MABTON - Under encouragement from Mabton City Attorney Phil Lamb last night, the Mabton City Council agreed to offer a contract to Ret Stewart to come in and help fill the city clerk/treasurer position.
The former city clerk of Mabton, Kitty Zavala, resigned June 17.
"I feel this is the most critical, pressing need for the city," Lamb told the council.
Lamb said quickly filling the position of city clerk/treasurer is even more important for the city than re-staffing its undermanned police force.
Stewart worked with the city before when Sharon Roy was fired from her position as city clerk/treasurer. Stewart came in to help with the books but left after about five months.
Lamb told the council that there is some history between Stewart, Mayor Velva Herrera and council but that Stewart has confirmed she could be available immediately on an interim basis.
The contract calls for Stewart to work 30 hours a week at $40 an hour. She will also be paid mileage to travel to Mabton from Yakima each day.
Lamb said the contract compares favorably against another offer to provide financial services by the Prothman Company. The city would have had to pay $68 an hour plus a $1,000 a month stipend under that agreement.
Lamb acknowledged that when the city transitioned away from Stewart there were some issues but added that Stewart felt she left something unfinished in Mabton. He suggested the mayor, along with a couple members of council, meet with Stewart once a week to keep abreast of things.
Mabton City Councilman Mario Martinez asked Herrera if she would be able to work together with Stewart.
"I have to do what's necessary for the city of Mabton," she replied.
Lamb noted the question was a good one and said he's spoken with both Stewart and the mayor and feels they are both on the same page.
Councilwoman Vera Zavala voiced some concerns about bringing Stewart on board.
"Where did it get us last time," she asked? "Will she know where to start? I don't know. I have a concern."
According to Lamb this is why it's important for the mayor and council members to have weekly access to Stewart so any issues can be addressed.
Martinez said he didn't have a problem with Stewart.
"She was always straight forward and honest," he said. "I would appreciate her services again."
The council voted 3-0 to offer Stewart a contract. The contract will commence today, June 24, 2009 until Dec. 31, 2009. Since Stewart is an independent contractor and not an employee of the city, Mabton will have no tax liability.
The mayor asked the council about the hiring freeze put into place at the last council meeting.
"Am I going to be able to hire police officers?" she asked.
Zavala implored the council to lift the freeze so the mayor fill two police officer positions that were recently vacated, citing concerns for the safety of Mabton's citizens. As of now the city only has two police officers, one full-time employee and one reserve officer.
Martinez advocated waiting a few weeks to find out where the city is financially.
"We don't even know if we have the money to pay these officers," he said.
Zavala said the same money that was used to pay the former two police officers could be used to fund two new employees.
It was at this point that Mabton reserve officer Johnny Poteet asked to be heard. He questioned whether Martinez was prepared to answer any calls for help.
Martinez and Poteet then got into an exchange before Lamb told them to stop the conversation.
"An issue like this belongs in management, not an open meeting," he said. "The issue at hand is to find out if we lift the hiring freeze with respect to police officers."
Zavala made a motion to lift the freeze but did not get a second and the motion died.
After the meeting councilwoman Sophie Sotelo, who is new to the council, said she was confused and would have offered a second but thought if she did it would mean the hiring freeze had been lifted. A second would have just opened the subject up for debate so the council members could vote on the motion later.
Zavala was visibly upset when the council failed to lift the hiring freeze.
"I'm just asking for replacements," she said. "I would like to see some police officers."
After the meeting Martinez said he feels that the city will be okay with two police officers for the time being, noting it's been done in the past. He advocated using the reserves.
After the meeting Poteet said there isn't any reserve officers available.
"Where are you going to get them?" he asked. "It's ridiculous that a city the size of Mabton isn't putting its citizens first."
Lamb said he feels the hiring freeze was put in place to prevent a former employee from being hired back. Although Lamb didn't name any names the general feeling was that he was talking about former Mabton Police Chief Robert Perales. Perales left the city at the beginning of 2009 when council took away the funding for his position.
Martinez denied the hiring freeze was put in place to prevent Perales from being hired. Herrera also denied that she had ever considered hiring Perales back.