SOUTH RUSSELL — A discussion about job descriptions and pay scales surfaced at a special council meeting last week after the first reading of an ordinance to create a new position in the building department.

“The new job is for a zoning inspector,” Mayor William Koons said at the July 22 meeting, adding that the position would be filled by current Building Commissioner David Hocevar, whose hourly pay range would be between $20.39 and $29.55.

As soon as the mayor mentioned the pay scale, Councilman Mike Carroll questioned the rates, calling them an “arbitrary” decision and asked why the human resources and finance committees had not yet looked at the proposed ordinance.

Mayor Koons responded that human resources committee members are scheduled to review the proposal at the end of this week.

Council also had the first of three required readings on an ordinance to rename the current building department administrative assistant position to building department administrator and tack assistant zoning inspector duties on top of the job, expanding the current 25 hours a week to a full-time 40 hours. Councilman Gerald Canton, who made the motion to hold the first reading, later withdrew it following a discussion about an employee’s record of tardiness.

“Sure, let the inmate run the asylum,” Councilman Dennis Galicki criticized. “You have a chronically late employee who now can’t do her job in the assigned hours.”

The new position will continue to pay the standard hourly rate of $23.53, Mayor Koons said.

The intent of the two ordinances is to better organize South Russell’s building and zoning departments, to make their operations more efficient, Mayor Koons explained after the meeting. Despite the controversy, he predicted the new position will be in place and the other modification in September.

Police Chief Michael Rizzo told council about an ongoing investigation into a missing Microsoft Surface tablet that was reportedly removed from the Building Department as of July 12.

“[We] will be interviewing employees and just seeing where it was used last,” he explained after the meeting, which concluded with an hour-long executive session as he and the council members discussed further details of the investigation.

Chief Rizzo said the tablet was supposed to be used to help inspectors read Microsoft Word documents.

“At this point, we are under investigation and we’re trying to locate this missing item, trying to determine if it was misplaced or if it was stolen,” he added.

In other business, council voted to keep the village park closed as it has been throughout the coronavirus pandemic. After the meeting, Councilman Cindy Nairn, who also heads up South Russell’s park committee, explained that the decision is based on other communities like South Euclid that are deciding to close their playgrounds again after opening them weeks ago during the pandemic.

“We chose not to go that route,” Councilman Cindy Nairn said after the meeting, referring to other communities like South Euclid, which had decided to open their parks earlier in the pandemic but then closed them. “It’s very sad because obviously children need things to do and areas to play on, especially when they’re home on summer vacation, but right now we’re looking at the science with all of this.”

Mrs. Nairn also said that the park committee decided at a recent meeting that, while the pavilions at South Russell Village Park are open, they’re available on a first-come, first-served basis and that the village would not be accepting reservations for gatherings at the shelters.

“Opening the playground right now isn’t feasible because cases continue to spike in spite of wearing a mask and social distancing,” she continued. “Until we get word from Columbus that things have changed, that’s just the status quo.”

Mrs. Nairn said that South Russell’s annual Fall Festival, which usually takes place in September, is up in the air this year, depending on whether the Sept. 3-7 Great Geauga County Fair gets canceled due to COVID-19. Gov. Mike Dewine announced on Tuesday that all fairs are reduced to junior fairs only, excluding grandstand events, games and entertainment.

The HR, Building and Finance Committees will meet again with council in person on Friday at 8 a.m. at Village Hall on Chillicothe Road to further discuss the building department staff and compensation issues.

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