Marion council apologizes to staff for decision regarding utility bill


Following a 10-minute executive session during its Monday meeting, the Marion City Council apologized to staff members about the decision at its previous meeting to grant a resident an additional week past the cutoff date to pay his utility bill.

Speaking to City Administrator Doug Kjellin and City Clerk Angela Lange, Mayor Mary Olson said, “Based on what was discussed at the last meeting, there were things we did that upset our city staff that we felt were right at the time.

“Angela, I would like to publicly apologize to you if you thought this was something we should not have done, but I hope you will understand that we did have to take a stand and it was what we felt was the right thing.”

Councilor Steve Smith also expressed his remorse about the decision, which violated city policy.

“(The council) definitely didn’t want to put any hardships on you guys so far as making your jobs any tougher than they already are,” he said. “We apologize for that, too.”

Olson said the incident was talked about in the executive session.

“We covered these points and we may be looking at this policy to help you at the Dec. 28 meeting,” Olson told the staff members. “We may have some action to be taken, or maybe not have to look (the policy) over it at that time.”

Olson said she would be talking to Becky Makovec, the city’s utility billing clerk, Tuesday about what was discussed.

Background

A resident, unable to pay his utility bill by the maximum cutoff date, asked the city council to restore his electricity after trying to convince city staff that he could pay the bill in a week or so.

The policy states that everyone in the city gets a utility bill the first of each month and payment is due by the 15th. If someone misses the due date, a reminder advises the bill must be paid in full before the disconnect day, which is seven days later.

Makovec said at any point in the month, when bills go out the day before the disconnect date, a customer can sign a payment agreement.

The ordinance, she said, reads that customers failing to pay their bill or sign an agreement will be disconnected.

At the Nov. 28 meeting, the council unanimously agreed to reconnect his electricity and give him until Dec. 1 to pay.

The problem

Following the Nov. 28 meeting, Kjellin sent a memo to the council regarding their actions.

The memorandum stated that the combination of forgiving the late fee for the hospital and allowing the residential customer to have his service restored “devastated the morale in the office.”

Kjellin stated the city’s front desk is trying to maintain consistency with operations.

“You have the luxury of granting favors at night while our staff takes the daily ‘ripping’ from those not afforded the same opportunity,” he wrote. “We who enforce the rules have our knees cut out from under us by actions like those made (Nov. 28).”

Kjellin stated he was upset because he also spent a half-hour trying to convince the city office staff not to quit.

“They have to take the justifiably angry phone calls,” he said. “They have to take the frustrated and enraged language from our customers, they have to be the ‘bad guy’ to the public.”

Kjellin also wrote that while he tries to advise the council in a fiscally responsible manner, he said it’s obvious the council does not value his efforts.

“Giving lip service to ‘being tough’ individually, while voting unanimously to grant an exception is disappointing, to say the least.”

In his remarks, Kjellin added that he believes the public elected each council member to act on the benefit of the town and its operations.

“I question, if anyone cares, if they would agree with these actions,” Kjellin said.


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