Contract debate in Follansbee yields manager support

FOLLANSBEE – The matter of City Manager John DeStefano’s contract brought out many to support him at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The current contract for DeStefano, who has served as city manager for 10 years, doesn’t expire until August, but it was among issues placed on the agenda for the meeting, which was moved from its usual time because city officials were attending a West Virginia Municipal League conference earlier this week.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell confirmed she was among council members who wanted to discuss the contract.

Asked why, Ferrell said, “We’re trying to get together on different issues that need to be addressed. We want to all have the same goals.”

She said no specific action was sought regarding the contract.

Third Ward Councilwoman Kathy Santoro moved that council review DeStefano’s performance in three to four weeks and his contract remain in force after hearing from about a dozen residents and business representatives who praised the city manager.

The move was unanimously approved by council.

Prior to the vote, council heard from local business owners Theresa Hedmond, Scott Ewusiak and John Joseph, who said DeStefano has answered calls for information at all hours and represented the city in a professional manner when meeting representatives of potential new businesses.

Wheeling developer Lee Paull IV said DeStefano played a key role in bringing Scheetz to the city. The gas station and food store opened on property purchased by the city with the aim of marketing it for economic development.

Mary Kimberland, volunteer coordinator of the city’s youth basketball league, and Brian Petrella, a parent involved with the city’s Little League program, said DeStefano has been helpful and supportive of the endeavors.

Ty Lollini, a former member of the Wheeling-Nisshin management team, and resident Paul DiGiacinto said DeStefano has a sincere concern for the city’s welfare.

Former Councilman Scott McMahon said though he and DeStefano didn’t always agree, McMahon believes DeStefano has the best intentions for the city.

“I know what John does when the rubber hits the road. You won’t find a better person to do it,” McMahon said.

Resident Al DeAngelis said if anyone on council had interest in the city manager position, they should not vote on DeStefano’s renewal. And former Mayor Rudy Cipriani said council can’t fire DeStefano without just cause.

Following Santoro’s motion, DeStefano thanked those who spoke on his behalf.

“It means more than you can imagine,” he said.

DeStefano also thanked council for its decision, saying he looks forward to working with members.

In other business, council:

– Approved the first reading of an ordinance raising garbage rates by $4 for residents and by $10 for businesses. The increase for residents will occur in two $2 increments over the next two years, while the increase for businesses will be in two $5 increments.

First Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone said the move is to address more than $130,000 lost by the city in providing garbage collection.

The rate increases won’t completely make up for it, as they are expected to save the city only about $70,000.

The ordinance must undergo two more readings before it’s adopted.

– Authorized DeStefano to accept the lowest bid that meets specifications for measures to prevent flooding in Blosser Hollow. The city received bids of $15,850 from James White Construction of Weirton, $11,500 from Keith Yost Excavating of Wellsburg, and $11,900 from Nicholas Construction of Colliers to install a trench drain and two catch basins along Blosser Hollow Road.

The measures were suggested by Paul Hicks, an engineer with the West Virginia Division of Highways, to divert runoff from the adjacent hillside and the adjacent Kowalik home.

– Approved the hiring of Micah Knisly and Ryan Childers as part-time city police officers. City Police Chief John Schwertfeger noted the two already are state certified, as Knisly is a part-time officer for Bethany and Childers is a full-time Wellsburg officer.

– Reappointed Jim Elliott and Dave Heaton to the city’s water board and Bernie Kelly to the sewer board.