Portage City Hall

Portage City Hall

Tony V. Martin, The Times

PORTAGE — The City Council overrode two mayoral vetoes this week, meaning 14 upper management personnel won't be getting raises next year, but the salary increases for the council's and clerk-treasurer's work on the Utility Services Board will stand.

Council members also criticized Mayor James Snyder and his department heads for not attending Tuesday night's meeting. Only Police Chief Troy Williams attended the meeting. Usually department superintendents attend council meetings and provide departmental reports.

Council vetoes

The council approved both the employee salary ordinance and elected officials salary ordinance last month. Snyder overrode both ordinances shortly thereafter, saying, at the time, it was unfair for the council to cut the wages of city employees while approving pay increases for themselves.

Council members said they put salary increases for top management on hold to decrease the gap in wages between management and lower level employees, who received average pay increases of 3 percent. They also said they proposed the $5,000 annual pay for themselves and $10,000 for the clerk-treasurer for work on the Utility Services Board in 2018 because of the additional time they have to put in managing the department.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at-large, said Tuesday the council was forced to take over the board because of mismanagement by Snyder, including misuse of credit cards, taking his family to the presidential inauguration earlier this year using city funds and attempting to pay $93,000 in personal legal fees from utility funds. 

Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, voted against overriding the vetoes and suggested both Councilwoman Liz Modesto, D-1st, and Councilman Collin Czilli, D-5th, abstain from voting because of conflicts. Modesto's daughter works for the utility department, and Czilli's father is a city police officer and his mother is a clerk at the police department.

Snyder also issued a statement on Friday saying the two should abstain and, said Czilli, sent him a personal email on Tuesday, suggesting he should abstain from the vote.

Both Modesto and Czilli denied any conflict and Council Attorney Ken Elwood said he did not see a conflict.

"They don't gain any direct financial interest," said Elwood.

Mayor's absence

During the meeting, Oprisko said he received a text from Snyder shortly before the meeting, saying Snyder would not be at the meeting. Oprisko said Tuesday was the third council meeting in a row that Snyder had not attended. He also said it was "pretty rude" that department heads did not attend to report to the council on department activities.

"The City Council meetings are a joke right now, and there is nothing that my attendance could do to make it any better," Snyder said in a written statement Wednesday morning. "City Council members refused to meet or discuss any compromises regarding their ridiculous $5,000 part-time pay increase for themselves while cutting pay for full-time public safety employees. They even belittle residents who disagree with their actions."

"Department heads were free to attend a Christmas party for Mayors Roundtable members I hosted at Marina Shores. The only reason they want me and department heads at their meetings is to use me and my staff as a prop, which they did with Chief Williams; when they begin to conduct themselves more professionally we will be there," Snyder said.

Williams attended a portion of the meeting to announce a new department initiative.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a staff writer for The Times for more than 20 years. She is the municipal and education reporter for Porter County. She is an amateur genealogist and writes a blog, Remember your Roots, appearing online each Thursday.