Peru, IN – The Peru Board of Public Works and Safety met in a regular session on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, in the City Council Chambers of the Peru City Building. In this meeting, the board approved the hiring of a new Police Officer and Firefighter as well as a promotion in the Fire Department.
After discussion of some routine business, City Attorney Dustin Kern advised the Board of the agreement negotiated between former Peru Firefighter Scott West and the City of Peru. He recommended that the Board of Works consider two additions to the agenda for the meeting.
• That the Board reinstate Firefighter Scott West who had been terminated from the Peru Fire Department on June 1, 2018, after he was arrested on April 10, 2018. The agreement states that Mr. West would immediately tender his resignation from the Fire Department effective August 7, 2018, and that no back pay or benefits would be paid. With the agreement, West will surrender any right to sue the City over his termination.
• Secondly, that the Board of Works accept Mr. West’s resignation from the Fire Department effective immediately. A letter was received from Scott West via his attorney resigning his position contingent on his reinstatement.
The Board approved the additions to their agenda and immediately began discussion of the agreement. According to Mayor Greer, the agreement is in the best interest of the City.
“It allows the City to move beyond this without the worry of, as the counsel said, of protracted legal battles,” according to Mayor Greer. “This is something that Mr. West and his attorney requested. This wasn’t requested by the city.”
City Attorney Kern advised the Board that the City is still litigating the termination of a former employee terminated under the last administration.
“We’re dealing with another matter, a former police officer that was terminated three years ago and that is still going through the legal procedures,” said City Attorney Kern. “We feel one hundred percent safe in the actions we have taken, the Fire Department, the Board of Works and the City in general and we feel like we’ve complied with any and all state statutes, local ordinances, whatever we needed to do to terminate Mr. West appropriately.”
Kern went on to say that even though the City does feel safe, “people sue for anything and everything and in order to avoid any costly litigation, frivolous litigation, to keep our city employees from being tied up going through that process because it does take time to litigate and cost to litigate and we see this as a way to mitigate our costs down the road.”
After discussing the agreement, Mayor Greer asked for public comment with several questions being asked about the process.
Those questions included:
Why was rehabilitation not offered to Mr. West prior to termination? Mayor Greer responded that there was no discussion or request for rehabilitation
Was Mr. West was “vested” in PERF (Public Employee Retirement Fund) and would he be eligible for retirement benefits. Mayor Greer responded that public safety employees are vested at twenty (20) years. He reported that Mr. West had approximately ten (10) years of service with the PFD.
Was Mr. West also an employee of the Municipal Golf Course and was he terminated from that position? City Clerk Soldi reported that he was hired at the golf course after she had done some investigation on if it was appropriate and legal to hire him for that position. She indicated there was a concern about dual employment and the possibility of the city would have to pay overtime due to his position with the Fire Department but that it was ultimately decided that he could be hired for the part-time golf attendant position and he was terminated from that position. City Attorney Kern also explained that because that isn’t a public safety position and Indiana is an “at will” employment state, that an employee could be terminated at any time.
Why wasn’t Mr. West placed on unpaid leave until his criminal case was settled? Mayor Greer responded, “I don’t know which parts of the investigation is public or what isn’t public but there were comments made in his conversations with the State Police and Mr. West’s own words describing the use of and other actions that I felt like, and I assume the Board felt like, were grounds for termination.”
The next question concerned some accusations made on social media posts that other employees of the city have been arrested and/or charged with a criminal violation. Mayor Greer was asked if he was aware of any city employee during his administration who have been arrested and or charged with a misdemeanor or a felony that was not suspended? Mayor Greer responded there have been no employees other than Mr. West that he is aware of.
Mayor Greer was asked about a request from Peru Indiana Today in which we asked for copies of two certified letters that Mr. West had sent to the City regarding the actions being taken against his employment. Mayor Greer had told Peru Indiana Today on Monday, August 6th that no certified letters had been received. Mr. West had provided the two letters to Peru Indiana Today with the post office certified letter receipts indicating that they had been received by the city. Mayor Greer was asked why were those letters withheld from the public?
City Clerk Soldi responded that she had seen the copies of the letters on the article and saw that there was a receipt signed by a City employee.
“I gave you when you asked for all the information, I gave you every single thing that I had in the file,” said Soldi. “There was no attempt of holding back any information.”
According to Soldi, she had not seen a certified letter envelope in the communications from West and that she wasn’t aware that any of the correspondence had arrived that way. She did recall one letter that was hand-delivered by Mr. West.
There were some additional comments from Larry West, the father of Scott West who was present at the meeting. He expressed some frustration that Scott didn’t receive a reply to his requests for a hearing. City Attorney Kern stated that the city had tried to contact Mr. West in person via Chief Hawk and another employee of the Fire Department.
