Ashtabula Solicitor Michael Franklin Not Happy With Council's Financial Management

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A trip into the wonderful world of Ashtabula's city finances shouldn't be this entertaining. And in general, it's not, but City Solicitor Michael Franklin took the entertainment value up a notch this week.

Here's the set-up: Ashtabula recently reduced now-resigned systems analyst Charlene Pfouts' and Treasurer Lori Mackey's workweek from 40 to 20 hours and took away their benefits. The Star Beacon reports that instead of looking down the barrel of a pay cut, Pftouts decided to resign. The paper says Mackey is undecided. Another city employee, income-tax administrator Marge Pavolino, had her pay cut 10%, so she will be retiring sometime this year.

So, the city will be saving money, right? About $54,000? Nope. Council passed legislation recently approving payouts of "unused sick leave, vacation leave, and longevity pay" to certain city employees who leave their jobs. According to Auditor Karen Jury, the city will now owe about $75,000 to the group. That cash will be coming from the general fund, because no dough was ever set aside to deal with the on-the-way-out-the-door payouts.

Enter City Solicitor Michael Franklin.

The city solicitor took City Council to task Monday night, charging it authorized generous severance pay benefits to its employees at a time when the city’s budget is in dire straits.

This was the first time City Solicitor Michael Franklin let his feelings about council’s money-managing decisions be known publicly. He did so by presenting council with two ordinances: 1) repealing his and his assistant’s 10 percent pay reductions for 2011, and 2) an ordinance returning their pay at the higher level, as set in 2007, retroactive back to March 22.

When Vice President Betty Kist asked Franklin about the ordinances, he let them have it.

“It’s the only way to bring home that when you authorized generous severance pay benefits to your five employees, you demonstrated favoritism,” Franklin said. “You took the pay I waived and gave it to (retired city auditor Michael) Zullo and (now-resigned systems analyst Charlene) Pfouts.”

He also quipped, "You are not serious about balancing the budget. It's not the time to expand benefits to people under you."

“You are the guardians of the purse strings. Yet you authorized all this money for the few people who work directly for you," Franklin said, according to the Star Beacon.

In case you were curious, his two ordinances were voted down.

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