No legislation was acted on in the legislative session. However, a request to prepare legislation to authorize the addition of positions to aid in the success of the Land Reutilization Program was issued by Portsmouth Mayor James Kalb. The proposal contained a sentence that began a dialogue centered around a separation of powers issue.
The sentence reads: “This position would be overseen by the Health Department but would report directly to the Mayor, not the Board of Health.”
It was during the presentation of that request that Kalb arrived at City Council, where he became the object of several questions from 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Mollette.
“I noticed in this write up it says, ‘will report directly to the mayor, not the Board of Health’,” Mollette said. “Why was that specifically placed in there?”
Kalb said there would be other jobs that would not only be taking care of reutilization homes, but other homes the city has.
“That means maintenance that the Service Department can't get right on. We intend to utilize probationers with this program to keep up the city houses, and take care of other problems in the city,” Kalb said.
“So it won't be strictly for the reutilization program but taking care of a lot of nuisance complaints which the Health Department doesn't necessarily have (involvement with).”
Kalb made the comparison that all of the general fund employees are supervised by the Health Department, but he (Kalb) is over all employees.
Mollette commented he thought, according to the flow chart, that the Health Department reports to City Council.
Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams said it was an incorrect assumption.
“No employees report to Council,” Williams said.
That is when the superintendent of the City Health Department, Peggy Burton, stepped to the microphone.
“The Health Department employees actually report to the Board of Health, which is an arm of the state, and it is a separate entity from the city,” Burton said. “That doesn't change the way we work with the city. We're perfectly willing to do those duties to help the city, but we are separate, and I would really, if we had an employee in the Land Reutilization Program, if we're going to do it, I would want to have the authority over that employee. I don't like having to give orders or directions to someone that doesn't answer to me.”
The legislation reads: “The Land Reutilizatkion Program is now fully functioning. The city must properly maintain these properties while they are in our possession and prepare them for sale. The grass will have to be cut every two weeks, the yards maintained, houses boarded up and minor repairs made.”
The legislation continues, “By the end of the summer season, the city anticipates that we will have over 100 properties in our possession and it will be impossible for the Public Service Department to maintain all of the properties obtained from the Land Reutilization Program in addition to their everyday responsibilities.” That sentence is followed by the one that calls for the employee to report directly to Kalb's office. According to some figures, there 1,500 properties that fall into the category that would eventually be covered by the Land Reutilization Program.
Kalb said while the employees would come under the supervision of the Health Department supervisor, they are paid from the general fund, and come under the umbrella of the executive branch, or Mayor's office.
“And besides that I am the president of the Board of Health, so it's two-fold (duty),” Kalb said.
Mollete again referred to a flow chart he said he had seen, and said he would be interested in having City Council look at it again.
“It does show the Board of Health reporting to Council,” Mollette said.
Mollette talked about the need for coordination among several different departments in bringing the program together.
“I have not been successful in getting items fixed in a short amount of time when citizens have complaints,” Mollette said.
Ultimately council voted to bring the legislation forward to receive first reading at the next legislative session, and Mollette voiced his support for the general purpose of the program.
“I support the program,” Mollette said. “I think it will clean up a lot of these areas that we have in town, and turn them back into properties that taxpayers will take care of.”
Bringing the legislation forward, Mollette said, would give the public the opportunity to comment on it.
In another point, during comments from individual members of City Council, 5th Ward Councilman John Haas suggested people who intended to address council during a Monday night session present their points in writing on Friday. That drew a reaction from citizens attending the meeting.
First Ward Councilman Mike Mearan offered condolences to current First Ward Council Candidate Kevin Johnson on the loss of his long-time partner Paul Johnson who died on Friday.
Williams called for City Clerk Joann Aeh to make an adjustment to the appropriations ordinance where some numbers were transposed.
Frank Lewis may be reached at (740) 353-3101 Ext. 232.