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Utilities controversy holding on

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By Cindy Simpson

Rockwood officials may have thought the tumult in recent months over ongoing changes at the Rockwood Water, Sewer and Natural Gas Board were over now that former manager Rod King has vacated his position.

They thought wrong.

Since then there has been a police report filed naming a number of utility employees, and it appears not everyone is happy assistant manager Willard Mead was named interim manager.

Rockwood City Council, which is now also the sitting Rockwood Water, Sewer and Natural Gas Board, had a Thursday morning emergency called meeting requested by Councilman Dudley Evans and Councilwoman Peggy Evans.

While there was some disagreement over whether the vote counted because only three of four present council members voted for Mead as interim, it was agreed to stick to that  management organization.

Dudley Evans and Peggy Evans both supported Mead as interim.

“Unless there is personal reasons why anyone would not allow him to become interim general manager presently I don’t see why we should do anything else but that presently,” Dudley Evans said.

“That is just for the sake of keeping order at the present time, and I would like to see these passed here today just for that purpose then allow supervisors, who is over their departments to continue as they are.”

In addition to Mead being interim, department heads are maintaining their status.

Councilman Harold Ishman, who was the only dissenting vote, said he was against Mead as the manager.

“I guess probably the big issue I have with Willard being the general manager is that he does not have the trust of the employees,” said Ishman, who served as chairman of the water board until the council disbanded it in October.

“I don’t think there is two employees that work for the utility, or maybe one, maybe three or four, that really trust him,” Ishman added. “How can he be effective as a general manager if the employees just do not trust him.”

That mistrust, Ishman added, isn’t only felt by the employees.

 “The other issue I have, and I’ve known Willard for quite awhile, but he straight-out lied to me” Ishman said. “He sat straight across a desk from me and just straight-up lied to me one day. And I didn’t make any issue of that then but I do today because I figure, well, if he’ll lie on a little thing he will lie on a big thing,” Ishman said.

“I really have a problem with him being general manager.”

Teresa Craig, a utilities employee in the front office, disagreed with Ishman’s opinion of Mead.

“He’s very honest, and he’s treated us like somebody,” Craig said.  

“I think that is another reason we need to talk to the employees individually,” noted council member Ray Collett. “And another thing I’d like to see, this thing that happened yesterday and the police report that we have I would like for a copy of that police report to go in every workers’ file that was mentioned in this. Put it in their personnel file for references on promotions, raises, other jobs or whatever. It ought to be a documented fact put in their file.”

The incident Collett referred to was when Rockwood police were called out Wednesday morning to the water plant.

A report said that King was at the water tower and had threatened bodily harm on an employee.

At the scene, reporting officer Patrolman Travis Fouts said Ross Hamby denied King was making trouble.

Inside King’s old office were Phil Beckner, Jerry Hagler, Ross Hamby, John Skidmore, Rodney Griffin, Joan Kerley and King.

“Rod King, the (former) general manager, had come up to finish cleaning up, to finish out his office, you know cleaning his office, and he was getting trophies ready for the Warm the Hearts,” Skidmore said after Thursday’s emergency meeting. “That is when Willard Mead came up there and said he was supposed to be over it (the utility).

“Well, the e-mail we got from the mayor said otherwise.”

Fouts reported he was starting to leave when Mead pulled up and demanded Kerley write up Skidmore for disrespecting him and other employees. King was ordered by police to leave the scene because of the high tension.

Mead, according to the report, said the city council told him to write Skidmore up.

Fouts reported he learned later that employee Susie Ferrell had called city hall over her working conditions.

According to the report  she said all employees from water and gas were in the bay and King said he wanted to talk to everyone but Ferrell.

Ferrell and King have had problems in the past. Ferrell filed grievances against King earlier this year over a confrontation the two had in the manager’s office. The water board took no action on the matter.

According to the police report, Ferrell said Skidmore told everyone not to talk to Mead.  Skidmore doesn’t deny that accusation.

“I made the comment that I had better not see anybody talking to Willard; he is not our boss yet, and if you do I will come for you is what I said,” Skidmore said Thursday.

“At that time we had the e-mail saying that we were to report through Joan to the mayor,” he added.

Skidmore took issue with allegations that he and others refused to work for anyone but King.

“That is not true,” Skidmore said. “Nobody is riding on Rod King’s coattail. We want to do our job.”

Skidmore said he planned to approach Mead after the meeting and express his willingness to work with him.

Skidmore said he contacted the state about misappropriations because he believes Mead was using the utility copier to make copies of the published allegations to give to employees.

“I was not going to bring the issue up about the paper until people started saying how honest he was,” Skidmore said.

“I’ve already called the state comptroller about it because that is misuse of funds. I’m not attacking Willard. That is ratepayers’ money,” Skidmore told Dudley Evans.

“I want to make sure there is no reprisals,” Skidmore added.

Officials called for employees and the board to work together and get past any disagreement over King and/or new management.

“We just don’t need the mistrust, and I say the mistrust against all of us, to add to the problem. That is not what we are here to do. We’re not here to create problems but to correct problems,” said Mayor James Watts.

Peggy Evans called for  everyone to move forward.

“I don’t think this is the time for backstabbing, for personality issues to come out,” she said. “I think this is the time, if we really have an intention of turning this thing around and making it work then we all work together. That is employees. That’s management. That’s everybody. Our board, whatever it takes.”

She added, “If there is any employees or any personnel in management that cannot fulfill their duty doing above board, and honestly then I think it would be time for them to turn in their resignation. But we’ve all got to work together. We’re all responsible for this. And unless we step up to the plate and do what is required of us it is not going to get done. And I think we are bigger people than that.”

“I’m asking you to cooperate with each employee, with each person in personnel, with the water, sewer and gas board or city council, however. We have got to have 100 percent commitment from each employee to get this done,” Peggy Evans said.

Watts will serve as the utility board chair. A Municipal Technical Advisory Service representative said that is how he interprets the city charter.  

“He’s the presiding officer,” said MTAS Sid Hemsley at a meeting on Wednesday.

“It (the charter) says the mayor shall preside at all meetings of the city council and when you meet as a city council whether you are doing utility business or not it seems to me he would be the chairman,” Hemsley said.

Collett voted in support of Mead as interim. He said he believes any employee who might be considered for a raise or promotion should have to approach the board.

“I think the employees that are being considered for promotions, raises, whatever should meet with the board so we can get their views and a little more knowledge of them, same way we do with police officers,” Collett said.

“I completely agree with Mr. Collett,” Ishman said. “I think that until we have a chance as a board to talk to all of the employees, I think things are working OK right now; we have superintendents in charge. I don’t think it is an emergency deal that we put — you know — that we advance some people or put them in some position.

“I think we need to look at this thing as making some wise decisions by them,” Ishman said.