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Town official skeptical of
time spent on complaints

Chris Patterson

Five Emmitsburg town employees have spent about 159 work hours investigating complaints filed between two town businesses, according to town manager Dave Haller.

Town Commissioner Dianne Walbrecker requested an accounting of the hours at the Dec. 20 town meeting because she was concerned about work that was not getting done in the town office while the town was trying to resolve the conflict between two competing companies.

Walbrecker said she did not like the idea that people in town were "ratting" on each other and handling disputes through the law instead of trying to work things out themselves.

She asked for a breakdown of the time town staff had spent on complaints written by David B. Runkle, operator of Custom Image Printing (also known as CIP Printing) and Lisa Elder, co-owner of Chronicle Press Inc.

Runkle and Elder have filed several allegations with the town since last fall regarding each company's business, suggesting violations.

Runkle is also one of the complainants in an ethics investigation into the actions of town Commissioners Bill O'Neil and Art Elder. Runkle claims the commissioners were involved in getting the town to investigate his business.

Walbrecker said last month that residents and businesses should work issues out themselves and not involve town government unless absolutely necessary.

But O'Neil believes government is supposed to get involved when there are complaints, specifically those pertaining to code violations.

O'Neil said he is not opposed to tracking hours on projects, but thinks the town needs to determine what method will be used.

His chief concern about collecting the hours was that they were purely estimates created after the fact and that the estimates alone were not informative.

Looking at the estimated hours alone, with nothing to compare them to, does not tell anything about whether too many hours were spent or only a few, he said.

The five town employees who worked on the complaints were Haller, planner Mike Lucas, clerk Donna DesPres, planning assistant Jennifer Joy and spokesperson Pat Feeser. Each person listed a guess of how many hours they have spent on the complaints.

Of the 159 hours, 125 were spent by Lucas and Joy.

Haller also thinks the estimated hours alone do not point to anything.

"There are other projects that took more hours than this," he said. "This is what government does."

Walbrecker, on the other hand, said the hours do show that a lot of time was spent on the dispute and hopes the town will develop a better way to handle the problems in the future.

After this particular issue is resolved, Walbrecker plans to work with the commissioners to develop policies and procedures for handling complaints that would include referring disputes to mediation before they escalate, she said.

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