In an exclusive interview with Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray, it was learned late Thursday afternoon that Nickles, who had been named temporary assistant Wastewater director, but stepped down because of a title conflict, will now hold the top position at the Wastewater Plant.
“Randy has agreed to take the position as operator of record, and he will be the director/assistant director of the Sewage Treatment Plant/Wastewater Operations, and Mr. Peck will be leaving the government,” Murray said, sitting with Nickles and Peck Thursday at Tim Hortons in Portsmouth. “And that’s a very sad thing for our community, but unfortunately, certain members of Council have forced us into this position. More than that, they have made it untenable for him (Peck). The negative comments; the constant badgering; the disrespect shown him has been unconscionable, and I’ve been urging him to leave.”
Peck was obviously somber as Murray talked about his service to the city of Portsmouth.
“This is a sad day for us because he has worked on all fronts that involve anything that involves infrastructure in the community and in the way of development,” Murray said. “The sad thing is that I’m going to also not have a civil engineer that I can turn to, and I’m going to have to develop some plans and take that forward to see what the Council will do.”
Murray said she has been in communication with Ohio EPA.
“We are going to be getting all of the documents to them next week that will make him the Operator of Record, and also an exemption, where he is made the Operator of Record, he has his Class 3, pending his passage of his Class 4 license. And then we have someone we have to make the backup to him. Then we have to have someone who is a Class 2 person in charge of the Sciotoville Plant,” Murray said. “So all of that has been put together by Mr. Peck and Mr. Nickles, and they will be discussing it with Ohio EPA next week, so that I can sign all the documents, and they will have them by Friday of next week.”
City Council had created the position of director/assistant director of Wastewater, and gave that position to Peck. However, the city was not in compliance in the Wastewater Plant because they did not have a certified Class 4 operator on duty.
Murray attempted to put Nickles in that position, but also leave Peck as director/assistant director, but Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams informed her that Council had not authorized another position and that two people could not have the same job title, leaving Nickles to move back to the Sciotoville Plant, and once again putting the city in non-compliance.
“The mayor and city solicitor have both been told by Ohio EPA that there will be no more warnings and that an enforcement referral is being drafted.”
That was the response from Erin Strouse of the Ohio EPA to the news that Randy Nickles was no longer the operator of record for the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In fact, the EPA said that because the city failed to file the proper paperwork, even with Nickles approved as operator of record, the city never had been in compliance throughout the entire ordeal.
Murray now says she will file the proper paperwork to put the city back in compliance.
The ordeal began on Jan. 4, when Murray took office and immediately fired Wastewater Director Rick Duncan, Waterworks Director Sam Sutherland, and Service Director Chris Murphy. Sutherland eventually returned as director/assistant director of the Waterworks, but Duncan turned down an offer to return.
Peck, who had come under continual scrutiny since being hired by Murray, did not indicate what he will do in the future.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org