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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Whitehouse: Possible charter violations may be up for discussion

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Controversy over possible village charter violations that has been quietly simmering among Whitehouse officials may be openly discussed next month.

Some officials have been questioning for months how to apply the charter's rule that allows volunteer firefighters to serve on the village council. That part of the charter was written in the early 1990s, before firefighters became eligible for regular 10-hour shifts.

The village's Charter Revision Commission discussed the issue in March, 2004, and soon after, it was referred to the personnel committee for review, officials said. The committee has not yet dealt with the issue.

Councilman Bill May, who also serves as assistant chief of the Whitehouse Fire Department and frequently works 10-hour shifts for the department, is the head of the personnel committee. He said he has deliberately delayed addressing the charter provision until Village Administrator Randy Bukas, who resigned last month, is off the village payroll on May 11.

"There's no need for him to be involved in personnel issues while he's walking out the door," Mr. May said. "This is not a life-or-death issue that we need to address right away."

Mr. May said he plans to call a personnel committee meeting to discuss the issue next month.

"After May 11, there will be a personnel meeting or two or three or whatever it takes to get this issue settled," he said.

Mr. May is one of three council members who serve with the village's fire department. Councilman Ryan Grant and Joe Wielinksi, the mayor's nephew who was appointed to council last month, also are firefighters.

All three men, though they are classified as volunteers, are paid for each fire call they respond to. Last year, Mr. May and Mr. Grant received wages for 10-hour shifts as emergency medical technicians. Mr. May got $5,364 for these shifts and Mr. Grant got $1,397.

Councilman Angie Kuhn said that in her opinion, someone who works frequent 10-hour shifts should not be considered a paid volunteer.

"I think this position is an employee of the village," she said.

In addition to the question of whether firefighters should be able to serve on council under the charter, some officials are worried that firefighters on council have not abstained from votes even when there was a conflict of interest.

For example, Mr. May has voted in past years on increases in village wages, including the hourly wages for the 10-hour emergency medical technician shifts that he works.

"I goofed," he said. "I never thought about the fact that I was involved in that. I didn't vote for it to give myself an increase. I thought it was what was right for the village."

Another issue of concern to some village officials is the residency of Police Chief Norbert Miller, Jr. Chief Miller sold his home in Whitehouse and bought a home in Indiana last year, according to village records.

Chief Miller lists his address with the village as his son's home on Bucher Road, which is in Waterville Township. Mr. May said the police chief lives with his son during the week.

Council has never formally addressed the police chief's residency, officials said.

"I don't think we need to hassle the guy after 30 years of good service," Mr. May said. "He is here most of the time."

The village charter states that the police chief must become a resident of the village within one year after his appointment.

"The expectation is that the police chief would live inside the village limits," Ms. Kuhn said. "I believe it's very important that we follow the charter."



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