City has five new employees, despite hiring freeze

City spokesman said only positions crucial to city operations are being filled.

By Sarah Elms / The Blade
Fri, 22 May 2020 17:55:17 GMT

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Three people have started new jobs at the city and two more have start dates before the end of May, despite a hiring freeze that has been in place since April 2.

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and City Council President Matt Cherry announced the hiring freeze last month as the city’s first step toward cutting costs as municipalities started to feel the economic strain of the coronavirus. A news release from the city described the hiring freeze as in effect “for all city operations.”

But city spokesman Ignazio Messina said Friday that some positions had to be filled in order to keep essential services operational. That’s the case with the five new hires, he said.

The administration hired Michael Mecchi, a chemist and bacteriologist, on April 3 to work in the water reclamation department.

“We said all along that essential services still had to continue. We cannot operate our water treatment system without the proper staffing of chemists,” Mr. Messina said.

Mark Wilson started April 17 as the city’s new wage enforcement coordinator, a position the administration has been talking about filling since December when concerns were raised about wage theft at construction job sites.

Mr. Messina said he was offered and accepted the job before the coronavirus became an issue in Toledo, but his start date was not until April.

Kimberly Phillips began her job as an administrative analyst in the finance department May 1. Mr. Messina said finance is a revenue-generating department.

“That is a function that we cannot allow to be reduced right now, especially given the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on our budget,” he said.

The administration intends to hire two more people in the city’s information and communication technology department on May 29. Matthew Mackowiak, Lucas County’s current director of information technology, and Aaron Metz will join the city as support managers.

Mr. Messina said those positions are necessary because most employees are working from home, and meetings are being conducted virtually.

“Our ICT infrastructure has become much more critically important, so it needs to be staffed well to make sure it functions properly in this new reality,” he said.

In total, those five salaries will cost the city about $330,000 annually.

Mr. Messina noted the administration also plans to hire a 25-member police class in October, which will cost about $2 million. That will be in place of the 40-member police class that had initially planned to begin in May before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

City officials have projected a general fund shortfall of between $25 million and $50 million, depending on how long the economic crisis persists. Two weeks after announcing the hiring freeze, the administration placed about 300 employees on temporary emergency leave — essentially a temporary layoff — to cut costs.

Soon after that, the administration notified 181 non-union employees that they need to take five unpaid furlough days by the end of the year.

Those staff reductions remain in effect.

City Councilman Rob Ludeman, vice chairman of the finance and debt oversight committee, said city council members have been scrutinizing 2020 expenditures in light of the city’s looming deficit. He was surprised to hear about the new hires.

He said he isn’t necessarily opposed to hiring someone if they are essential to city services, but he does want the administration to discuss it with council first.

“I think given the severity of the situation, every single one of these positions, even if its filling something that’s crucial, let us know about it instead of just doing it,” he said.

Mr. Messina said there were several open positions the administration intended to fill but did not because they weren’t considered essential to delivering city services.

For instance, city leaders interviewed candidates to be commissioner of the Human Relations Commission and offered their top candidate a job before the coronavirus hit. After it became clear budget cuts were needed, they rescinded the offer.

“It’s unfortunate. It's sad for that person and sad for the city, but it's a budget reality we have to face right now,” Mr. Messina said.