O'Fallon Progress

Shiloh board lays off lead engineer; engineering department in limbo

Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier and former village engineer Norm Etling were all smiles last year during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Three Springs Park.
Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier and former village engineer Norm Etling were all smiles last year during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Three Springs Park. rkirsch@bnd.com

The Shiloh Village Board on Monday eliminated the position of its lead engineer and the three-person engineering department will be reassigned as administrative staff.

Plans and terms of moving forward remain unclear to Village of Shiloh trustees and employees, after the village board went into executive session Monday to discuss Norm Etling’s position.

After meeting behind closed doors for less than 15 minutes, the board reopened the meeting and voted to “disband the engineering department,” according to Mayor Jim Vernier.

Vernier on Monday declined to comment referring to a public statement to be released Tuesday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no statement was released, and Vernier could not be reached for comment.

Etling was shocked by the board’s decision.

“I didn’t know,” he said. “I have no idea where the village goes from here. I’m here today (Tuesday) to clear out my stuff from my office. I don’t think I’m wanted here to help with the transition.”

Although the motion was for the board to vote on eliminating Etling’s position, Village Clerk Brenda Kern said, “by eliminating Etling, they are eliminating the department.”

I didn’t know. I have no idea where the village goes from here.

Norm Etling, former lead engineer in Shiloh

Village Trustee Mark Kurtz, the lone dissenting vote, said the engineering position is still needed.

“I don’t think we have the personnel that’s necessary to keep this village running,” Kurtz said.

Etling had served as Shiloh’s village engineer since April 1995.

Kern confirmed Etling’s last day of employment with the village was Tuesday.

By 11 a.m. Tuesday, Etling’s email and work cell number were being forwarded to Kern.

Etling said he received his severance package Tuesday morning, but he hadn’t opened it, yet.

“So, I don’t know what the terms are. It doesn’t help to be happy or sad about this, sometimes in life things like this happen, and we just have to deal with it,” Etling said.

Etling was the first lead engineer to work for the village.

“The Alpha and Omega I guess,” said Etling, who thanked the board and Mayor (Norm) Acker for allowing him to serve the village of Shiloh and help be part of its growth over the years.

“It has been a wonderful experience and challenge. Debbie (Etling) and I have nothing but the best wishes and intentions for the village and its future,” said Norm Etling, who lives in Shiloh.

Prior to 1995, Etling said all of Shiloh’s engineering projects were outsourced to Thouvenot, Wade & Moerchen Engineering Inc. (TWM) because there was no engineering department in Shiloh before Etling came from the city of Belleville.

Aside from Etling, there is an administrative assistant Kathy Wangler and a zoning inspector Mike Campbell, who came to work for the village in 2013 after Al Kuess retired. In 2012, Kuess’ gross annual income hovered around $52,000, while Etling’s was about $103,000. In 2015, the board voted to put a cap on staff salaries to not exceed $115,000 annually, and did it again in 2016.

“I was the only one affected by that decision,” said Etling, who was the highest paid employee of the village.

According to the village’s engineering department’s recently approved budget, the combined engineering staff salaries was $220,000.

At one point in time, Etling said there were three professional engineers, three interns and supportive staff in the department.

Moving forward, Kern said Wangler and Campbell will be reassigned as administrative staff employees.

It was rumored that the village hired Megan Fuhler in February as the public works director as groundwork leading up to Etling’s future retirement.

But Kern said on Tuesday that Fuhler will not be assuming any of Etling’s responsibilities.

Trustee Greg O’Neil, who voted for eliminating Etling’s position, said he was still “shocked” by the decision.

“I didn’t know about this until the executive session began (Monday) night, and apparently no one else knew either,” he said.

I believe we are top heavy in terms of personnel. We have more bosses than we do workers.

Kurt Burrelsman, Shiloh village trustee

O’Neil wasn’t alone. Trustees Kurt Burrelsman and Kurtz both said this “is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“I believe we are top heavy in terms of personnel. We have more bosses than we do workers,” Burrlesman said.

Colleen Powers, who abstained on the vote, declined to comment.

Kurtz said he was skeptical.

“This was obviously planned by someone, if you look at the facts,” he said. “If no one knew like they are claiming then why was the labor attorney there, and why was there not more of a discussion, and then it’s motioned and seconded so fast, something else is at play here.”

As a vital component of the village, the engineering department is responsible for many of the behind the scenes and functional elements that keeps the wheels of the village rolling, according to Etling.

Shiloh resident Jerry Williams, who has worked with the village and Etling on drainage issues on his property in Hunter’s Crossing subdivision, said depending on how this unfolds will determine the future of the village.

“So, this could be a blessing for us or it could be a malediction,” he said.

Village Administrator John Marquart said plans to move the village forward without an engineering department are underway.

“I think what Etling’s done for the village is admirable, but the motion for all intents and purposes was to eliminate the village engineer, not the department. It caught me by surprise too,” Marquart said. “It’s a personnel issue, and we’re going through the process right now and it’s a work in progress.”

When asked if eliminating Etling’s position was a move toward financial prudence, Marquart replied: “It’ll be saving the village his salary, but it was a board decision, not mine.”

Loembaum Law in St. Louis, Mo. has been representing the village since about 2006 for all of its collective bargaining and labor employment issues, and sometimes personnel issues, Marquart said.

Kern said the mayor, police chief, department heads or administrative staff have the power to call in either the village attorney Terry Bruckert with Bruckert, Gruenke & Long law firm or Lowenbaum’s Corey Franklin.

Village Attorney Corey Franklin was at the meeting Monday night, but it’s unclear who asked him to attend.

“In this case I don’t know (who called Franklin to come to the meeting), and can’t say what or why it happened,” Kern said.

“As an attorney working for the village as labor counsel, I can’t speak without talking with client first, so I’m officially not even able to decline to comment,” Franklin said Tuesday.

Shiloh Police Chief Jim Stover said unless it has to do with the police department directly, he does not get involved with personnel matters of village employees.

“He served the village very well as far as I know, 21 years is a long time to stick with an employer,” Stover said.

Responsibilities of Shiloh’s Engineering Department:

  • Reviews all infrastructure improvements within the village
  • Reviews, inspects and administers development matters
  • Oversees capital improvement construction and public works projects
  • Administers contracts with consulting engineering companies
  • Administers the village motor fuel tax program
  • Provides engineering support to all other village departments
  • Reviews all building, excavation, easement, pool and structure permit applications
  • Inspects new building footings, foundations, framing and final occupancies
  • Performs occupancy inspections on existing buildings
  • Applies for grants as directed by the village board
  • Prepares annexation plats and legal descriptions
  • Responsible for code enforcement
  • Administers the village annexation program
  • Administers the village flood plain ordinance

Source: Village of Shiloh’s website