By Carol Stiffler
The Village of Newberry is currently operating while quite short on staff.
Former Village Manager Jennifer James-Mesloh resigned in October. Assistant Village Manager and Director of Public Works Buck Vallad resigned in November. Treasurer Buzz Medelis resigned effective December 31, 2019. The village hasn’t had a full-time Water and Light supervisor since Matt Perry retired in 2018. And three council members – Sharon Brown, Harold Dishaw, and Lew Hitts – resigned in November.
Prior to these resignations, it was quite the norm to hear of a resignation on the council, and a subsequent appointment.
Interim Village Manager Allison Watkins, originally hired to manage human resources and community engagement, is now handling both jobs. The work is getting done, she said. The remaining staff reports to work each day, regardless. “They’re still here,” Watkins said. “They do what they’re supposed to do.”
To fill the supervisor positions, Watkins plans to hire internally. That’s acceptable for Public Works and Water and Light, which are not positions that must be publicly posted. The duties of the assistant manager will be absorbed by other staff members. And Watkins is hopeful that the village council will agree to allow the next treasurer to be appointed, rather than elected.
The treasurer position is busy during the summer tax season, but isn’t full enough to require a full-time position, Watkins said.
That’s a move supported by Village Council President Lori Stokes.
“Filling the position would no longer rely on popularity but rather a person’s skills,” Stokes said. “Experience and knowledge can be taken into consideration.”
One village council seat was filled by the appointment of Kip Cameron at the November 20 meeting, and the other two will likely be filled at the December 18 meeting. Stokes said she has three letters of interest for the two seats and she is hopeful the council will find two they like.
Stokes believes those council resignations were pointed at her.
“I believe the recent vacancies were a direct result of the trustees that resigned not agreeing with my leadership,” she said. “Their loyalties were invested in the past administration.”
Being on the council is often a thankless job, she said, with most unsolicited comments from the public coming in the form of criticism. Stokes said most of a council member’s work is done at the committee level, not during council meetings.
With all the open administration positions the village currently sees, Stokes believes it’s a good time to restructure.
“I had a big concern of how top heavy our staff was getting,” she said. “Now I hope we can take a serious look at the real needs and how many people we have sitting at the desks versus feet on the ground.
Filling the village manager position is also in the cards for the coming months. Watkins said she would be interested in the position if it were offered to her. In the meantime, she will continue managing her expanded duties.
“With any change in leadership and staffing, it opens up the opportunity for growth and forward motion,” Watkins said. “It is up to us who are here to take the opportunity to do the best we can to move this village forward.”