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Status of mayor's son-in-law heats up Mount Carmel budget talks

Jeff Bobo • Jun 7, 2014 at 12:03 AM

MOUNT CARMEL — There was a tense moment during Tuesday's Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen budget workshop as the conversation shifted to the status of the mayor's recently hired son-in-law.

Tuesday's workshop was scheduled to discuss a couple of personnel budget issues in the proposed 2014-15 budget that Alderman Carl Wolfe suggested should be cut during the May 27 BMA meeting.

Wolfe's proposed cuts were intended to shave nearly $100,000 from the amount of savings being used to balance the proposed budget. As it stands the proposed 2014-15 budget is projected to use about $265,750 in savings to avoid a property tax increase.

That would leave only $243,753 in Mount Carmel's reserve fund.

Among Wolfe's proposed cuts were two full-time unskilled laborers who would be hired for the Public Works Department. Salary, benefits and workers' comp expenses combined for those two new positions are budgeted at $88,000.

Vice Mayor Paul Hale, the BMA liaison to Public Works, explained that these two positions would replace two higher-paid skilled laborer employees who left the department this past fiscal year.

At one point during the discussion Alderman Wanda Davidson asked about the status of newly hired full-time mechanic Steven McLain, who is the son-in-law of Mayor Larry Frost and Alderman Frances Frost, and who started on May 19.

Mayor Frost said McLain has been fixing bushhogs and tractors, as well as mowing, and he will also be overseeing maintenance and records for the town's fleet of vehicles.

Davidson asked if McLain is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified.

Alderman Frost replied, "Is that a requirement?"

Davidson: "That was the motion that we made to hire — was an ASE (certified mechanic)."

Frances Frost: "I was here and I didn't hear that."

Mayor Frost: "Let's not get off on that, folks."

Alderman Frost: "She got on it."

Hale added, "I can say he's pursuing it on his own time."

In January the BMA approved a budget amendment which included $25,000 to cover the cost of hiring of a mechanic for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Although the words "certified mechanic" weren't mentioned in the motion, hiring a certified mechanic was discussed by the BMA both before and after the vote on the budget amendment.

Hale had actually used the phrase "DOT Certified" during that discussion in January, which isn't an accurate term. Hale later told the Times-News he meant to say ASE certified.

Although McLain is an experienced mechanic, Hale said he would be seeking ASE certification on his own time at his own expense.

With regard to the new Public Works positions, following a lengthy discussion board members agreed to leave the money in the budget, but instead give Castle the alternative of hiring one or two part-time unskilled laborers as needed.

Mayor Frost said any of those funds that went unspent would be returned into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

Another cut proposed by Wolfe on May 27 was to eliminate an increase for Building Inspector Vince Pishner to increase his hours from 20 to 25 per week.

The budget dollar figure for that increase, which was discussed at length during the May 27 meeting, was $16,000.

On Tuesday, however, the BMA was informed that the cost of those additional hours for Pishner would actually only cost $6,285.

Wolfe said he still believes the additional hours should be cut.

Mayor Frost defended the increase for Pishner, noting that he is more than just a building inspector.

Mayor Frost said Pishner also provides the town with stormwater management and permitting services, advises the planning commission, and provides zoning management, among other things.

Alderman Leann Debord was also in favor of extra hours for Pishner.

"I'd rather have it in the budget now rather than have to go back and move things around to try to get it in there later," she said.

Debord added, "We would never be able to afford to hire someone if he decided to go somewhere else full time — with the knowledge in that man's head. When I was on the planning commission, there was not a question we could ask him that he didn't have an answer for. The knowledge in that head — we don't want to lose it."

The BMA informally agreed to leave Pishner's hours at 25, with only Wolfe in opposition

"I was trying to save going into the surplus as much as I could," Wolfe said. "If we keep going in there ... we're going to dig one day and that reserve money is going to be out."

The BMA approved the first reading of the proposed 2014-15 budget on May 27 and will consider final approval of the budget when it meets again on June 24.

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