After coming under fire from an employee over a minor dispute with the village, the Bethel Village Council is hoping to stem further episodes, but is still examining how.
Last month, councilman Gary Hutchinson suggested the council create a new committee that would act as a liaison between the village employees and the council, giving them someone to go to when problems arise. Council, however, pointed out that there is already such an entity available, the village administrator Michael Shiverski.
“As much as I dislike the chain of command issue, one thing we do have is an administrator to basically be overseeing all these employees,” said solicitor George Leicht. “We do have an employee who essentially went directly to council to complain about some issues. I would be reluctant to have a two-headed system for dealing with this simply because, if you can’t get it from Michael, you take it to council.”
"That's exactly what I had set up, an intermediate step in the chain of command," said Hutchinson. "That way, they know they have direct access to council. If the administrator has a problem, something that he can't resolve, he can turn it over to that committee. The purpose is to assist and aid the employees. It's not meant to interfere with the administrator's authority. While a committee meeting is public, you don't generally have members of the public present, or the cameras present. I would rather see those types of issues resolved at that level rather than have it before general council."
The council, however, was generally leery of the proposal, which they said would create confusion, both in terms of who the village employees should go to, and in determining who is in charge.
"The employees have had a hard enough time grasping the administrator being their boss," said Gunn. "My fear is it would minimize their perception of his authority. It's like growing up when your mom won't do what you want, so you go to dad. This is another way around authority."
Currently, the council is the head authority in the village. However, on a day-to-day basis, the village administrator has authority to operate the village, unless a motion of council sets a policy for him to follow.
"This is the first time this came up," said Leicht. "We may not have anticipated it, but it's no reason to do away with the system. Michael is hired to run the employees, and I want to give him room to do so. Anyone can come to a council meeting and express their opinions. I think it will help us in the long run to have a committee like this so that we can head off problems, anything that comes along that can't be handled by the administrator."
However, Hutchinson said he wanted to find a way to let employees speak with council in an official capacity that didn't involve as much public disclosure as an open council meeting would provide.
"The employees would see that we're trying to set up ways for them to get to us without coming to the podium," said Hutchinson. "It should allow the employees to know they have a place to come see us before going in front of a full council. We'll have it resolved then. We'll let the employees know we are concerned about them. It's not taking anything away from Mike's job, because he's a part of the chain of command, and this just adds one step in the chain of command."
The council, however, remained hesitant. In some cases, they said, it's necessary to let the issue come before council so that the council could all hear and decide on the issue. The decision was made to let Hutchinson and Shiverski collaborate on the issue to see if a good compromise could be reached.
"I'm not sure we need to change radically just because someone may have just wanted to make a big splash," said Leicht.