Uncertainty after termination of key employees at Dayton City Hall
July 1, 2021
DAYTON-It has been two weeks since Dayton Mayor Zac Weatherford terminated the employment of the City Administrator, Trina Cole, the Planning and Community Development Director, Meagan Hayes, and the Public Works Director, Jim Costello.
The mayor has been on a family vacation and attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful. However, the Times was provided with the following written statement from Weatherford to the Dayton City Council, dated June 16:
"Although their work and dedication to our city and community is very appreciated, it is time for a change. This will be a difficult transition period in which I would appreciate support and recommendation from staff, council, and the standing committees. I wish all three former employees the best in their future endeavors."
Deputy City Clerk Deb Hays said the decision to terminate Jim Costello, Meagan Hayes, and Trina Cole was mayor-led.
All the city council members said the issue had not been discussed with them prior to the termination. They said they only learned about it through his June 16 statement to them.
"The mayor still hasn't talked to us about it yet," Christine Broughton said last week.
Dain Nysoe said it came as a complete shock to him, but the mayor doesn't have to consult the city council about personnel matters.
Not only is Nysoe concerned about the impact the termination will have on effective city governance, but he is also concerned about whether the city can afford payouts to the terminated employees. His concerns are partly due to the recently increased payments to the County for law enforcement, municipal court, and E911 dispatch services.
The city had just begun to address how to make the payments to the County by adopting an ordinance to raise the water and sewer utility tax by 12-percent, which took effect on June 1. Nysoe said service cuts or other measures need to be pursued to address the budgetary issues. He believes terminating staff is not the way to balance budgets.
A special city council meeting will take place on Wednesday to discuss future staffing. In the meantime, the public is asked to be patient as city staff begins to work things through.
Deb Hays and Connie Westergreen, at City Hall, are fielding questions for the various departments.
Columbia County Planning Manager Dena Martin said she and Code Compliance Officer Clint Atteberry have the authority to review and process roofing, mechanical, and plumbing permits for the City.
"So far, that is all we have received," Martin said. "We are awaiting direction from the city on how they would like to proceed with plan review on larger projects."
Several multiagency projects between the Port of Columbia and the City have been impacted, as well.
The Port's Executive Director, Jennie Dickinson, said she has worked closely with Hayes and Cole on the Dayton Community Broadband Project to secure matching funds for a grant to begin construction.
"Cities and counties have access to American Rescue Plan funds from the City of Dayton in order for this to work, and my understanding is the city has to request those funds in order to receive them," she said.
Dickinson said Mayor Weatherford has shown support for the project and is planning to meet with her soon.
She said Hayes had been making progress on addressing the local housing shortage through the City's Affordable Housing Commission and helping address the lack of quality childcare options for working parents. Both issues have huge implications for the area's economic outlook.
"I'm sure there is more, but there is no question this impacts the Port's work," Dickinson said.
Hayes was also checking into ways to improve the entire length of Dayton's Main Street through the Main Street Safety Action Plan. The Plan is currently out for public comment, and Dickinson isn't sure what will happen at the end of the comment period.
The Dayton Development Task Force and the Main Street Program are also impacted. Dickinson said Hayes has written a Dog-Friendly Downtown Plan and had received approval from the board to begin implementation.
Hayes also oversaw the work of the Dayton City Planning Commission on guidance and direction for Dayton's future growth, as well as the Historic Preservation Commission, which works on special valuation permits for the Main Street Historic District.
Neither Cole, Hayes, nor Costello was available for comment.