BERLIN – A personnel change that surprised some town officials prompted discussion at last week’s meeting of the Berlin Town Council.
At the close of June 10’s meeting, Councilman Dean Burrell brought attention to Jeff Fleetwood, the town’s managing director, was now listed as managing director and public works director.
“Is that something we should approve?” Burrell said.
Mayor Gee Williams explained that the change came as a result of the retirement of Jane Kreiter, who previously served as the town’s water resources and public works director. Williams said Jamey Latchum, who’d worked with Kreiter for years, would lead the water resources department while the public works administrative duties would be handled by Fleetwood.
“That represents a change in the operation of the Town of Berlin and I think that should have been brought here for discussion and approved,” Burrell said, adding that it was no reflection on Fleetwood.
In an interview later this week, Williams said the decision had been administrative.
“As far as I’m concerned, the mayor is, according to our code, the chief executive of the town,” Williams said. “This is an administrative decision.”
He said Kreiter had approached officials several years ago about merging the public works and water departments because she had the background to handle both.
“It only made sense when Jane left to go back to separate superintendents,” he said.
He said Fleetwood, knowing Kreiter was leaving, had gradually started taking on administrative responsibilities in public works.
“Jeff has a very good background in all things, maintenance, public works. It’s one of his natural skills,” Williams said.
He said that Fleetwood would handle public works administration while longtime superintendent Dave Wheaton would remain in his role and Latchum would lead the water resources department.
“It made for a very smooth and seamless transition,” Williams said. “If Dean thinks the mayor can’t make an administrative decision we’ve got to change our whole form of government.”
The mayor added that considering the town’s financial challenges, it made sense to save money by not replacing Kreiter.
“In addition to cutting costs this seemed an obvious action to take,” he said.
Councilman Zack Tyndall said he thought Latchum and Fleetwood were well deserving of their new roles and responsibilities. He nevertheless agrees with Burrell.
“According to the town charter Section C4-4: Powers and Duties of the Mayor, it explicitly states that ‘The mayor, with approval of the council, shall appoint the heads of all offices, departments and agencies of the town government as established by this Charter or by ordinance,’” Tyndall said. “With this being said, I agree with my colleague Councilmember Burrell that those appointments should’ve come before the council for a vote.”
Councilman Troy Purnell said he was not concerned with the way the personnel changes had been handled. He was aware Fleetwood would be taking on the new responsibilities but said that perhaps that was because he communicated with Kreiter more frequently than some of his colleagues.
“I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “He’s been taking on more and more all along knowing Jane was stepping aside.”
Councilman Thom Gulyas said it was within the mayor’s and town administrator’s authority to make changes as long as there hadn’t been an increase in pay of $10,000 or more.