Discussion, debate over possible Hamilton layoffs continues

As Hamilton prepares to invest $26 million in the Spooky Nook at Champion Mill gigantic indoor sports complex and convention center, the city recently laid off its assistant law director, and last week it notified two unions that three of their employees are to be laid off Dec. 28.

A day after three people urged Hamilton City Council on Wednesday not to lay off the city’s two public health nurses, Hamilton’s executive director of internal services, Tim Werdmann, told this news organization the layoffs were neither imminent nor definite.

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Yet a day before he made those comments, the city’s executive director of external services, Tom Vanderhorst, informed two of its unions in writing that three employees would be laid off at the close of business Dec. 28. Those layoffs include the two public-health nurses and another employee represented by AFSCME union working in the city’s Department of Health.

Among those receiving courtesy copies via email were Werdmann, City Manager Joshua Smith, Human Resources Director Letitia Block, and Civil Service and Personnel Director Marcos Nichols.

“The reason for the layoff from employment is the elimination of the Division of Nursing within the Department of Health, and the abolishment of the position of Public Health Nurse,” Vanderhorst informed James Hammonds, president of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 98. “Your members will receive notice of layoff in accordance with the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the City of Hamilton and OPEIU Local 98.”

Democratic candidate for governor Rich Cordray on Monday issued a statement about Hamilton’s possible nursing cuts, saying it’s time for Ohio officials to stop hoarding taxpayer dollars and starving local governments “of the resources they need to keep to maintain healthy communities — forcing them to choose between cutting vital services or increasing taxes.”

“Public health nurses in Hamilton, and elsewhere in Ohio, play a critical role combating the opioid crisis, battling diseases, and keeping their communities safe, and their positions should be maintained,” said Cordray, who promised to restore local-government funding that was cut by Gov. John Kasich. Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine face off Nov. 6.

Rebecca Frankenhoff, state representative for Ohio Council 8 of AFSCME Local 3169, was told the AFSCME employee, an administrative assistant, also was being let go because of the nursing division’s elimination.

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Asked about the city’s plans for doing without the nursing division, Vanderhorst said via email said, “right now we are having meetings with some of our local healthcare providers including the federally qualified health clinics to determine the most cost-effective method to deliver the services required under the state minimum requirements.”

He added: “We have also spoken to Middletown who moved to a similar model in 2012 and have been positive about their results in an attempt to move to a similar model. More information will be known once the meetings are completed.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton at the end of the day Sept. 28 eliminated the position of its assistant law director, Kathy Dudley, who advised city boards and also was responsible for razing deteriorating houses under the local land bank programs. She was being paid $95,492.

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“We did eliminate the assistant law director position,” Werdmann told this media outlet previously. “Part of that was we outsourced our law director function, when (Heather Lewis of) Millikin & Fitton took over as law director, and we kept an assistant law director position on staff.”

“It’s always been kind of an odd scenario” to have one person on staff who’s assistant law director when your law director is working for an outside firm, Werdmann said. “From a functional standpoint, that was not the most ideal situation. And that position was working largely on land bank things, and they were doing things that were not just for the city of Hamilton, but for the land bank as a whole.”

Dudley’s hiring last week by the county land bank will help the county, Middletown and Hamilton meet a mid-December deadline to tear down eyesores. If the money isn’t spent by then, nearly $1 million in federal funding will be lost.

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Butler County Treasurer and land bank board President Nancy Nix said McNamara has done an excellent job steering the land bank administratively but it is smart to have Dudley take over the land bank, because of her legal expertise and experience dealing with the nuts and bolts of the federal funding program.

Werdmann said: “I have not been involved with the land bank,” he said, “but everything I’ve heard is, even though she was our employee, the county was relying on her for a lot of information about the land bank and that sort of thing.”

“He wears so many hats in the commissioners’ office and it just made sense to let him devote his time to all these other endeavors…,” Nix said. “ (Dudley) is basically the guru as far as the Hardest Hit program, where Mike has been administrative.”

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