In a surprise move Monday evening, Peabody City Council went into an early executive session for the purpose of discussing personnel and reconvened within 10 minutes.
When back in open meeting, councilman Larry Larsen made a motion, seconded by Leslie LaFoy, not to renew city administrator Jeff Benbrook’s contract of employment with the City of Peabody. The motion stated that the non-renewal would be effective immediately, but Benbrook’s salary would be paid until Dec. 31.
The motion passed, 4-1, with councilman Steve Rose opposed.
The council then went into a recess for five minutes, re-convening for the balance of the meeting at 7:25 p.m., following Benbrook’s departure.
Later in the meeting, the council discussed the committees on which Benbrook served. He was a voting member representing Peabody on Marion County Surface Water Advisory Board, secretary of Peabody Planning and Zoning, and a member of the board of directors of Peabody Main Street Association.
The council appointed Rose to take Benbrook’s place on the surface water advisory board, but indicated the other two committees should determine whether or not he would continue to serve as a private citizen.
Council members also unanimously approved suggestions to order an audit and immediately change computer passwords and locks to city properties. It is the city’s policy to implement these changes when an employee leaves.
Mayor Ed Slocombe and councilman Tom Schmidt met with city employees first thing Tuesday morning to explain what happened. Employees also were told city business would go on as usual.
In a brief statement Tuesday morning Slocombe said, “The decision to not renew was a difficult one and the council did not make it hastily or lightly. It was the best option for the city.”
Slocombe noted city treasurer and assistant city clerk Stephanie Ax will cover front office duties with help from city council members when needed.
“We discussed with city staff the changes that need to be considered to keep things running smoothly,” Slocombe said. “The council will re-evaluate our programs and see what needs should be filled.”
Councilman Schmidt added the council will begin the process of finding a replacement for Benbrook at the next council meeting.
“The council made the decision to not extend (Benbrook’s contract),” he said. “It is the prerogative of the council to make a decision when they have determined it is in the best interest of the community.
“As Ed (Slocombe) said, it was not done without a lot of thought and discussion. We didn’t make the decision lightly,” he added.
In other business, the council:
- agreed to a five-year contract presented by Hank Yoder of Stutzman Refuse Service to continue trash and recycling services to Peabody.
- agreed to consider Steve Gillet’s proposal to allow young people to skateboard on designated streets if an agreement can be reached with Peabody law enforcement. The topic will be discussed at the Nov. 24 meeting.
- heard from Hillsboro water plant operator Morgan Marler she and public works employee Ronnie Harms have been able to get chlorine residual levels high enough in most areas of the community so excessive flushing of the lines have not been necessary. Extensive testing has continued and has identified some problem areas.
- heard the soil sampling session at the former sewer plant has been rescheduled because the crops planted on the land have not been harvested. No date was given for the rescheduled sampling.
- reviewed the list of nuisance properties presented by health and safety officer Tammy Whiteside and agreed to additional review of the policy to charge the property owner for publication and mailing fees. The review will take place at the Nov. 24 meeting.
- heard from Interim Main Street Association Director Shane Marler the state had postponed the year-end evaluation, 86 people visited the POW bus museum Friday, David LaFoy and Frank Woodruff were instrumental in assisting with hanging new banners, and economic development is in the preliminary stages of working with the school on a housing project.
- heard Marler will be attending the “First Impression” series Monday and Tuesday. Larsen and LaFoy expressed interest in attending as well.
- heard an update on city finances from councilman Schmidt.
- heard from Slocombe that a vintage buggy can be rented for conveyance of city officials in the Christmas parade. The cost of the buggy will be split among the mayor and councilmen.
- heard from LaFoy and Slocombe that a walk-through of police offices in the new city shop was conducted and plans are to have the city crew work on the interior as time and funds permit this winter.