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City administrator criticizes council actions

Staff writer

In a memo to Marion City Council members dated Nov. 29, Marion City Administrator Doug Kjellin sharply criticized a pair of decisions the council made Nov. 28.

At the Nov. 28 meeting, the council waived a late fee on a city utility bill for St. Luke Hospital and agreed to restore utilities to Ernest Barrell despite a delinquent utility bill, with both decisions countermanding city policies.

The hospital owed a late fee of $1,010 in addition to its utility bill. The late payment was the result of confusion at the hospital in dividing a bill. The bill specifically covered utility services at St. Luke Physician clinic; it was combined with another hospital bill. The council unanimously voted to waive the fee.

Barrell’s electricity had been turned off at his home at 609 S. Cedar St. because of late payment. Normally once service is disconnected, payment must be made in full before service is reconnected. He appealed to the council to reconnect his service on the basis his payment was late because he moved his parents into a live-in care facility. The council unanimously voted to turn his power back on for a week to give him time to make payment.

In his memo to the council, Kjellin said making exceptions to policy hurts the morale of city office personnel who have to field complaints from other residents who weren’t afforded the same relief. He also called the decisions “irresponsible management of city funds that this staff works tirelessly to conserve.”

Council member Bill Holdeman provided a copy of Kjellin’s memo to the Marion County Record.

“My reaction is that he (Kjellin) don’t take for granted that it was a 5-0 vote,” Holdeman said Tuesday. “He’s got to have a little compassion this time of year.”

Holdeman said it was discouraging for the council to try to do its job and then get criticized by the city administrator. He said the memo was like something former city administrator David Mayfield would write.

“He’s got to realize he’s skating on thin ice,” Holdeman said.

Kjellin said he wasn’t surprised by the letter being distributed beyond the council. He said he always considers the possibility that anything he writes as city administrator will become public knowledge.

“I stand by everything,” he said of the memo.

Kjellin reiterated that it is very bad for morale when city personnel try to hold the line on policy and the council makes exceptions.

“It’s inherently unfair to grant any leniency,” Kjellin said. “There’s no fairness in bending policy. Somebody wins and somebody loses.”

Many people who have services disconnected face hardships similar to Barrell but are too proud to appeal to the council in a public meeting, he said. He added that residents can make payment arrangements if they know they can’t pay a bill on time.

Kjellin’s criticism touched a nerve with council member Jerry Kline.

“I was appalled,” Kline said Tuesday. “I’ve been taught that you have a boss, and you work for the boss. Whether you agree or disagree, you still work for the boss.”

Mayor Mary Olson and council members Chris Meierhoff and Steve Smith said they didn’t want to comment publicly on the memo until the council had an opportunity to meet and discuss the memo with Kjellin.

“It is going to take cooperation between us and the city administrator to straighten this out,” Smith said Monday.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Last modified Dec. 7, 2011

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