JAMESTOWN – Mayor Eddie Sundquist has issued two vetoes to the Jamestown City Council’s amended 2021 city budget that was approved last week. The $35.5 million spending plan included 16 different amendments to the initial executive budget that was presented by Sundquist in October.
One of Sundquist’s vetoes involves the restoration of the position of the City Recreation Coordinator, which was removed by the council prior to last week’s budget vote. When presenting the amendment last week, there was little public discussion on the matter, nor any discussion or questions regarding what impact it may have on city operations. The council voted 8 to 1 in favor of the amendment, with only councilman Brent Sheldon voting against it.
In his veto message, Sundquist acknowledged that the position may see a lighter workload to start the year due to COVID-19, but that would likely change once the virus starts to subside.
“While COVID-19 and the ensuing cancellations of events both this past year and next have given the Parks and Recreation Coordinator position less to do, it is with little foresight that the council cut this position,” Sundquist explained. “If, as anticipated, there is a wide and effective COVID-19 vaccine roll out next year, events may be able to resume as they would in a normal year, and suddenly we would have no one to plan, coordinate, and administer these events.”
Sundquist also said the position does more than just plan and coordinate events and activities.
“This year alone, we worked with the related Parks Union to retool the position to a Communications Coordinator and Grant Writing position. The employee in this particular position has allowed the city to grow its social media presence, streamline better communications to residents, and work with City departments on grant opportunities each department may have been missing out on,” Sundquist said.
The elimination of the position was also brought into focus during Monday’s council work session, when 28 members of the public wrote letters to the council objecting to the cut, including those involved with various events and activities that take place in the city, like the Summer Concert Series at Allen Park.
But despite the mayor’s veto message and the calls from the public to restore the position, it appears the council is digging in and staying with its decision, with four of the nine council members on Monday defending the move, including Council President Tony Dolce.
“This is a temporary, stop-gap financial measure for the reason that there was nothing that happened last year. And let’s be honest, right now [COVID-19] is going in the wrong direction. There’s a very good chance that by the beginning or middle of January, we’re going to be in worse situation than we are right now,” Dolce said. “We don’t want to cut these programs, but there’s no sense in funding a budget for events that are not going to occur.”
Other council members who defended cutting the position were finance committee chair Kim Ecklund, former council president Marie Carrubba, and councilwoman Tamu Graham-Reinhardt. Both Carrubba and Ecklund also were critical of a Facebook post by the current recreation coordinator, Julia Ciesla-Hanley, that she shared over the weekend. That post outlined all the responsibilities of the position and also asked anyone who wanted to maintain public services to support putting the position back in the budget. Carrubba and Ecklund both said it was misleading and didn’t provide all the details.
“I’m sadly disappointing at some of the comments and I’ve expressed my concern to not only the constituents who’ve called me but also to the mayor,” Ecklund said. “Julia has every right to fight for her position and speak her mind and I don’t begrudge anyone for that. My problem is that there is a lot of inaccurate or incomplete information out there. All these letters have read as if we are in charge of cutting these events and are making these decisions. I’m sad to say that COVID is still here and still prevalent. The mayor placed in his executive budget no money to have any of these events. That being a large portion of this position’s job, it was decided to furlough that position, not eliminate it.”
“I’m frustrated as well that some misinformation got out there and we’ve been accused of many things that are not true,” Carrubba said, while also pointing out that the city parks didn’t even have enough funding this year to keep public bathrooms open, nor to remove trash.
While much of the discussion was on the special events and parks activities that the position is responsible for overseeing, it also is responsible for scheduling and taking minutes for the City Parks Commission meetings, something that is spelled out in the job functions for the position. It remains to be seen if any other city employee would be willing, or even contractually permitted, to fill in for some of those tasks that are required to continue even during the pandemic.
If the cut remains in place, the city will save approximately $54,000 in next year’s budget.
The second veto from Sundquist adjusts the Fund Balance appropriation to cover the cost of restoring the rec recreation coordinator position.
The council has until Dec. 15 to override the vetoes, with six of the nine members needed to vote for the override in order for it to take place. That vote will likely occur next Monday, Dec. 14. If their is no override, the budget will go into effect with the mayor’s two vetoes included.