COQUILLE — In a hotly debated special council meeting, the Coquille City Council voted Wednesday night to restructure its public works and finance departments resulting in the elimination of its current directors.
Coquille Interim City Manager Roberta Vanderwall expressed her concerns about the departments and her recommendations for its restructure to councilmembers following an executive session to consider the employment of a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent.
“It’s very dysfunctional, so we would restructure it so we have working personnel,” said Vanderwall. “In my opinion (the departments) are not functioning the way they should be.”
The restructure presented at Wednesday’s council meeting called on eliminating the public works director position, which is held by Kevin Urban, with a newly created foreman position.
The foreman would take on a more active, on-the-ground approach in overseeing the city’s public works operations in the newly reimagined department.
The council, which made multiple motions before coming to a majority vote, went back and forth on whether it should proceed with the restructure and the possible elimination of city personnel.
Councilor Matt Rowe informed fellow members of his interest in scheduling a work session to discuss the exact details of what the restructure would look like before deciding to change it. He also told councilmembers he wanted to hear feedback from those employed in the public works department as well as Urban himself before voting to eliminate the position.
An initial motion to direct the city manager to eliminate the public works director and restructure the department failed as councilors Hugh Pinkston and Kyle Wirebaugh joined Rowe in opposing the motion.
Another motion added holding a public meeting with the individuals involved in the proposed changes, but it too failed.
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Wirebaugh also expressed his concern with not having a concrete plan laid out before the council of the exact details of what the department changes would be.
The possibility of hiring a foreman from within the department and contracting out planning and grant writing services, as Urban is also the planning director, would be a few directions the council could take, said Vanderwall.
After continued discussion, the council finally voted 5-2 to move forward with directing its city manager to restructure the public works department, which would result in the elimination of its director.
Later in the evening, Coquille Mayor Kathryn Simonetti made an additional motion to restructure the city’s finance department, which would result in the elimination of its director, a position held by Julie Rowe.
Matt Rowe, who is Julie’s son, recused himself from voting on the matter, noting a conflict of interest referencing the family connection.
According to Vanderwall, some of the day-to-day tasks typically performed by a finance director, such as handling payroll, accounts payable and human resource duties are currently being done by other staff members.
Eliminating the position wouldn’t disrupt those operations and services, she added. The council would also be given the option to contract out other duties performed by the finance director as part of its restructure. The council voted 5-1 to move forward with the changes.
“I’m really disappointed with the lack of communication that the staff wants to give you,” said councilor Julie Nighswonger. “Insubordination seems to be a good word right now.”