“There was definitely a breakdown in communication between Scott and the City and between the City and Scott as well at various times,” said Kern.
“Mr. West has been an agenda item on our Board of Works at least twice and we haven’t seen him yet,” said Board Member Krystin Funk. “I just wanted to put it out there that we’ve been willing to have a public conversation with him several times and haven’t had the opportunity yet.”
Mr. West was not in attendance at this meeting.
Mayor Greer concluded the discussion by saying; “With everything that has been discussed around this case, was the process fair for Mr. West? Was a due process done? The conversation is never centered around did he or did he not do it. I think it’s clear what has happened, and I think for the City to look any employee in the eye and say we expect certain standards of you and we’re not going to turn a blind eye regardless of whether we like you or if you’ve done a great job in the past. If you break the rules, we have to follow through with the rules that we’ve set for everybody and I have yet to hear anybody say he didn’t break the rules.”
The board approved the reinstatement of Scott West to the Fire Department and then immediately voted to approve the resignation from Mr. West effective August 7, 2018.
In other business, the Board of Works:
• Approved the payment of $324,917.57 in regular city claims. The amount was larger this period due to having an extra week because of the change of the Board of Works meeting schedule and the payment of insurance for $120,000.
• Approved the payment of $17,006.04 in Blight Claims. The bills were for landfill costs for the first five house that have been torn down and payment for the first house demolished less the landfill costs.
• Approved the recommendation of Fire Chief Erick Hawk to promote Pat Bell from the rank of Private to Lieutenant with the change effective August 9, 2018. Mr. Bell replaces Roger Walker as a Lieutenant at Station 2 who retired yesterday with thirty-two years of service. Bell has been a Peru Firefighter for approximately twenty-five years.
• Approved the Peru Fire Department Pension Board’s recommendation to hire Josh Hall as a Probationary Firefighter. Mr. Hall will be replacing Roger Walker. Mr. Hall has completed all the necessary steps to be consider a Probationary Firefighter and is currently enrolled in an EMT class. Mr. Hall is a resident of Miami County.
• Approved the Peru Police Department Pension Board’s recommendation to hire Andrew J. Doran as a Probationary Officer with the Peru Police Department. Mr. Doran is a 2009 graduate of Taylor High School and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice at Indiana University in Kokomo. He is a former Officer with the Indiana University Police Department as well as the Howard County Sheriff’s Department with just under five years’ experience in law enforcement. Chief Meeks reported that Mr. Doran has already attended the Police Academy and should be able to complete all training to be a patrol officer within approximately eight to ten weeks in place of the normal twenty-nine weeks it takes an individual who has not attended the Academy.
• Tabled a request for a street closure from representative of Clown Town Cycles that was received by the Clerk’s Office. The form did not include a date for the request. Miami County Clerk Soldi made three attempts to contact the representatives of Clown Town Cycles and has not been able to talk with them yet. She will continue to attempt contact with them for the next meeting of the Board of Works.
• The Board then opened sealed bids on two properties that are to be demolished with the City’s Unsafe Building Fund. The properties included 27 Madison Avenue and 466 Washington Avenue. Bids were received from three companies. Caudill Services, Ames and Merritt. Coddle was awarded the bid for Madison Avenue for $2,670. Aims was awarded the bid for Washington Avenue for $7,840. The bid requires work to begin within fifteen days of the awarding of the bid with all work to be completed within thirty days of the date work begins.
• Finally, the board heard from Ms. Wooster who had expressed interest for a position on the Park Board, but it was determined that her address is outside the city limits which makes her ineligible for a position on the Board. Ms. Wooster indicted that she still wants to volunteer her time to the parks. She was told she is welcome to attend the meeting and help the Board as they direct. Mayor Greer announced that he had made an appointment for the final opening on the Park Board. Allison Paul will be sworn in this Friday. She is also a member of the Library Board.
With no additional business, the board approved a motion to adjourn. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Peru Board of Public Works and Safety will be held on Tuesday, August 21, 2018, at City Hall beginning at 5:00 p.m.
About the Board of Works:
The Board of Works consists of the Mayor and two members appointed by the Mayor. The Clerk-Treasurer is the Secretary of the Board. Authority includes control of street & sanitation as well as traffic. The Board’s function also includes control of law enforcement and fire safety, although the mayor appoints the police chief, fire chief, and city engineer to handle day to day responsibilities for their respective departments. Appointed members serve a four-year term.
The current Board of Works members include:
Mayor Gabriel Greer, by virtue of office
Steve Anderson, Mayoral Appointee
Kristin Funk, Mayoral Appointee
City Attorney Dustin Kern
Fire Chief Erick Hawk
Police Chief Mike Meeks
Tish Soldi, City Clerk-Treasurer is the Secretary of the Board