Aug. 5—A familiar face returned to the second floor of the Meadville City Building on Thursday and found an office decorated with toilet paper streamers by his new colleagues, who also happen to be his old colleagues.
Less than four weeks after resigning from his position as Meadville's assistant city manager and zoning officer, Gary Johnson worked his first day as the city's new zoning officer.
Johnson will not return to his former role as assistant city manager, according to City Manager Maryann Menanno. City Clerk Katie Wickert was promoted to the position last month immediately following Johnson's departure.
Menanno said she was "very happy" to have Johnson back on the city's staff.
"We began discussions about him coming back last week," Menanno said.
Citing Johnson's "vast institutional knowledge," Menanno said that having him back on staff "will be a huge asset to the city, especially as we navigate the new zoning ordinance."
The Record-Argus reported in June that Greenville Town Council voted to approve hiring Johnson as director of community development, a newly created position.
The chance to work in his hometown proved enough to lure Johnson away from his position in Meadville.
"I honestly wouldn't have gone anywhere else," Johnson told The Record-Argus at the time. "I'm really excited where the town is and where it's headed."
There was no mention of Johnson's departure when Greenville Town Council met Tuesday, according to The Record-Argus Managing Editor Caleb Stright, who attended the meeting.
Johnson will be particularly valuable with regard to construction involving flood plains and stormwater projects, according to Menanno. In his absence, such work would have been performed by the city's third-party engineer.
The addition of a "new" staff member — Menanno described Johnson's status as a hybrid of existing and new employee — comes at a time when recent City Council meetings have included repeated expressions of concern regarding an anticipated budget shortfall of $1 million for 2023.
In addition, after Johnson's resignation, the city created and filled a new position for a zoning and planning administrator who was expected to take over some of the responsibilities Johnson had previously performed. Menanno introduced Peter Grella, who started in that position this week, at City Council's meeting on Wednesday.
Asked if the city can afford to add another staff member given the anticipated budget challenges, Menanno said that she anticipated staffing changes by the end of the year that would offset the additional expenses that came with hiring Johnson.
Some of those expenses are related to Johnson's benefits.
When Johnson was first hired in 2008, city employees were eligible for traditional pension benefits. Over the past decade, however, the city has switched to defined contribution plans for new employees who are eligible for retirement benefits. A traditional pension offers a defined benefit and guarantees a monthly payment from the employer for life after the employee retires. A defined contribution plan is similar to a 401(k) plan. The employee and the city contribute an amount monthly while the employee is working. When the employee retires or leaves their job, the city's obligation ends.
Menanno said that the retirement benefit question had been considered by the city's pension attorney, who said Johnson should continue accruing traditional pension benefits rather than being switched over to the defined contribution plan that applies to other new hires.
The recommendation was determined largely by Johnson's quick return, according to Menanno.
"His pension was never approved by the pension board," Menanno said. "We never actually terminated his pension or put an end date on it. He came back before that process happened."
Meadville's City Employees Pension Board, which meets quarterly, was scheduled to meet July 27, according to the city's website. Menanno said the meeting was canceled.
"There wasn't a quorum," she said, referring to the minimum number of present board members required for official action to be taken. "That's why Gary's pension wasn't yet approved."
The five-member board consists of Menanno, interim Finance Director Tim Groves, Controller Rosemarie Groves, Public Works Department equipment operator Kyle Alexander and Bonnie Guffey, Meadville Police Department administrative assistant.
Tribune messages seeking comment from Johnson via telephone and email were not immediately returned.
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at .