Tool shortage at Public Works
Retirement policy part of union contract
By Bert Lehman
The recent retirement of a Clintonville Public Works mechanic has created a shortage of tools to fix city equipment.
At the Jan. 9 Finance Committee meeting, Clintonville Public Works Director Kray Brown asked the committee to approve the purchase of $12,000 worth of tools.
When explaining the situation, Clintonville City Administrator Chuck Kell told the committee that he had found out the prior week, that the city had a long-standing policy that came out of a union contract for the Public Works Department.
The policy allowed city mechanics to purchase personal tools to do their jobs, and be reimbursed by the city in the amount of $200 per year.
“Basically the situation that was created there is your two long-standing mechanics who have both been here 30 years have tool boxes that they own and the city has virtually no tools that the city owns.”
Dan Etheridge is the mechanic who recently retired.
Kell added that with Etheridge’s retirement the Public Works Department doesn’t have adequate tools to fix city equipment.
“We’re in the process of recruiting a new mechanic, who is probably going to come in with no tools,” Kell said. “It wasn’t a requirement of the job. And he (Brown) needs some tools for his department to be able to operate.”
Compounding the problem, Kell said if current mechanic Brian Mehlberg were to retire, the city wouldn’t have any tools.
“We don’t know how long Brian will be with the city and basically the tools he is using, they’re his. They’re not the city’s tools,” Kell said.
Kell also informed the committee that he ended the policy as soon as he found out about it, adding that the union contract hasn’t been in place since 2011.
He also said it is common practice for a city to replace personal tools if they are broken while being used for city business.
“But that’s not how it was working here,” he said. “We were actually buying these tools and giving them to them (mechanics) as private ownership.”
Brown added, “So here we are, buying tools over the last 30 years and not very many are actually the city’s. I’m in a heck of a predicament here.”
The city also doesn’t have an inventory of the tools it owns, Brown said.
“Part of the problem here is there was no inventory of what was the city’s and what was private,” Kell said. “I’m not accusing anybody of anything. None of us had any way of knowing.”
Finance Committee Chairman Mark Doornink asked if the city could obtain a list of the tools bought since 2011.
Kell said the city could start going through old receipts.
Clintonville Clerk Treasurer Peggy Johnson said the city doesn’t even know what was reimbursed for tools in 2015.
“If any bill came through for tools, we would assume it’s the city’s,” Johnson said.
She indicated that the reimbursements weren’t marked as tool reimbursements.
“In my opinion it was probably an ill-advised policy in the first place that continued and we’re now at a point where we are at an opportunity to no longer continue with an ill-advised policy,” said committee member Lance Bagstad.
Brown told the committee he had negotiated with Snap On to purchase a variety of tools for $12,077. Without the special deal, the cost would be about $23,000. He said this purchase would solve most of the city’s tool needs.
The committee approved recommending to city council to allow Brown to purchase the tools for the Public Works Department. The entire council approved the purchase the next night.