STANTON — This city’s manager went out with a bang, not a whimper, at his last meeting of the Stanton City Commission on Tuesday evening.
James Freed will soon be leaving for a new position as city manager of his former hometown of Port Huron.
But a few city residents, angry over some drainage issues, had words for him prior to his departure.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Court Street resident Celeste Stout complained about drainage problems she has had on her property ever since the completion of an extensive infrastructure project which began last summer and was recently finished. According to Stout, drainage water has been backing up on her property regularly and complaints she has brought before Freed and some commission members have gone unanswered.
“We’ve had drainage issues ever since the start of spring melting,” Stout said. “All the city water drains onto (my property) from all over the city blocks.”
Freed responded, repeatedly, that the city had no easement for Stout’s drain and that there were legal problems involved in sending city workers to the site, even for an inspection. He suggested Stout hire a company to run a video camera down the drain to see if the problem she is experiencing is actually related to the work done by the city.
“If it turns out we’re liable, if it’s caused by the city, we will reimburse you for any costs,” Freed said. “But this is basically a civil issue between property owners and we have no right of way there. If there were damages, we would be liable.”
Freed added that because of contentious circumstances surrounding the property and drainage concerns, he no longer felt comfortable putting city workers on the property.
Stout expressed frustration over the way the problem has been handled by the city in general and Freed in particular.
“I used to be proud to live here,” Stout said. “I’m not anymore. I want to fix that property and get out.”
Mayor Monica Tissue-Daws asked Stout if there was some reason she could not hire someone to send a camera down the drain to check out the situation. Stout countered that, until recently, Freed had led her to believe the city would take care of the issue.
Freed noted the situation had changed in recent weeks.
“My concern is this,” he said. “We have no legal interest in your property. The maintenance is your responsibility. You have not demonstrated why the city has any responsibility to address your drain.”
Tissue-Daws echoed Freed, noting she also had past drainage problems on her property, which she had to take care of herself.
“I wasn’t happy about it, but it wasn’t the city’s responsibility,” she said. “Just because there’s a problem doesn’t give the city authority to do anything about it.”
Stout asked if there was someone she could speak with about the problem, other than Freed.
“Every time I talk to (Freed), every time I call his office, I feel threatened,” Stout said. “I would like to talk with someone other than James Freed.”
“Then call again Monday,” countered Freed, whose last day with the city is Friday.
Conversation then turned to the process of how to go about hiring a new city manager. Commissioner Karl Yoder expressed surprise and disappointment over the fact that nothing about finding a replacement — or what to do during the interim — was included on the commission’s agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
Yoder put forth the idea that city residents should have a solid idea of who is running things during the absence of a city manager.
“We ought to have some understanding as to who is actually going to be managing the city,” Yoder said. “If it is going to be the mayor, then it should be said and understood. People need to know they have someone here to speak with. It is totally not operational to just leave things hanging with no one really sure.”
Yoder also stressed the commission should be finding someone to spearhead the search for a new manager.
Tissue-Daws said the city charter already addresses the issue and that in the absence of a city manager, she, as the mayor, automatically assumes the responsibilities that go with that job.
Commissioner Kenneth Burris countered this was not what the ordinance says at all; it says instead she can appoint an interim manager.
Tissue-Daws suggested it was a bad idea to appoint even an interim city manager without first seeking the advice of the city’s attorney.
“Monica and I have met and talked about it,” Freed said. “It’s appropriate for her to (assume city manager responsibilities).”
Yoder said he had “great confidence” in Tissue-Daws’ ability to handle things until a new city manager could be found, but he still felt the council should make it clear exactly who was going to be in charge until that time.
“We’re not just going to close up when James leaves,” Tissue-Daws said. “We have three very competent department heads that could keep this city running for years. You guys don’t want me to run this city; I hear this loud and clear. But you don’t just go into panic mode because the city manager leaves.”
Yoder stressed his comments did not constitute “panic mode,” but rather a desire to let city residents know who they could contact with concerns that would normally be directed to the city manager.
“In the time we’ve had a city manager, I have been very proud and happy with how well you’ve worked with him,” Yoder said to Tissue-Daws.
Tissue-Daws countered, “And considering the way the issue of a city manager was brought to my attention, that was quite a feat.”
“But we’re friends,” said Freed.
“Yes,” Tissue-Daws agreed, “we’re friends.”
In other business, commissioners approved the closing of a section of North Camburn Street during a portion of this summer’s Stanton Old Fashioned Days to allow for a carnival — new to this year’s festival — to stage its setup. Also, the commission approved the purchase of two new Department of Public Works trucks.
Commission members broke briefly for a tour of work recently completed at the city’s lift station and sewer lagoons, then reconvened at city offices to adjourn.