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Stimulus Employees May Be Consultants, Not City Staff

Jamestown officials appear to be shifting their focus from hiring three employees with federal stimulus funding to contracting out for the work.

The draft plan released for the city’s $28 million in American Rescue Plan funding last year by Mayor Eddie Sundquist included more than $900,000 to pay for three positions: a project manager, a public communications and coordination position and an events coordinator. The events coordinator is linked to a $1 million push to bring more events downtown.

During a previous City Council Finance Committee meeting, Ryan Thompson, city comptroller, asked council members their thoughts on using contractors for the positions rather than hiring the positions as full-time city employees whose positions would later be eliminated when the federal funding ran out.

“We’ve been talking about these over the last week or two and I think there’s been a desire to potentially propose that we outsource these as consultants as opposed to hiring them as full-time positions,” Thompson said. “That way we’d be able to cut ties at any point in time and not have to worry about that down the road. We wanted to have this discussion first with the three of you to see how you felt about that and how the council felt about that before we move forward with putting those positions out there.”

Of the three positions, only one was publicly supported by Finance Committee members. The project manager, who had been slated to earn between $79,000 and $96,000 over the six years covered in the city’s American Rescue Plan strategy, would track projects and related finances and prepare interim, quarterly and annual reports required by federal law. The position would also develop a public dashboard so the public can see how the money is being spent and report regularly to Sundquist, the City Council and department heads.

“This is honestly the one that concerns me the most because there is a lot of reporting required and a lot of paperwork required that you get sucked into in a lot of ways,” said Kim Ecklund, R-At Large and Finance Committee chairwoman.

Adding the positions as consultants may lead to a higher pay rate, but the city wouldn’t have to pay benefits or contribute toward their retirement plan. Council members didn’t dismiss the other two positions during the discussion, but asked to see a description of the positions, what the positions would be paid and what the expectations would be of the consultants.

“If you’re going to outsource it, is there something that could be combined?” Ecklund asked. “Do we need all of those full-time? I would like to see the plan, whether outsourced or brought in, what your expectations are for those positions. I think that should hold true for any positions you’re adding.”

Tony Dolce, R-Ward 2 and council president, and Councilwoman Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4, agreed with Ecklund’s request for descriptions of the positions before the city moves forward. Carrubba also gave a description of the type of consultant the city should look to find.

“If you want somebody who’s going to do the most, you want somebody who’s skilled at this and can work without probably a lot of oversight,” Carrubba said. “If you’re hiring a consultant you can tell them what the expectation is, this is what I want done, this is when I want it done by. What you actually do during the process is up to the consuyltant otherwise, if you micromanage them, they’re an employee.”

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