The city government is laying off three employees today and another in April after earlier layoffs of the city’s public-health nurses.
Another employee was to be laid off in April, but her job was spared when a senior person in her area retired.
Most of the layoffs were not mentioned during the city’s public discussions of Hamilton’s 2019 spending plan, although City Manager Joshua Smith said that as a courtesy he told council members individually that positions were being cut.
Smith and two members of city council said the lack of public discussion about the layoffs was not a lack of transparency because part of the city’s charter prevents council members from directing the hiring or removal of city staffers.
Those being laid off were notified in November, according to documents obtained through a Journal-News public records request.
City officials hope Hamilton is on the verge of an economic boom, with creation of the gigantic indoor sports complex and convention center called Spooky Nook at Champion Mill, in the former Champion Paper complex on North B Street. It is to open in mid-2021.
But the city, like many across Ohio, is facing financial difficulties. In addition to ongoing damage from the Great Recession, city leaders blame steep cuts to funding the state used to send local governments until early this decade.
One city official in court documents has described Hamilton as being in “financial distress.” The city’s 2019 General Fund budget is $1.1 million smaller than in 2018.
Those to be laid off today include City Garage Superintendent Stephen Ormsby, whose departure was reported after the Journal-News inquired about rumors that other people were being let go. His position will be eliminated.
Also leaving city service at the end of the day today is William Simmons, a Plans Examiner II whose work will be outsourced, according to documents.
The third person notified about a layoff at the end of business today was Diana Wilder, a health technician, whose position was not funded this year.
Timothy Bigler, an administrative specialist IV, will be laid off on April 15, in part because of the city’s decision to stop working with the Efficiency Smart program, “which was a large part of his job duties,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, elimination of the Division of Public Health Nursing within Hamilton’s Department of Health, which was widely discussed during the budget process as advocates sought to keep the program, will save $150,000 for the General Fund, Tom Vanderhorst, executive director of External Services, informed the Civil Service Commission.
While Smith has noted the city has more than 100 fewer staff than it did when he became city manager eight years ago, city administrators this year have been cautious in discussing the issue of layoffs.
Other layoffs have included Assistant Law Director Kathy Dudley, who was being paid $95,492. Dudley was hired in October by the county land bank to help Butler County, Hamilton and Middletown raze eyesore buildings, something she previously did while working for Hamilton.
Smith said he is sensitive to public discussions about layoffs before they happen because he does not want employees learning about losing their jobs from the news media. He quoted the city’s charter as a reason the he avoided public discussions of the layoffs. The charter includes language that prevents council members from pressuring city administrators to hire their friends or political allies, the charter makes it a misdemeanor for council members to request the appointment of someone, or a person’s removal from city staff.
“I did inform (the council members) in my one-on-one budget meetings, as a matter of courtesy, that due to efficiency reasons, we were having a few reduction-in-force moves,” Smith wrote in an email.
After this media outlet asked council’s seven members questions about lack of public discussion, two members — Kathleen Klink and Mayor Pat Moeller — responded.
Klink wrote: “Our City Charter is quite clear about City direction. In fact, Article V addresses Administrative Services outlining roles/responsibilities of our City Manager and City Council (among other employees).”
She added: “Personnel decisions, in my opinion, are tied to City initiatives and direction. They reflect needs, goals, expectations and address efficiencies of the respective department. These decisions are focused on the future of the City and not necessarily tied to the budget. As in most organizations, personnel decisions reflect the direction of the organization.”
Moeller wrote: “I agree with City Manager Joshua Smith’s and Council Member Kathy Klink’s comments about the direction the City Charter gives to the City Manager and City Council in these types of personnel decisions.”