my opinion – governmental malfeasance that borders on corruption.
Fortunately, our new board of trustees and village president have begun eliminating these inappropriate measures, which should have never been created to begin with.
However, the legacy of shady and irresponsible practices have not been erased completely.
In 2010, a memorandum of understanding was drafted and approved which authorized the Chief of Police and Police Captains – who are salaried, police department administration to collect overtime pay when no police staff wanted to cover needed shifts. Rising overtime costs are a challenge for many municipalities, however an agreement that allows administrative, salaried staff (usually considered exempt) to collect overtime pay is highly unusual.
Racine Police Chief, Art Howell is an exempt salaried employee of the city. Chief Howell works long hours – he does not receive overtime pay.
Racine Police Deputy Chiefs and Police Captains are also exempt salaried employees and they are not eligible for overtime pay either.
Racine County Sheriff, Christopher Schmaling works a ton of hours every week – there is no doubt. The Sheriff receives no overtime pay. The Racine County Sheriff’s Department Captains also receive no overtime – they never have.
What do they call the extra hours they provide for their salary and benefits? They call it their job.
Mt. Pleasant is different.
In 2015, Mt. Pleasant Police Captain Brian Smith collected $33,714.00 in overtime pay in addition to his salary, vacation, personal days, dental and healthcare and retirement benefits. For the first 10 months of 2016, Captain Smith has received $38,450.00 in overtime pay.
In 2015, Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Tim Zarzecki collected $28,375 in overtime pay in addition to his salary and benefits. For the first 10 months of 2016, Mr. Zarzecki has received $26,000 in overtime pay. Mr. Zarzecki became the interim Village Administrator on August 1st – which by the way resulted in a pay increase – and it appears that Mr. Zarzecki may still be collecting overtime pay even though the village administrator is strictly prohibited from overtime as outlined in the village personnel handbook. That Mr. Zarzecki oversees and authorizes his own overtime is just the tip of this iceberg.
$72,645.00 in overtime was paid to Chief Zarzecki, Captain Smith and Captain Petersen in 2015. $71,637.00 in overtime was paid to these same salaried employees through the end of October in 2016. It is a fair assessment to say that these individuals may have been paid as much as $400,000 in addition to their salary, vacation, personal days, dental and health care and retirement benefits provided by the residents of Mt. Pleasant under this extraordinary clause since it was drafted in 2010.
Tonight, the agenda calls for this board to consider paying village police captains an additional wage stipend. How much and why? We don’t know because the minutes of the last 3 Personnel Committee meetings have not been approved or published and won’t be voted on until later this week – after the vote tonight.
At the last board meeting, we saw a wage increase for the village clerk and deputy clerk – which had neither been discussed nor approved by the personnel committee – compelled on the board agenda by trustees who refuse to follow any coherent plan of operation. This week we have stipends for police captains who have already collected tens of dollars in overtime pay this year.
This isn’t how you run a hotdog stand let alone a village government. For more than a few years, Mt. Pleasant has become the place for a select few to come and cash in. Ordinances, and what few policies exist, were happily suspended to keep the money – our money – flowing in ways no other municipality ever dreamed of.
The people of Mt. Pleasant have bankrolled this public ATM for too long, most didn’t even know. You have the opportunity tonight to send a clear message that things are changing in our village. Our business will be conducted with transparency and professionalism, aligned with the best practices of our neighboring communities. An honest local government is not too much to ask.
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