Contract of Follansbee city manager again debated

FOLLANSBEE – As Follansbee Council prepared again to discuss the contract for City Manager John DeStefano, it heard from several residents and business owners who turned out to support him.

Last week 4th Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell asked for DeStefano’s contract to be put on Monday’s agenda, saying it was set to expire in August.

But following an hour-long executive session, City Attorney Michael Gaudio said DeStefano’s contract was reviewed and it appears it doesn’t expire until Aug. 31, 2015.

Gaudio said last week he believed an earlier council extended his yearly contract and staggered it with the two-year elected terms held by other city officials.

But the issue drew several who came to speak in support of DeStefano Monday, and council chambers was filled with many who came to observe.

Before the executive session, residents Sanna Breton and Theresa Hedmond asked why some on council didn’t want to reappoint DeStefano.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell, 5th Ward Councilman Tom Ludewig and Councilman at large Dom Micucci said the city should move forward without him to achieve progress. They didn’t elaborate on that.

Third Ward Councilwoman Kathy Santoro said DeStefano has been responsible for much progress, including obtaining grants for the Morton Road booster station and improvements to the City Building and bringing the Sheetz and Rite Aid stores to land purchased by Follansbee Council in 2001 for economic development.

She estimated such efforts have generated $2.4 million for the city in grants and revenue.

Former mayor Rudy Cipriani noted in January, when DeStefano’s contract was considered, council heard from Wheeling developer Lee Paull IV, who gave him credit for the Sheetz development; and James Joseph and Scott Ewusiak, who said the city manager has aided them as they pursue the development of a port on the city’s west side.

Others within and outside council said if there’s been a lack of progress in the city, it’s because of a lack of cooperation among city officials.

Second Ward Councilman Dave Secrist received applause when he said, “The reason we’re not progressing is not because of that man. It’s because of ourselves.”

Secrist said council members haven’t been able to agree on many things and will “have to change or we’ll never ever move forward.”

Former Follansbee councilman and Brooke County commissioner John Casinelli told council they must learn to accept differences of opinion and work together for the city’s betterment.

Secrist agreed with residents who noted DeStefano’s experience, including about eight years as a councilman and 10 as city manager.

But he said there’s room for improvement.

“He’s a good city manager but not a great city manager. I’ve told him that to his face,” Secrist said.

He said council should outline common goals for DeStefano and conduct a performance review before his next contract renewal.

Council had agreed to do that in January but didn’t.

Mayor Dave Velegol, who agreed to draw up a checklist for such an evaluation, said following the meeting he believes it’s a good idea.

But he added he believes DeStefano has an unenviable task of living up to the expectations of many.

“He not only reports to the six people sitting at that (council) table but also to 5,000 residents,” Velegol said, adding, “I think he’s doing a reasonably good job.”

Following the meeting Micucci was asked about accusations from some community members that some on council have personal agendas against DeStefano.

“There’s no agenda. It’s just the city moving forward with some new ideas,” he said, adding, “We’re not John’s enemies.”

In other business, DeStefano told council crews with James White Construction of Weirton will remove the upper shelter at Follansbee Park damaged by a slip in the hillside. The contractor submitted the lowest of three bids, in the amount of $8,250, accepted after council approved emergency action for the structure.

DeStefano said an engineer with GeoTech of Pittsburgh has inspected the site and doesn’t believe the slip has affected the roadway above the park.

The freezing and thawing of the ground over the winter and runoff from recent heavy rain have been blamed for the slip, which has caused the upper walking trail to buckle and cement pad beneath the shelter to crack.

DeStefano said surveyor Vince Dowdel has placed markers at various points around the area and will monitor it for further shifting.