MAHONING COUNTY Austintown trustee is under fire for vote on pact

Oles says cutting benefits can protect jobs in the future. By IAN HILL VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER AUSTINTOWN -- A union leader says township Trustee Lisa Oles lost credibility with the Teamsters when she voted not to approve a contract with township park department employees. "I can't negotiate with her," said Bob Bernat, secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 377, which represents the four park employees. Local 377 also represents the township secretaries and Eric Harris Sr., assistant township zoning inspector, who are still negotiating contracts with the trustees. Oles responded: "The only credibility I'm worried about is the credibility I have in this township." The dispute stems from the contract proposal submitted to the park department by the trustees Oct. 11. That proposal was accepted by the union and approved by trustees by a 2-1 vote Monday night. Oles cast the dissenting vote. Both Bernat and Trustee David Ditzler have said they believed Oles supported the proposal because she didn't object to it when it was first submitted to the union. "She waffled [by voting no Monday], and for the life of me, I don't know why," Bernat said. He added that in the future, "it's going to be very difficult to trust that what she says is what she's going to do." Her response Oles, however, said she wrote a memo to her fellow trustees stating her objections before the proposal was submitted to the union. Township Administrator Michael Dockry confirmed that Oles had written the memo. "I'm not doing a flip-flop here," she said. But Ditzler said he never received a memo like the one described by Oles. He said all three trustees met in executive session and went over the proposal section by section, and that Oles never expressed objections. "The three of us came to a consensus as to everything that was offered to the union," he said. Ditzler also questioned why Oles would say nothing during the executive session only to object to the contract later. "She never offers input to any discussions unless she's specifically asked a question. I don't know if she doesn't understand or she remains silent so she can do this after the fact," he said. Ditzler said he was willing to hold all contract negotiations in meetings open to the public if it would encourage Oles to add to the discussion. Yet Oles said she expressed some objections to Bernat during negotiations. She added that she also listed her objections in a memo she gave to her fellow trustees Oct. 25. In that memo, Oles wrote that she objected to sections of the proposal dealing with pay for the shop steward, scheduling, a signing bonus, pay for retirement and a clothing allowance. Her belief Oles said she believes that by cutting fringe benefits like clothing allowances, trustees can help limit future layoffs by saving money for tough financial times. Ditzler noted, however, that Oles previously had voted to approve a contract for the road department that included similar benefits. He added that the raises for the park department employees were included in the township budget that Oles also voted to approve. "You need to treat the employees all fairly; you can't pick and choose," Ditzler said. Oles resonded that she believes Ditzler and Pritchard are trying to bully her into voting for contracts so they can blame the township's financial problems on her in the future. The three-year park department contract, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, calls for employees to receive 3-percent annual raises while paying a portion of their health-care costs. Trustees and Teamsters are set to meet with a fact finder Nov. 18 to discuss the secretaries' contract. Their last contract expired Dec. 31, 2003. Bernat wouldn't comment on the status of negotiations for Harris' contract.

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