Question on Mayor’s management shut down

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

After more than 10 months of silence in response to a variety of City staff terminations, the City Council was backed into addressing the issue.

Council member Tony DeYoung pushed to have the Council discuss the issue in open session, and while DeYoung got the item on the agenda – with the help of Council member Kathy Canady – and was able to voice his concerns, there was not much interest across the Council in considering whether there was validity to any of the issues.

“The item was raised to review how the authority is being carried out,” DeYoung said. “You asked the City Council to hold you accountable and that’s the purpose of having the agenda item tonight.”

He said he understood that issues like these could arise from unhappy former employees, but said they should not be discounted when coming from a variety of people.

“There can be disgruntled employees, no doubt, but when more and more allegations come forward from different people I think gives credibility to some of the allegations,” DeYoung said.

He read aloud a number of comments he had heard over time regarding Mayor Hall’s alleged comments about employees or their employment, as well as mentioning what he had heard regarding Hall’s temper and alleged profanity used with staff.

Instead of considering they may be valid complaints, the Council again chalked up the often-repeated complaints to “disgruntled employees”.

“So you’re saying we have City employees that are saying these things now, but you’re not saying who they are?” Canady asked, to which DeYoung responded no. “So how do we know whether they’re people that are gone or whether they’re other people? I’m just saying it sounds like the same people that aren’t here anymore.”

DeYoung admitted when questioned that no current City employees had come forward to say they were uncomfortable in the current work environment.

“I’m just saying it sounds like the same people that aren’t here anymore,” Canady said. “With that being said, that’s disgruntled employees.”

Both Canady, and Council member Gram Lankford questioned why DeYoung brought the issue up during a Council meeting rather than go directly to Hall and ask him about the issue.

“Have you thought about coming in and talking to the person you have an issue with?” Canady asked.

But DeYoung said while he appreciated Hall’s offer to sit down and discuss the issue it was his intention to make it a public.

“We agreed to vote and give the authority over (to the Mayor) I think we should all have a voice,” DeYoung said.

Silent to that point in the discussion, Hall spoke up, defending his leadership and management.

“I would welcome Tony, Kathy, Gram, Steve, Liz, please go talk to any staff you want to,” Hall said. “If I’m doing something that needs to be corrected I’ll be happy to do that. I feel like we have a great staff inside City Hall, inside the municipal court, inside the police department, inside the public works department, and if I’ve done something to offend any of them, please, I don’t want Councilmen to have to come tell me. I want my staff to come tell me.”

He also did not respond to any of the previous allegations, instead focusing on his support for the staff.

“I’m here to promote a positive workplace, I’m here to support and I feel like I’ve done a great job, and if I need to do more please let me know,” Hall said. “I will support my staff 100 percent and I give them 100 percent.”

But with Hall assuming the supervisory role when the City chose not to fill the City Administrator position, questions have been raised over the last 10 months about where employees can go with complaints or concerns.

In August 2019, City Administrator Greg Boatright was forced to resign, and at the end of that meeting Hall said the City was already active in the process of looking for a new administrator.

But in October the Council voted to “temporarily assign the duties of the city Administrator to the Mayor.” By March, the City had not replaced the City Administrator, and instead hired a Chief Operating Officer, making the previously temporary supervisory duties permanent.

Since March, the City has terminated four staff members and chose not to renew the contract of another.

Human Resources Director Becky Wilkins, who led the internal investigation of former Police Chief Maverick Campbell, said opportunities have been provided for staff members to raise concerns, but there have been no complaints about Hall or his behavior.

“If I felt like there was a concern I would have come to you and said ‘maybe you want to change this’,” Wilkins said. “But no one brought anything up. They had the opportunity to mention it in a group meeting or one on one. There was not one complaint.”

Canady, who has been outspoken in her belief that everything in Campbell’s April grievance to the City was fabricated, pointed to the morale at the police department today, and encouraged Police Chief Royce Graeter to tell the Council how high it was.

“The morale is very good currently at the police department,” was Graeter’s response.

The Council never took up the issues alleged in Campbell’s grievance, but the former chief did win an appeal hearing this month with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), entitling him to unemployment benefits. The ruling from TWC stated “the claimant’s (Campbell’s) firsthand testimony did not reveal any misconduct and the employer failed to carry its burden of proving any acts of misconduct. Under these circumstances, the (Appeal) Tribunal must conclude that the claimant was not discharged for misconduct with the work” (in accordance with Section 207.044 of Texas Labor Code). The TWC decision also states that, “The employer received most, if not all, of the information it used to make its decision to discharge the claimant from secondhand sources.”

The Council also did not publicly discuss the sudden termination of Sally McFeron, Barbara Zwernemann, