In a conference session at Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray stormed out of Council chambers, slamming the door, leaving Council the inability to finish the conference session.
Several times during the evening, as a part of the discussion about the FEMA Levee Certification Project, Peck came to the microphone and spoke, leading some members of Council to continue to ask what capacity Peck was speaking from.
Peck was recently replaced by longtime city employee Randy Nickles as director/assistant director of Wastewater, because of Nickles’ Class 3 Certification, and his authorization to apply for the required Class 4 certification, essentially returning the city to EPA compliance in the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Then, an ordinance asking Council to contract with Peck to finish some projects Murray had him involved in, came up for consideration. Those projects include FEMA and the U.S. EPA Long Term Control Plan.
Murray said in order to continue that work, Peck’s involvement was necessary, and asked Council to give him a personal services contract through July 30, at a rate of $1,150 per week.
“We have no public works director or commissioner, or whatever you want to call it. And I’m asking Mr. (Bill) Beaumont (Service Director) to take on more and more responsibilities. But this is something that, quite honestly I don’t know how we will deal with it beyond the two months, but this will get us through the period,” Murray said. “He will be paid as a contractor, so he doesn’t need any benefits. The government is not out the 26 percent match or pension. The government is not out the $14,000 to $15,000 a year health insurance coverage, Workers Comp, and on and on and on.”
Third Ward City Councilman Nick Basham questioned how Peck could be paid between Monday and June 14, the earliest day Council could act on any such legislation.
Murray recommended paying him back pay at that time.
Basham questioned who was going to sign off on those projects, since they require the signature of a certified engineer.
Murray said there were engineers, working under Peck, who would be certifying those documents.
“We had three people doing the jobs of three people, now we would have four people doing the jobs of three people, from a budgetary standpoint,” Basham said.
Fifth Ward Councilman John Haas again mentioned he thought paying Peck would undermine at least the spirit of the Memorandums of Understanding, signed by Police and Fire, forgoing raises to help the city’s budget deficit.
‘It looks to me again like we are taking money from the union employees — taking their pay cuts — and turning the money over to Mr. Peck,” Haas said.
Murray mentioned the money for the projects would come from the budgeted areas, flood defense, and sanitary sewers, for which Peck would be doing much of his work should he be given a contract.
“It in no way competes with any salaries or takes wages from the unions,” Murray said. “And quite honestly, after two months, I’d like to know who Council recommends that I have do the work.”
“Mr. President, I recommend that we take alternative number four,” Basham said.
Alternative number four is “reject this request.”
A voice vote was taken and Basham’s proposal passed with four members voting “aye” and two “no.”
Voting for the measure were David Malone, Second Ward; Nick Basham, Third Ward; John Haas, Fifth Ward and Jerold Albrecht, Fourth Ward. Voting against the measure were Kevin Johnson, First Ward, and Richard Noel, Sixth Ward.
What happened next turned heads in City Council as well as in the public gallery.
As First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson attempted to get Council to consider some Amendments to Rules of Council, Murray picked up her stack of papers and exited the Council chambers, slamming the door as she went.
This led Malone to interrupt Johnson and say that since it was the Mayor’s agenda and Murray had left the room, no further action could be taken.
That ended Monday night’s stormy City Council meeting.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232 or email@example.com