Courier Staff Writer
OTTUMWA — A new Ottumwa Transit director has been named, but not without criticism of the interview process.
Current interim director Dave Silverio will advance to the position, pending Ottumwa City Council approval next week.
“After interviewing all of the candidates, the selection committee made the recommendation that we wanted to have the offer extended to Dave Silverio,” said OTA board member Shannon Addison.
But Councilman Jeremy Weller, who applied for the job, told the Courier that “this whole process has been somewhat of a joke, to be honest, as to who was going to sit on the selection committee.
“That was changed, and changed again, and even changed the day of the interviews last Friday. It’s just been a fiasco. It’s been a flawed process.”
City Administrator Joe Helfenberger and City Attorney Joni Keith both refused to comment on any personnel matters.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a little bit of fallout,” Weller said. “I’ve asked, and I think there’s some council support there, is to change the way the [Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board] is made up.”
He said Friday’s interview selection committee was made up of eight people: Helfenberger; Keith; Addison; Bob Bourne, retired Ames Transit System administrator previously hired by the city after Ottumwa Transit was shaken three years ago; 10-15 Transit Advisory Board members Lee Dimmitt, Jefferson County supervisor, and Dennis Smith, Lucas County supervisor; OTA board chairman Robert LaPoint; and Councilman and OTA board liaison Mitch Niner.
While it had previously been decided that Councilmen Niner and Bob Meyers should not serve on the interview selection committee due to any appearance of a conflict of interest, Niner was seated on the interview committee on Friday.
“It was my understanding that Niner and I would not participate in the actual interview process,” Meyers said. “But as the days for the interviews were approaching, I find that Councilman Niner is, in fact, going to attend.”
Meyers was then told he could also attend, and that both he and Niner would not participate in the questioning of the interviewees. Meyers decided not to attend the interviews.
“Lo and behold, I find that Niner not only does attend, but he also takes part in the questioning,” Meyers said. “I think Niner has been way out of line in his approach to interviewing and how involved he should be, particularly in this last situation.”
Niner said he did not simply show up at the interviews.
“I just sat there and listened,” Niner said. “Each of us asked three questions. But it was written down questions, not out of my head.”
Niner said more candidates with no transit experience should have been interviewed.
“They made it not look very good when they interviewed just [Weller],” he said. “City Hall created the politics by interviewing only one non-transit person, and that was a council person. If they would’ve done more, we wouldn’t have near the politics we have right now.”
The City Council has the ability to remove persons from boards and commissions.
“I hope that any openings in the city in the future are handled in a better manner than this one was. We [the council] want to institute some kind of policy, some kind of rule ... so one person doesn’t seem to be running things,” Weller said. “Just expect that over the course of the next month, maybe, that board might take a change.”
Meyers agreed with the idea to remove people from the OTA board.
“I really feel from the very beginning that Councilman Niner really bordered on taking a position of harassment that kind of magnified some of the problems there,” Meyers said. “As I said to LaPoint and Niner both, now we’ve gone through two directors and we’re looking for a third. At what point do you step away and let somebody else get involved?”
LaPoint said it’s disappointing Meyers would say this.
“Nobody chased either one of those two out [Mark Hagist or Diane Gawronski],” LaPoint said. “I’m taken aback. It bothers me that that comment was made that two directors ran off. Two directors did not run off.”
Niner said he has no idea why the council would remove anyone from the OTA board.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that comment,” he said. “It’s a way better board than what it used to be.
“All I do is if people call me I get them the answers. I don’t know why they think I was too involved in that interview thing. I was just a bystander all day listening.”
Niner said he thought the interview process went well.
“I thought it was way better as far as getting an across-the-board discussion going about what we need down there and what we don’t need,” Niner said. “But anytime a councilman throws his name in the hat like that, it creates a lot of problems for everybody.”
Councilman J.R. Richards said he didn’t want a councilman on the interview committee in order to avoid any possible biases with another councilman applying for the position.
“It’s a sad situation and the hiring procedure isn’t clear to us,” Richards said. “We don’t really have any rules on when and where councilmen can’t be on a commission. So Mitch and Bob [LaPoint] did nothing illegal. It’s just my personal feeling that they shouldn’t be on that committee because it gives them a double vote, it gives them many, many votes.”
Richards said he did attend one of the interviews on Friday, though he only sat in the audience and did not participate.
“My concern is of one council person having too much influence on the final choice,” Richards said.