Portsmouth mayor and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Kalb read a litany of issues he has with City Manager Derek K. Allen and even threw one in for First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson.
“I received an agenda for the Charter Review Committee that was prepared by Councilman Kevin W. Johnson who also asserted himself into the meeting for updates and guidance,” Kalb said. “Councilman Johnson, the city has picked members for that committee who have extensive backgrounds and much experience to follow what is written in the Charter, and nowhere in that Charter provision does it say that you (Kevin W. Johnson) or any member of Council to be a part of that committee, or be involved in the Charter review process. So I’m asking that you cease and desist from asserting yourself into that process.”
The largest number of complaints were aimed directly at Allen.
“Mr. Allen, about six weeks ago I requested an update on the current contract negotiations and have not received anything yet,” Kalb said. “Council needs to know what’s going on as far as salaries, proposals and positions not filled and plans to fill them.”
Allen asked if he could answer the charge but Kalb responded that he had to wait until all of his issues were covered. However, Allen offered his response anyways.
“I’ve negotiated one contract. We’ve negotiated with the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) police officers,” Allen said. “We came to a tentative agreement. They are attempting to ratify it and if it’s ratified, it will come to Council and then Council can decide if it’s something that they want.”
Allen said he is in the process of working on an agreement with the dispatchers and the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has filed to negotiate but negotiations have not begun with the fire department. Kalb asked if there were plans to fill vacancies. Currently there are 22 vacancies within the city.
“We just did interviews for two people in Utility Billing,” Allen said. “Those were done this past week. There have been two job offers and we will do the background check, the pre-drug screening on those two”
Allen then mentioned that several people were going to move from one department to another. A discussion ensued about the AFSCME contract that Second Ward Councilwoman Jo Ann Aeh said called for the filling of positions within 30 days and if they are not filled, there has to be a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Allen said no one has asked for a memorandum.
Kalb continued and addressed an issue that has occupied council’s attention for weeks and that is the building on city property by the Portsmouth City School District, leaving several fire hydrants and some utility poles in the middle of the sidewalk.
“In your manager’s report you stated that you had a meeting with the Portsmouth schools superintendent and that’s what I consider an intentionally insufficient report. That doesn’t really tell us anything as far as the issue (encroachment on city property) at hand. Again, I was surprised and disappointed to see in the newspaper that the city had moved a fire hydrant on Findlay. To quote you in the newspaper you said – ‘we had met with the school and we had kind of a discussion and we said we’ll do this and see what happens,’ and my questions about that are – who is we that you referred to four times? And my other question is – what did you actually think would happen? I’m disappointed that you removed it without actually discussing it with Council and not sharing with Council what was discussed in your meeting with the superintendent before you removed the hydrant?”
Kalb accused Allen of “keeping Council in the dark about the controversial issue” then added that Allen didn’t even consult with Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison.
“I would think that sends a message to Portsmouth citizens that when it comes to city business, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and that’s certainly the case in this incident,” Kalb said.
Kalb was not finished by any means.
“Though it is not my authority to do so, I would suggest that Portsmouth City School officials be invited to a City Council meeting and bring documentation supporting their side of this issue,” Kalb said. “That way everybody will know what’s going on and then we could put this matter to rest. That’s not a Council issue. That’s an administrative issue.”
Allen said his reference to “we” meant “we, as the city administration.” Allen said the city moves fire hydrants all the time and asked, if it is a concern, why nobody came to see him.
“I met with them. (Portsmouth City Schools) think they have a set of plans that are signed and I told them if they have it we’d like to see it,” Allen said. “In the meantime, can we get these instructions out of the way? Well, yeah. I will move the obstructions and we’ll see if we need to go on farther from that.”
Allen said it was simple. He called the water superintendent and asked if the hydrant could be relocated and was told they could.
“I do take an opposing view that relocating a fire hydrant is not a legislative matter. That is an administrative matter and I don’t think I need anybody’s permission to move a fire hydrant,” Allen said.
Allen added that Kalb was mayor when the construction was in question and that there were two mayors before he came to town and he said there we no files on the construction when he got he got to town.
“I don’t know why we are wasting more time on this myself,” Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas said. “… If I were them, I wouldn’t give them (plans) to us either.”
Kalb then brought up the retirement of a Portsmouth police officer.
“I also read your report that Sergeant (Carl) Compton had retired and you attended the ceremony,” Kalb said. “I want to congratulate Sergeant Compton and wish him a long, happy retirement and I kind of wish I had known this information sooner, I would have liked to have wished him a more timely congratulations.”
Kalb next addressed a situation concerning work done recently in the Boneyfiddle area.
“I recently reported to First Ward Councilman (Kevin W.) Johnson that a structure had been demolished on Second Street and that was done without going before the Design and Review Board and I don’t believe they even had a permit to do so,” Kalb said. “I saw that it was copied to you and I was wondering if there was any action taken or going to be taken or what’s going on with that.”
Allen later said he believes the people involved did go through the proper channels and did get the necessary permit.
Kalb then again, as he has in the past, called Allen’s attention to a project that has been in the works for a considerable amount of time, the widening of Grandview Avenue. On that street when two way traffic occurs, motorists are often forced to pull over behind parked vehicles to allow the other vehicle to pass.
“I’m going to keep reminding you until I see some action and then I’ll ask for updates,” Kalb said.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.