“The city of Portsmouth is pleased to announce that effective Jan. 14, 2010, Sam Sutherland has been hired as the assistant director of water for the Water Filtration Plant. Mr. Sutherland is a Class IV licensed operator and will serve as the operator in charge of the Water Filtration Plant.”
Sutherland was one of three department heads fired Jan. 4, the first day of the Murray administration.
Meanwhile, Rick Duncan, who was terminated as director of the Wastewater Management Plant, will neither confirm nor deny that he too has been asked to return as assistant director of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, but turned down the offer.
However, Duncan sent the Daily Times an e-mail praising Sutherland’s qualifications.
Duncan made reference to a statement he made to Portsmouth City Council Monday night, in which he criticized Sutherland’s firing. He then commented on the news that Sutherland had been hired.
“I am pleased that only three days later, Ms. Murray has seen the correctness of my statement and she has re-hired Mr. Sutherland,” Duncan said. “Mr. Sutherland is an excellent water professional and the City of Portsmouth is extremely fortunate to retain him. I expect that a full and profuse written apology from Mayor Murray, retracting all of the false public accusations she has made against Mr. Sutherland, and expressing regret for her rash termination of his employment, will be forthcoming and released publicly.”
Murray has not released salary information even though it is a matter of public record.
Murray was not available to confirm or deny that Jeffrey Peck, hired as commissioner of Engineering and Public Services, would now become director of Water for the Water Filtration Plant, and will be paid the salary previously paid to Sutherland, and that Sutherland will make less money than he was receiving when he was fired.
Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams said Sutherland, when he was Public Utilities Director of Water, was paid $51,557, the high-end of the scale which begins at $31,910.
“He (Sutherland) was at the maximum after 21 years,” Williams said. “After a year or two you get to that anyway. All positions have a range except for the elected positions.”
Williams said that same pay scale is in effect in the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and that Duncan too was at the high-end of that pay scale.
At 1 p.m. Thursday, Murray promised the Times she would call back and answer salary questions within 45 minutes. That call never came.
By early Thursday afternoon, Murray told another reporter that she had decided not to speak further on the issue, saying the single sentence statement issued by her office on the return of Sutherland would stand on its own.
Sutherland and Duncan, along with City Services Director Chris Murphy, were fired Jan. 4, and Peck hired as commissioner, while Bill Beaumont, who had been fired by former Mayor James Kalb, was re-hired as assistant commissioner.
Since the Jan. 4 firings the city has come under increased pressure from the Ohio EPA to come into compliance in the operations of both plants.
Wednesday, Erin Strouse, media relations coordinator, Environmental Public Information Officer with the Ohio EPA, said the city not only is not in compliance in either plant, but the response by the city that they had contracted with Environmental Engineering Service to cover the Class IV requirements was also unacceptable.
Strouse said the Ohio EPA was in the process of drafting a letter to Murray indicating Portsmouth is not in compliance with the Water or Wastewater treatment plants.
Murray made the move to bring Sutherland back to attempt to at least solve the lack of coverage for the Waterworks Plant.
Strouse also indicated the Ohio EPA’s letter will likely request Murray to meet with the staff from the Division of Drinking Water and Division of Surface Water to discuss the issues and to map out a strategy to return to compliance at both plants.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.