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City hires temp to staff office and begins recruiting for a part-time administrative assistant/deputy city recorder

For the past several months St. Paul government has been in disarray due to staffing issues and that trend continues as two of the three full-time staff members recently left on medical leave. In order to get the city's affairs in order, the City Council took action last week.

"We have a city to run, so we (have hired) a temp to staff the city office (answer phones, take utility bills, refer questions, etc.), so we can keep the doors open," said Mayor Kim Wallis.

In addition, the council approved beginning recruitment for a part-time administrative assistant/deputy city recorder. That job opening will close Nov. 7 and the city hopes to hire someone at the Nov. 9 council meeting, Wallis said.

City recorder Lorrie Biggs took medical leave on Sept. 25; public works tech Lee Koch left on medical leave Sept. 19. This is the second time the pair have taken medical leave in the past several months, leaving the city unable to perform even the most routine day-to-day operations. Neither Biggs or Koch have indicated to the city when they will return, Wallis said.

"Day to day responsibilities have largely fallen to me, with back-up from the rest of the City Council when they are available," he said.

Wallis recounted that the city found itself in a similar staffing situation in July when Biggs and Koch went on sick leave about four days prior to the start of the rodeo and returned about a week after it was over. The absences came at a time when great demands were made on the city's infrastructure.

"At that time, the council and our certified operator all pitched in and maintained city operations," he said. "We did hire an office temp to keep the office open at the time, as well."

Wallis added that the city has hired a temporary public works employee to take care of daily water/wastewater operations under the supervision of the city's part-time certified operator.

"Drinking water will be tested and monitored as usual, and there have been no reported issues," he said. "We want to ensure that our water and wastewater systems are being safely operated."

The city's challenges extend to its fiduciary duties as well. At last week's meeting, the council also passed a resolution clarifying who has spending authority and identifying corresponding limits.

"Previously, no council member or the chairs of our planning commission or historical board had any spending authority, even in emergencies. Spending authority was delegated to staff only," Wallis said. "With staff out, someone needs the authority to spend money for city operations."

Explaining that the planning commission and historical board had to approach the council every time they needed funds, Wallis added "this meant issues had to wait for a regular council meeting or that a special meeting had to be called. It was very inefficient, so I recommended that spending authority be expanded."

The council still has review authority on all spending: any amount over each official's spending limit still requires full council approval.

Expanding on the new administrative assistant/deputy city recorder position, Wallis said it is a position the city hasn't had before, but one that appears warranted now.

"I wanted to have a trained back-up or substitute available to help in the future when the city recorder might be absent due to an illness, vacation, other leave or separation from employment," he said. "Having this option will minimize the impact on city operations and to the public. It's a priority for me to keep the doors open to serve the public."

The city has funds budget for personnel and other contingencies, he said, adding that the administrative assistant/deputy city recorder position will pay $15 to $18 an hour and be part-time with no benefits.

"There will be some financial impact to the city, but the council will try to minimize it," Wallis said.

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