Waterloo City Council gets heated over mechanic position - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo City Council gets heated over mechanic position

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

A fiery Waterloo City Council meeting followed a vote last week that left one man unemployed.

Last Monday, newly-elected councilwoman, Margaret Klein, threw a wrench in the plans.

What should have been a simple new hire approval at the February 5th meeting turned into a heated debate when Klein questioned the addition of a full-time city mechanic position, which had already been approved in this year's budget.

"I have no problem with the process. I just have a problem with having it suggested that this is inevitable and that I have to vote one way, " said Klein. "Here is another thing I have a problem with, the money that we had last year, we may not have this coming year. We have to be responsible."

Despite push back from other council members, ultimately the approval of the new employee was voted down by Klein, newly-elected Chris Shimp, and veteran council members, Steve Schmitt and Bruce Jacobs.

When  KWWL spoke to the mechanic, John Oehlerich, last week on the phone, he said his life had been flipped upside down.

During Monday's council meeting, he confronted the four council members who left him jobless.

"In an act of what I can only describe as irresponsible political iron ball, you rejected me and left me jobless," said Oehlerich. "Two days before I was to start my new job, with one two-minute voicemail from Sandie Greco, I went from thinking about the possibilities this new job could bring me, to simply trying to make it from one day to the next."

According to Public Works Director Sandie Greco, Oehlerich had already attended training with the other city mechanics, moved his tool kit in, given notice at his last job and had a start date of February 7th. All of which Councilman Pat Morrissey says is standard procedure for city hires.

Morrissey made two attempts to ask the prevailing side: Steve Schmitt, Bruce Jacobs, Margaret Klein or Chris Shimp to move to bring the appointment of Oehlerich back to council. 

"We've already approved the appointment. It is just us looking at this person, male or female, and saying to them 'Congratulations. Welcome aboard.' That is what it has always been for the four years I have been on council," said Morrissey.

Despite the position already being budgeted for in 2018 and no outspoken objects to Oehlerich qualifications, the four council members stayed silent through the hour of public comment, hardly making eye contact with Oehlerich or others who spoke.

"Two days later, walking into workforce development and applying for unemployment. It would be nice if you paid attention to me while I was speaking, please," said Oehlerich to Klein.

"Without you guys looking at your computers, writing on your tablets, whatever you are doing, can you guys seriously reconsider this vote? Do you feel great about yourselves for putting this guy out on the street?" said another man, who spoke for Oehlerich.

When Oehlerich asked those who supported him to stand, more than half the room including public works employees and firefighters stood.

Despite being given several opportunities, Klein, Schmitt, Jacobs, and Shimp never addressed the issue.

Last week, KWWL spoke with Klein. She said she was concerned about the 2019 budget, and wanted to find other cost saving routes to deal with the overload of work the central garage is dealing with.

The tension continued when Schmitt questioned the vetting process of five people who were on the agenda to be appointed to city boards and commissions. 

During the discussion, Morrissey confronted Schmitt for something that was not caught by the mics. The exchange setting Mayor Hart off.

 Morrissey: "You told me what?"
 Schmitt: "I didn't tell you anything."
 Morrisey: "You just told me to be quiet?"

"Listen, as presider, lets stop this. This is embarrassing. This is embarrassing. We are arguing over people who want to serve," said Mayor Hart. "People have given their opinions, council has given their opinions. Lets move on and respect Waterloo, respect these people, and the citizens."

Council went on to vote on the appointment of five people to city board and commissions.

Schmitt voted for everyone but former Councilman Tom Powers. Klein also abstained from the vote involving Powers, who she beat out for the Ward One council seat. 

All five people, including Powers were approved by the remaining five council members.

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