Middleport Council still discussing bonuses

By Michael Hart - Special to the Sentinel

MIDDLEPORT —Nearly two months after Christmas, Middleport Council is still discussing Christmas bonuses given to public works employees

During the most recent meeting of Middleport Village Council, the council again debated Administrator Joe Woodall’s December distribution of bonuses to Pubic Works employees.

Councilperson Sharon Older contends Woodall circumvented the budgetary power of the council by not seeking specific approval for the $2431.75, and that a 3-2 vote during the Dec. 20 emergency meeting was an attempt to shield the administrator.

She requested a legal opinion from the village solicitor in January that was given to council for the Feb. 13 meeting, and submitted an email conversation with the State Auditor’s office.

Village Solicitor Rick Hedges’s legal opinion was “that because the Village Administrator discussed his desire to give the administrative bonuses with the Mayor and the bonus amounts were included in the 2016 budget which was approved by the Village Council, the Village Administrator acted legally in distributing these non-recurring awards.”

The bonuses came from money approved by Council for 2016 Public Works payroll, an account which came in under budget. The council debated at length whether bonuses had special criteria that required them to be brought before the body.

Hedges said the 2016 budget was approved with bonus allocations because the bonuses came from approved salary monies, though he recommended that it be stated as a line item to prevent issues later.

Older argued bonuses were not discussed when the budget was presented.

Speaking after the meeting, she said “Every year I’ve been here (in the audience), every year I’ve been on council, bonuses have always” been brought before council.

The remainder of the council was divided over whether bonuses, implied or explicit, has been part of the 2016 budget discussions.

Woodall eventually spoke on his own behalf, asking “What is the solution? I’m never malicious with anything. I run it tight. What can we do to put this behind?”

He said he would bring the bonuses before council going forward, and hoped there would be a resolution of the issue that night.

Councilperson Doug Dixon said, “Joe, I think your employees do deserve bonuses,” but that he voted no on Dec. 20 because of the procedural concerns. “Right or wrong at the time, I would like it stated properly in the future.”

Dixon cited ORC 731.13, which was also part of the State Auditor’s response to Older, that a line item would be the only way to grant the Administrator that unilateral power, and otherwise, any extra compensation would need to go through the council.

The solicitor also urged the council to pass language specifying how to handle bonuses in the future.

As the council wrangled over how to implement such a measure, given that bonuses would be contingent on the department coming in under budget, the meeting was abruptly adjourned mid-discussion.

By Michael Hart

Special to the Sentinel

Michael Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.

Michael Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.