Retired CDI director named ARPA coordinator in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 27, 2022

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Chris Rayes may have retired as community development and inspections director Jan. 21, but come Feb. 1, he will begin a new job with the city as the project coordinator for the money coming to St. Clair Shores as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds, or SLFRF.

St. Clair Shores is set to receive $21.247 million of the $350 billion provided to state, local and tribal governments to aid their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has until the end of 2024 to appropriate the funds and until the end of 2026 to spend the money. According to a memo provided by City Manager Matthew Coppler to City Council Jan. 18, the number and types of projects to be funded, which will be in addition to projects normally funded through the city’s budget process, means city officials will be stretched thin, “resulting in delays in getting the money spent as intended in the SLFRF program.”

The job of overseeing the projects was offered to Rayes, “based upon his many years of experience managing and overseeing capital projects for the city,” with a one-year salary of $120,000, but no other benefits, to be extended month-to-month thereafter as necessary. Coppler said the salary will be paid out of the city’s ARPA funds and is an eligible expense.

City Councilman John Caron said he was in favor of the position when they believed the entire $21 million needed to be spent within a two-year time period, but now that $15 million of that has been able to be used to reimburse general fund expenses, the remaining money does not have to be spent until 2026, “and that’s largely going to be the storm sewer project,” he said Jan. 18, refencing a project to split sanitary and storm sewers in the Martin Drainage District.

In addition, he said he feels new employees in the city, including the community development director, city engineer, assistant manager and, soon, new city manager, would benefit from the experience of administering the projects.

“We’re shortchanging our own staff by not relying on them,” he said. “I no longer believe the position is needed.”

He said that hiring Rayes would also be “double dipping,” because Rayes would be receiving both a pension and a paycheck from the city.

“The pay is high for what the person’s going to be doing,” he said.

But other city council members disagreed.

“I think we need him now more than ever because of all the new people in here,” Councilman Peter Accica said. “He’s got to show them the ropes.”

Councilman Chris Vitale said he agreed there is value to the position because of the newness of the remaining staff members. He and other council members agreed, however, that there were some terms of the contract that needed to be changed, such as a termination clause that allows for a 90-day period once notice is given.

“I don’t understand, if we’re month-to-month, why we’re going to compensate for three months,” he said. “It’s not, if we were to terminate that contract, that Mr. Rayes has no other source of income. He’s going to go back to the retirement.

“There are a few things in the contract that are a little rich for me.”

Mayor Kip Walby said, formerly, he was not in favor of “double dipping,” either, but with two dozen projects, “we should try to move quickly.”

“I think there’s so much extra that we, as a community, never anticipated,” he said.

City Council voted 5-1 to approve the position in concept, with details of the contract to be addressed by the city manager and city attorney, and a subsequent contract to be brought back before council. Caron was the dissenting vote and Councilwoman Candice Rusie was absent but excused.