Posted 5/24/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Tioga Police Administrator Jeff Spivey and Amanda Moser -- who was police dispatcher, administrative assistant, and clerk of court -- were laid off Monday.
The decision to cut the positions was made without any involvement of Police Commissioner Ronda Davidson, who was not aware of the decision until the two employees were notified.
“It just broke my heart,” Davidson said.
Davidson said Commissioners Drake McClelland, Todd Thompson, and John Grubb made the decision based on personal feelings towards the two employees, who could be outspoken in their dealings with the commission.
“I don’t think personal issues should get involved in personnel decisions,” she said.
Grubb and McClelland said Davidson was informed of the need to eliminate administrative positions in the police department.
The recommendations never specified which positions, but it was between Moser, Spivey, and Maize.
The city hired AE2S to make recommendations for cuts in order to bring the budget in line with significant drops in first quarter revenues totaling over $1.3 million.
With only four officers on the street, AE2S suggested the police department did not require a full-time administrator and an administrative assistant, in addition to its chief.
Personnel cuts were also made to other departments, including one layoff in the streets department.
An unfilled part-time position in the auditor’s office and the streets department were also cut.
The commission earlier formed a committee comprised of Thompson and Grubb to take AE2S’s recommendations, and in consultation with other commissioners and department heads, come to a proposed budget for the remainder of the year.
This proposed budget was approved at the May 16 commission meeting, with only Davidson opposed.
Grubb said the materials the commissioners were given did show two administrative positions needed to be cut from the department, but when Davidson did not act, the decision fell to McClelland, who is president of the commission.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make, but I had to do what’s right for the town,” McClelland said.
He said other options were considered, but they were not viable.
Grubb also said paying the administrative salaries would have impeded the city’s ability to increase the number of patrol officers if needed.
The department currently has four and was looking at hiring part-time officers from other departments in the state to meet patrolling needs.
Spivey said he is less than a month away from obtaining his license to start patrols, which would have allowed him to fill some of the gaps. Grubb said he wasn’t aware of this.
Moser said she was told her duties as clerk of court would be fulfilled within the auditor’s office, including prisoner transports from the county jail in Williston.
While he wasn’t certain, McClelland said this is how it was traditionally done.
“I just hope that you good citizens of Tioga find it in your heart to support the four cops you have left,” Spivey said on social media.
Discussion at the May 16 meeting gave no indication Davidson was aware of any intention to cut administrative positions in the department.
The proposed budget contained over $500,000 in cuts, and the police department was targeted for a substantial portion of them.
Concerned over possible layoffs, Moser and Spivey asked at the meeting for any information about whether their jobs were on the line.
“It’d be nice to know so I can plan for me and my family,” Moser said.
Commissioner Todd Thompson said they would not discuss any decisions regarding personnel cuts until he and Grubb had a chance to discuss these options with the other commissioners.
Grubb said that night they had no intention of losing any more officers.
“A respectful answer without all the secret squirrelly stuff would have been appreciated,” Spivey said at the meeting last week.
Attorney Ben Johnson told Spivey the commission is not required to take or respond to questions from the public during regular meetings.
McClelland announced in an April meeting, when the committee of Grubb and Thompson was formed, that their meetings would be closed to the public.
However, according to a 1996 opinion issued by state attorney general, such a committee would still be subject to open meetings laws if the committee, through authority delegated to it by the commission, assumes “the color of a public body.”
Though other departments have faced substantial cuts -- the streets department budget is down 50 percent over 2015 -- the police department had the largest cuts this round.
The department’s 2016 budget allocated $392,508 for full-time employees, which the committee proposed cutting to $250,000.
At the May 16 meeting, Davidson said she requested to be contacted to discuss the proposed cuts to the department’s budget but never received a call from either Grubb or Thompson.
“I think I should have a say with what’s going on in my department,” Davidson said.
Thompson said he and Grubb met with the department heads, including Police Chief Larry Maize, and Davidson could have called him if she had any concerns.
Part of the problem with meeting with the committee, Davidson said, is they had to avoid having more than two commissioners in the room.
Speaking after the meeting and before the announcement of the layoffs, Davidson said it’s a general rule they are instructed to follow to avoid creating a quorum -- which would require the meeting to be open to the public.
The committee targeted engineering fees for cuts. The 2016 budget was passed with $150,000 allocated for these fees, which the committee proposed cutting by 74 percent to $40,000.
The planning department had a variety of items cut, and the committee proposed a 16 percent reduction for the department’s overall budget.
The mayor position, currently held by McClelland, had his pay cut by $600 to $4,500 per year.
The Tribune is in the process of seeking clarification on the entire budget committee process, including the decision on specific layoffs, to ascertain whether any violations of the state’s open meetings law occurred.