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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Alderman Resigns, Parks/ Rec Director Gets Pay Cut

Issue Date: November 2, 2016

Despite strong arguments from former Mayor Al Krizenesky and objections voiced by David Zahn, the person affected, Peshtigo City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2 approved a Personnel Committee recommendation that changes Zahn's position as city Parks and Recreation Director from salaried to hourly, at $18 per hour, which is $2 per hour less than a starting employee in the Public Works Department.

Zahn contends this amounts to a significant decrease in pay. His salary has been $43,000 a year since he completed the 1-year probationary period after being hired in 2013 when Krizenesky was mayor. Alderman Tom Gryzwa, whio chairs the Personnel Committee, said with the 206 hours of overtime that he will be allowed to work in summer Zahn will continue earning the $43,000 per year.

The recommendation approved by a 3 to 1 vote had come after closed door executive sessions of the Personnel Committee with union labor negotiations also on the agenda. Zahn said he had not been invited to either of the meetings.

Gryzwa explained the decision was not related to Zahn's job performance. He said the recommendation was made because of a new United States Labor Department ruling, effective on Thursday, Dec. 1, which changes the threshold after which overtime pay is required for salaried personnel. Any employee earning less than $47,471 a year now cannot be considered an exempt salaried employee and must be paid for overtime hours. Gryzwa said there was nothing personal about the recommendation, but Zahn happened to be the only city employee whose salary fell below the guidelines. He repeated that at the $18 per hour, plus the 206 hours of overtime (to be worked during the summer with approval of either the mayor or committee chair), Zahn would still earn the $43,000. Zahn apparently was not included in the 1 percent raise granted for a number of other city employees.

Near the start of the meeting Council had accepted the resignation of Richard Berth, who had been appointed earlier in the year to replace Tim Colburn as District 1 Alderman. As soon as the resignation was accepted, Mayor Cathi Malke asked Berth to set down, which he did. He said after the meeting that he is hoping to be hired for a vacant position with the city's Public Works Department. Alderman Mike Behnke was again absent and excused. He remains on the sick list after an absence of several months.

Vote by aldermen present to approve the change in Zahn's play and the job description changes that go with it was three to one, with Gryzwa, Brigitte Schmidt and Mary Lock voting in favor, and Debbie Sievert opposed. The mayor does not vote except to break a tie.

Before the vote, Lock asked if they could return the recommendation to committee and act it at their next meeting, but Gryzwa said the federal rule takes effect on Dec. 1, which is prior to the next Council meeting.

Other Personnel Committee recommendations were approved without dissent. They included cutting the 40-hour per week job of Rita Gulbertson, longtime Police, Parks and Recreation secretary to part time. The committee had recommended changing the job title to that of Police Secretary only, at 20 hours per week, but at the meeting Gryzwa moved instead to keep the Parks and Police designation and approve 25 hours per week.

They also approved making the building inspector job an a contracted position rather than a city employee and agreed to advertise for a replacement. Current Building Inspector Ron Banach was present for a part of the meeting but left before it adjourned.

They changed the 2017 Salary and Wage Schedule to add longevity at $20 per year after seven years of employment for full time employees on their anniversary date, moved Police Officer Andrew Vandeberg to full pay after his probation period ends on Nov. 21, offered the Public Works employees a 1 percent raise each year for the next three years, with provisions for the $20 per year longevity pay after seven years, and insurance and pension paid in full by the city.

Other action at the meeting included authorizing Zahn to apply for various small grants "from a list provided" to be used for the fish viewing platform, accepting donation of a .33-acre parcel abutting Hickory Drive from owners R. B. and Colleen Haulotte at no cost to the city; approving the Dog Park Group lease of city owned property in the Town of Peshtigo, allowing use of long boards on city streets with the same rules as bicycles for a 90-day trial period, and approving bartender licenses for Theresa Jane Dziewa, Mary Elizabeth Hawley and Haley Marie Green.

"I was always of the opinion that when someone does a great job you reward the person, not punish them," Krizenesky declared when he addressed the board at the start of the meeting.

"The Parks and Recreation Director has done great work for the city, he has responsibilities of administration, budgeting, employee oversight, operating much of the equipment and also doing all the back breaking work that has to be done when help is not there. He works many weekends. He has increased revenue in the park by over 300 percent since he took over, "almost enough to pay his entire salary."

Krizenesky added that Zahn's salary has not been increased since he was hired, while everyone else around him had gotten increases.

"Sounds like extreme punishment to me and to many other citizens of Peshtigo who talk to me," Krizenesky declared.

He said people love Zahn, and will not be happy about the way he is being treated.

Krizenesky also found it objectionable that they were planning to cut the hours of the Police and Parks secretary, and wondered who will answer the phone the rest of the time. He scolded them for not replacing the part time person on the city crew that Public Works Director George Cowell had told them last month is very, very necessary.

Krizenesky said there is a lot of work to get done at this time of year and cutting time and leaving positions unfilled will result in loss of services for citizens.

Krizenesky said he was mayor when Zahn was hired in 2013, and Zahn was among the final three candidates interviewed. The other two finalists wanted nothing to do with the job when they found out it included physical work like plunging blocked up toilets, mowing grass, shoveling snow, in addition to all the administrative work.

Cowell also had told Council about problems he has been having getting the work done, with two pieces of equipment broken and short one and a half people. He said thanks to the foresight of former employee Tom Termaat he had the spare parts needed to fix one of the machines.

Zahn took time from a boys basketball game he was supervising to make a brief statement on his own behalf at the Council meeting. He asked Gryzwa who would approve his overtime and was told department heads approve. "I am the department head," Zahn countered. He then was told that the mayor or the committee chair could approve the extra hours. Zahn told the Council that the $18 per hours pay for him as a department head is $2 per hour less than a starting employee with the public works department.

He said after the meeting that he often puts in 40 to 50 hours on a tournament weekend, and wondered where he will find the time to get the rest of his work done.

"With pre-approval required for overtime, there are a lot of things that won't get done. This will make my job a lot harder. There is another layer I will have to go through" However, he added vehemently, ":Am I still going to do the best job that I can do? Absolutely!"


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