Havre Daily News
The Hill County Republican Party chairman Tuesday night chastised Havre City Council members for withholding payment for two $200 gift certificates for longtime employees who retired last month. Chair Brad Lotton also responded to “accusations” made by his Democratic counterpart at a prior council meeting.
Also at Tuesday's City Council meeting: Mayor Bob Rice broke a tie in the vote for a council president, and the council approved the city's second of three labor contracts.
Lotton, who said he was speaking for the party and “concerned citizens,” made reference to comments made by county Democratic chair Debi Friede at the year's first City Council meeting on Jan. 3.
Friede told Rice and the council members they would be watched closely by the citizens of Havre. “The people of Havre will no longer tolerate the violation of rules and law,” she said.
“It was the hope of most voters that the political parties could put partisan politics aside and work together for the common good of Havre,” Lotton said. “Apparently this is not going to be the case. The very first council meeting of the new year ... began with accusations.”
Lotton spent most of his time talking about the City Council's decision to hold back payment for two gift certificates given to two longtime employees. Former deputy public works director Gary Schaub and wastewater treatment plant superintendent Kristi Kline were each given a $200 gift certificate at their retirement party last month.
Public works director Dave Peterson approved purchase of the certificates with city funds. Council members said they held back payment because they had qualms about setting a precedent.
Lotton said the certificates amounted to a bonus of less than 14 cents a week for the time the two were city employees, and reiterated Rice's comments that Schaub and Kline had saved city taxpayers uncounted dollars over their combined service of more than 50 years.
He added that the Hill County Republicans, along with City Council members Terry Schend, Rick Pierson, Bob Kaftan and other local citizens have footed the bill for the certificates.
Council member Pam Hillery said she didn't think the issue was a partisan one.
“I was concerned because it was a precedent,” she said.
Lotton responded by asking who had raised the issue. Hillery said she had brought it to the attention of Tom Farnham, who chaired the council's Finance Committee prior to the newly elected council members taking their seats at the Jan. 3 council meeting. Farnham did not seek re-election.
Council members had said they held back payment of the bill because they wanted to discuss it with Peterson.
Rice said Tuesday he wanted an end to the issue.
“Let's leave well enough alone,” he said. “I'm not a partisan person.”
He added that Kline had returned her gift certificate and Schaub had tried to do the same.
Council members tied 4-4 in their vote for a new council president. Rick Pierson, who has served as president for the last four years, won after Rice broke the tie. Rice called council member Jack Brandon, the only other nominee, a “gentleman and a scholar” before casting the deciding vote.
Rice also appointed members to the City Council's nine committees and selected their chairs.
The City Council approved a two-year labor contract ratified by Havre police officers. The contract gives officers a 3 percent raise, retroactive to July 1, and a 3.5 percent raise for the second contract year. The officers will receive 100 hours of compensatory time in exchange for working some holidays. Previously, officers received 96 hours of comp time, which they risked losing if it was not used. The new contract eliminates the deadline.
The new contract also includes an agreement for the police officers and Chief Mike Barthel to work together on a new schedule that eliminates 10-hour shifts and adds flexibility. It also corrects a discrepancy that gave new hires $850 a year for a clothing allowance and other officers $875. All officers will now receive $875 for clothing each year.
The City Council also approved the full appointment of police officer Tracy Dahl, who has completed her one-year probationary term.
Council member Gerry Veis called Dahl “responsible and upbeat” and Rice called her a “fine police officer.”
“We're very fortunate to have her,” Rice added.
Council members approved a state grant application for the Havre-Hill County Historic Preservation Commission. The board is seeking its annual allotment of $5,500. Historic preservation officer Todd Hanson said the money will be used for travel, training and to print information about Havre and Hill County in various tourism publications.
Council member Emily Mayer Lossing, who abstained from the vote because of her involvement in historic preservation, said Havreites should take the time to get to know the commission and its doings. She called the group a “resource to the community.”
Rice told former council members Farnham and Dana West that he will present them with plaques honoring them for their service.
“You served this community very well,” he said.
West applauded Rice and council members for their service and said she knows the job isn't easy.
“I have a great deal of respect for the people on this council and the mayor,” West said. “What's right is not always popular, and what's popular is not always right.”