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City clerk debate continues

City Council rejects clerk’s addition to past minutes
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Residents have differing opinions about whether or not the city of Auburn should have an elected city clerk and city treasurer, and a City Council vote helped spur on the debate. Monday night the Auburn City Council rejected an addendum to the council’s Oct. 25 meeting minutes. City Clerk Joe Labrie wrote the addendum to elaborate on comments he made at the Oct. 25 meeting about a cut in the city clerk’s pay that takes effect in 2012. Labrie said he didn’t think the summary of his comments in the transcribed minutes effectively addressed what he said. “All I wanted was when it came time to do that part of the minutes I told (Assistant City Clerk) Amy (Lind) I would like to do that part of the minutes – public comment,” Labrie said. “I didn’t know there would be an addendum. I wanted to report more of what was said during the council meeting. I didn’t think it was adequate.” Mayor Bill Kirby said he disagreed with the addition, because Labrie was making a change to the minutes, and the change included comments that were different from what was said and in a different order than the taped minutes. “I have reviewed the minutes and I do believe this is a significant change … and alters the content of these comments,” Kirby said Monday night. “I think this is extremely inappropriate.” Councilman Keith Nesbitt said he didn’t think it was appropriate for Labrie to expand on an item because he deemed it to be important. “I am a little concerned,” Nesbitt said. “I don’t think there should be a subjectivity as to what he draws out of a meeting as important.” Kirby said Tuesday morning Labrie was not fulfilling his role as a reporter to the public by altering the minutes. “He actually admitted yesterday that his purpose was that what he inserted was supposed to be the accepted minutes,” Kirby said. “That became unacceptable. I wanted to nail him on this. Bottom line is this position is redundant and he doesn’t serve the purpose he is supposed to be there for. He did change (the minutes), and it’s very inappropriate. If one of us tried to do that, he would rip us apart in nothing flat. It’s an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money to have the position.” Councilman Mike Holmes said Monday night he saw the minutes change as a political statement. Holmes said Tuesday he plans to bring the city clerk’s position before the City Council again in the future to see if other members want it to be an appointed rather than elected position. “I’m planning to bring that issue up again in January to let the City Council take another look at whether we want to put something on the ballot in November of 2012,” Holmes said. If the city clerk does remain an elected position, Holmes said he thinks the person who holds it should only be paid per City Council meeting, which the clerk attends to record the minutes. In June the council approved a cut in city clerk pay from $270 a month to $200 a month beginning in the position’s new term in 2012. The position will also no longer include health benefits. Labrie has said on several occasions that he thinks the cut is unfair, because the council is not cutting the pay of City Treasurer George Williams. Currently the city clerk, city treasurer and city council members are all paid the same salary with the option to take the same health benefits. Labrie’s main responsibility is recording the minutes at City Council meetings. In a past Journal report Williams said his responsibilities include guarding the city’s money, watching how it is spent and facilitating investments. Williams has 40 years of accounting experience and spends about 10 hours a week doing work for his city treasurer position, he said. Labrie does not hold any certifications for his city clerk position. Paul Ogden, former Auburn city manager, said the positions of city clerk and city treasurer are needed in some capacity. “They are necessary, there is no doubt about that,” Ogden said. “The bigger question is whether they should be appointed or elected. I think in this day and age a case can be made that a high degree of professionalism is required for both positions. To assure that, it’s best to have those positions appointed.” Ogden said he thinks that all city elected officials should have the same health benefits, even if that means none of them have any benefits. Planning Commissioner Bob Snyder, who ran for City Council in the November election, said he doesn’t think part-time positions should include health benefits. “I have trouble with health benefits being paid for elected officials period,” Snyder said. Snyder said when the public is told about what elected officials earn, benefits are usually left out. Snyder said he thinks Labrie’s position should not be elected. “I haven’t given much thought to the treasurer,” he said. “I don’t think we need an elected city clerk.” Taxpayer Advocate Dan Sokol, who also ran for City Council in the November election, said Tuesday he thinks the city clerk and city treasurer should be elected positions, because it’s important to have people in them who are separate from the city staff. Sokol said the city clerk should be treated the same way as other elected officials. “I definitely think that it should be an elected position, and it should be treated with respect by the other elected offices in the city of Auburn,” he said. Sokol said he disagrees with the decision to take away the city clerk’s benefits, and feels the council should try to find someone else they are confident in to run for the position rather than punishing Labrie. “I think it was a very poor decision (to take away the benefits starting in 2012),” he said. “It was made on the basis of personality, not on the basis of equity.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com