Longtime Salem Utilities Commission member Geoff Goll will retire from his seat after next Tuesday's meeting, with Ken Kenst appointed as interim member while Mayor John Berlin seeks Goll's replacement.
"We all certainly wish him the best in his future endeavors," Berlin said.
The mayor notified city council Tuesday night about Goll's intention to retire from the commission effective Sept. 10 following the commission meeting, which is at 3 p.m. in the second floor conference room in the utilities building.
He said Goll informed him that his new position with Rotary International regarding the goal to eradicate polio throughout the world won't leave him the time necessary to continue on the commission. A member of the commission for 21 years, he served 19 years as chairman until stepping down from the chairmanship in May. His term on the commission isn't set to expire until 2016.
He explained then that he had been asked to serve as the Zone 29 Polio Coordinator for Rotary International, with his area stretching from Iowa to New York, covering 34 Rotary districts and more than 3,000 clubs. He's a member of the Salem Rotary Club.
A call was placed to Goll's home Tuesday night, with a message left requesting comment, but the call was not returned.
Berlin asked that anyone living in the city who has a background in water plant or wastewater plant operations or an engineering degree and sufficient time to devote to the commission contact him either by phone, email or in person at city hall. He can be reached at 330-332-4241 ext. 221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the interim, he asked that city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst be appointed to the commission until a permanent replacement can be found, which council approved.
When asked whether that would be a conflict for Kenst to serve on the commission since he's part of the city administration, city Law Director Brooke Zellers said the mayor contacted him with that question and he saw nothing in the law against him serving.
Zellers pointed out that if there was no utilities commission, the duties related to utilities would fall to the service/safety director.
"I can't find any conflict. I've looked," he said.
Councilman Clyde Brown suggested applications be taken, which Berlin said was his intention, for people to contact him. Councilman Dave Nestic said with the changes, now may be the time for the Utilities Committee of city council to look at whether commission members should be paid.
Members of the commission receive no pay for their service and there's a lot of work and responsibility that goes into the position. Nestic said Goll had a background in law in this area and it's getting harder and harder to find qualified people willing to serve. He said the pay could come out of the utilities department funds. He said his suggestion was for pay only, not benefits.
When asked if serving on the commission would interfere with Kenst's duties as service/safety director, Berlin said he didn't think so, adding that Kenst indicated it would not present a problem.
Berlin set no deadline for people to express an interest in the appointment, saying he felt there needed to be an interim appointed right away due to the ongoing issue concerning a consent decree expected to be coming from the state against the city related to utilities and contractual items coming up. He said he wanted to ensure there was input from three people, which is the number of members on the commission.
When asked if appointing Kenst could be a precursor to the elimination of the commission, Berlin said "I don't believe the utilities commission should be disbanded. That's certainly not my goal. It's proven it's a valuable asset to the city."
He said he's had strong opinions about the commission's role in the city and admitted there have been some differences of opinion recently on many issues, saying it would be hard to deny that.
When asked if he had requested Goll to step down, he didn't answer yes or no.
"I just felt that there were certain things I'd like to see handled differently and gave them to him for his consideration," Berlin said.
As an example, he pointed to an ongoing agenda item regarding the amount of interest from utilities funds paid to the general fund. Council had made the decision a few years ago to have the interest income go to the general fund instead of back to utilities. He said it continues to be an issue on the commission agenda and he saw no reason for it to continue to be brought up.
"The utilities department is the city," he said.
Berlin did not have a copy of Goll's letter of retirement with him, but said Goll wanted the citizens to know the city is blessed with an outstanding utilities department staff led by Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart. He said it was a pleasure serving with all the staff, commission members, city council members and former mayors.