Public works director leaves job
County commissioners now must replace two new department heads -- one to oversee planning and zoning, and another to handle public works issues.
Last week, Gary Ditty, the county's public works director and county engineer, left his job after he and commissioners failed to successfully negotiate a work agreement for the coming year.
He is the second county department head to leave in recent weeks.
John Zoellner, who was the county's planning director for nearly eight years, decided he wouldn't renew his contract. His last day as a county employee was last Thursday.
County commissioner Dean Oroke said the county has received 18 applications for Zoellner's job. And a search is under way for Ditty's replacement. The county will take applications until May 13, Oroke said.
As is often the case when employment negotiations fail, Oroke and Ditty have distinctly different views.
"What you're going to hear is that I was unreasonable in my salary request," Ditty said. "That is not true. I never game them a number. They never gave me a number."
Ditty said he took a 25 percent salary reduction when he took over as the county's public works director a year ago, replacing a man whose contract was not renewed by commissioners.
"I'm not all about money," Ditty said. "That is not what motivates me."
Instead, he said he was hoping county commissioners would allow him to hire an assistant -- and to give Ditty a pay raise because he didn't want to hire an assistant in at a higher salary than the $68,000 Ditty was making.
"I've tried, but I can't cover everything," he said. "The only way I could see to cover it was to get me another position."
Oroke doesn't necessarily disagree about the need for another employee in public works.
"We realize the need was there," he said. "It's just the timing of it. It was today or not at all."
And Oroke said the county was bound by a salary structure that was put into place following a review of all county salaries and job descriptions. Oroke said that under the new salary plan, the most any employee could "jump" in pay would be 6 percent.
He said the commission evaluated six department heads and used the new salary plan with each of them before Ditty's contract came up for review.
"If we were to spike Mr. Ditty $10,000 or $15,000, then it totally destroys the system," Oroke said. "I feel one of Mr. Ditty's big problems is he started at $68,000, which is $10,000 to $12,000 lower than he should have."
In addition, Oroke said the county's current budget doesn't have funds to hire another employee in the public works department. He does think, however, it should be discussed when the county reviews the 2006 budget.
Ditty said that was the breaking point for him.
"When they won't support me on the big one, there was no point in spending any more time in talking about it," he said. "... I've really been filling two positions: county engineer and public works director. Most of the adjacent counties have two people."
Ditty said he believes he made strides in the public works department, which he said had been in disarray when he took over.
"The taxpayers deserve to know that I tried," he said. "And I think a lot of them do."
He said he believes his difficulty in negotiating a new contract got down to politics.
Oroke, who was elected in November to the commission, said politics didn't color his thinking.
"I don't let that enter into my thinking process very often -- that I'm going to retaliate against someone because they supported my opponent," he said.