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CRAIG BEACH Investigator likely to address council



Published: Wed, June 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The U.S. Labor Department may ask a judge to take action over the pay issues.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CRAIG BEACH -- Village council members are expecting to get a lecture from the federal government tonight on the perils of not paying their employees.

Verne Waldow, a criminal investigator from the U.S. Department of Labor, is expected to address council during a special meeting at 7 tonight in the municipal building. The department has been investigating council's inability to pass a pay ordinance this month.

Not enough council members have attended the past two meetings to pass the ordinance. Council may vote on it again tonight.

Waldow could not be reached to comment Tuesday, but Mayor Camille Gaia III said he expects Waldow to "give us hell" about not paying village employees.

"The council can't play games with the might of the pen on a paycheck," Gaia said.

What lies ahead: Barry Haber, the district director of the department's wage hour division in Cleveland, said he should have the results of the department's investigation this week. Haber said that based on those results, the department may ask a federal judge to take action against council.

The judge could either issue an injunction forcing council to pay employees in the future or order council to pay employees double their back wages, Haber said.

He added that the department may take the council members to court even if they approve a pay ordinance tonight.

"If they play this game long enough, it can be very expensive to them," Haber said. He would not say how the department was notified that council had not paid its employees.

Haber added that the department typically does not investigate a municipality that has the money to pay employees. Instead, he said, most municipalities under investigation are broke or bankrupt.

Council sessions: Council already discussed the ordinance during its June 11 and June 20 meetings. Only four council members attended each meeting, however. Five votes are needed to set aside council rules and pass any ordinance at one meeting.

Gaia said Councilwoman Catherine Finney missed the June 11 meeting because of a family illness. There also was a vacancy on council at the time.

The mayor appointed Robert Richards to fill the vacancy before the June 20 meeting. Councilman Dennis Champion skipped that meeting, however, to protest the manner in which Richards was appointed.

In addition, Councilman Larry Ellis missed that session because he was on vacation.

Without the five votes, council was just able to give the pay ordinance a first reading June 20. If five council members don't vote to suspend the rules tonight, council must have two more readings before it can pass the ordinance.

Champion said he plans on attending tonight's meeting.

The ordinance calls for council to pay two public works employees a total of $1,881, the police chief $1,360, the council clerk $300, and the mayor $250.

hill@vindy.com




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