UPDATE: Since this meeting, City Manager David Wiegan has submitted his resignation, effective June 16, citing a "very hostile work environment." A special meeting of the city council has been set for 6 p.m. May 31 to discuss Wiegan's resignation.
ROCKAWAY BEACH - The Rockaway Beach City Council took action on two properties deemed to be violating nuisance ordinances during a meeting clouded by innuendoes and terse comments about the city's contentious budget process.
Councilors voted on May 25 to proceed with the abatement of Robert Cissna's property at 1420 U.S. Highway 101 N. The property has junk vehicles and car parts across the yard, according to city reports. The vote means the city will pay to remove the vehicles and bill Cissna for the work.
Rebecca Rose, who rents the property in question, came before the council and said she doesn't have the money to make the requested changes.
"I've done what I can without a job because my name's been so slandered," Rose said. "...There's been eight vehicles removed from there, there's been lots done, and if anybody can do better, I'm right here. I could use the help."
The council said Cissna is legally responsible for maintaining the property, not Rose. According to city officials, Cissna has signed for, but not responded to, certified letters asking for the property to be cleaned.
A second property at 603 S. Easy St. has also received notice of violation from the city. Owner Ronald Vance told the council May 25 he planned to have the property clean and in compliance by June 7.
"Once things start getting overwhelming and out of hand, it's difficult to get it under control," he said. Vance said he recently made a final child support payment and would have some additional money to work on the property.
The city has received 13 written and numerous verbal complaints about Vance's home. Neighbor Jack Nutt complained before the council about an alleged layer of household garbage in Vance's garage that is causing a rat problem in the neighborhood. Nutt said a rat made a nest in a junction box of his truck, causing thousands of dollars in damage.
"This is costing me and my neighbors a considerable amount of money," Nutt said. "I don't think it's asking too much to clean all of this garbage up and keep it clean."
Nutt said the home has been a problem for years.
Councilors agreed to allow Vance to work with the city code enforcement officer to have the property cleaned by June 7. If not, they indicated they would vote to begin the abatement process at the next council meeting on June 15.
The other major topic that evening was on the city budget, and several councilors and audience members alluded to contentious budget committee meetings held prior to the council meeting.
Though the room was packed with citizens, only one spoke during the citizen's comments portion of the meeting. Judy Mammano, wife of Fire Chief Barry Mammano, chastised members of the council for comments that "border on harassment, slander and certainly defamation of character... if it continues, you will be hearing from my attorney."
She didn't say what those comments were, but they apparently stemmed from an incident at one of the budget committee meetings. At the end of the meeting, Councilman Jack McClave alluded to the "non event" at the budget committee meeting, and a "discussion" with the fire chief that followed.
"At no time did he ever hit me, scream at me, knock me down or anything else," McClave said.
Mammano ended her statement to a strong round of applause from the audience, which was gaveled down by Mayor Dennis Porter.
"When members of Team Rockaway were elected to serve as counselors for our city their campaign promise was to bring the city together," Mammano said. "I would think that being newly elected you would want to listen very carefully, gather all the information available to you, do research, and look to the people who have been hired to manage the city and have been on the council longer than you."
At the opening of the meeting, Porter gave a "state of the city," in which he discussed issues that he said were a priority of citizens - a reduction of administrative costs, increased revenue for the city, and street repairs.
He said work on the streets was currently being done.
"However, what I don't see is a reduction of administration costs and an increase in city revenues," he said. "What I have seen being presented by our city manager to the members of the budget committee is an increase in our costs budget-wise, and I have not seen any action on the part of the city administration in an attempt to reduce administrative costs."
During council comments, Councilor Rodney Breazile, City Manager David Wiegan and a citizen member of the budget committee shared some terse words over the city budget. Breazile made a motion requesting that Wiegan present to the council, before the next meeting, a budget proposal that cuts city spending by 5, 10 and 15 percent. The motion died for lack of a second, but not before Wiegan claimed the request would be time consuming and unnecessary. The budget committee had already voted, 8 to 4, to propose a balanced budget to the council that does not require budget cuts, he said. Wiegan added that city personnel costs are union negotiated and were pre-determined before this budget cycle.
"This particular year, my role as budget officer was to keep us basically intact while we have time to work on deficiencies," Wiegan had said during the city manager comments. "... It's not where you snap your fingers and all of a sudden you have all kinds of savings. Savings come with consequences. You have to tie your expenses to revenues, you have to have those things rise and fall together so you don't lose basic services... I did not expect that we would have total harmony (in the budget process). We did not. That's part of the process. That's why we have legitimate debate."
The budget committee will present its recommendation for the roughly $6.3 million city budget during the June 15 council meeting. The city council must adopt the budget before the end of June.
The meeting adjourned with a parting comment from Mayor Porter.
"Can't we all just get along?"
In other business:
• It was announced that Terry Walhood will be the next head of the beautification committee.
• The police department received approval to apply for a COPS grant that would pay for three years of a four-year contract to hire a fourth officer.
• The Rockaway Lions Club received approval to station a mobile hot dog stand at the wayside May 27-30.