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Debate on St. C service director continues

ST. CLAIRSVILLE ­– The argument about a new candidate for the city service director position continued Monday during a teleconference meeting. After an executive session, council again did not pass an emergency ordinance to hire Jeremy Greenwood and instead had the second of three required readings.

The city has been without a service director since the February retirement of James Zucal. Staffing the city administrative positions has been a source of contention among council, after the chief of police, law director, finance director and city clerk retired at the end of 2019.

Greenwood is the owner of the architectural firm GreenCore Designs. There was some argument during the July 20 meeting, with Councilman Frank Sabatino raising issues of Greenwood’s proposed salary and if the demands of his business would conflict with his responsibilities to the city. Councilwoman Terra Butler referred to a prior interview where Greenwood said he would “back off” his business and prioritize the city.

A special meeting had been called last week, but nothing was done after Sabatino, Councilwoman Linda Jordan and Councilman Mark Bukmir voted against going into executive session, followed by an argument about the reason for the meeting.

During Monday’s meeting, Sabatino put forward several issues he had. He said Greenwood’s salary was “set by the candidate himself.” Sabatino said he believed this a violation of the city charter.

According to city officials, the salary would be $78,000 a year for six months, then increased to $83,000 annually.

Sabatino also objected to Greenwood being credited with three weeks of vacation, adding while this is similar to the new finance director’s contract, but the finance director was credited with two weeks’ vacation.

“He came from a private business, not a government entity,” Sabatino said. “That is wrong.”

Law Director Elizabeth Glick recommended these personnel issues be discussed in executive session.

Sabatino suggested tabling the matter so the finance committee could discuss and recommend a salary and Glick reviewed the charter’s specifications on vacations.

After a vote of six to one with Councilman Perry Basile opposed, council went into executive session for less than an hour. Afterward, Jordan, Sabatino and Bukmir voted against foregoing the three readings and hiring Greenwood, and Basile, Mike Smith, Butler, and Beth Oprisch in favor.

Oprisch suggested a special meeting to hold the final reading and vote.

In other matters, Jordan asked Glick if it might be possible to begin meeting in person again, using social distancing and other protective measures. She suggested different venues such as the rec center. Butler said she has corresponded with county health department officials and did not believe the state’s strict limitation of 10 people was still in effect.

Glick will review state mandates and consult with the Belmont County Health Department and report back to council.

“The situation is fluid depending on our numbers,” she said.

She added there are also issues with acoustics at the rec center.

“I personally would like to get back to regular meetings as soon as possible, but we have to make sure we do follow the proper guidelines,” Council President Jim Velas said.

Also, Planning and Zoning Director Tom Murphy gave an update on progress of the Census count in St. Clairsville. He reported the count was now at 71.7 percent, still somewhat below the count for this time in 2010.

“Any increase we’ve had over the past month has been very incremental,” he said, adding enumerators have begun visiting neighborhoods. “We’re behind the eight ball.”

According to estimates from the Census Bureau, St. Clairsville is close to dipping below the 5,000-person population necessary to maintain city status.

Payment plans are in place for delinquent utility fees.

Residents are reminded that the city has a Code Red alert system that can notify the public of issues such as water breaks and boil orders, but residents must sign up for the service. More information can be found at the city website at https://stclairsville.com/

Mayor Kathryn Thalman also commended the police department for their work in a recent arrest and the seizure of 55 grams of suspected fentanyl. Police Chief Matt Arbenz said residents with drug addiction issues often do not know dealers are adding fentanyl to their drugs to increase potency. He said the department is offering to dispose of unwanted drugs.

Thalman thanked the Chick-fil-A at the Ohio Valley Mall for providing a free lunch for the officers in recognition.

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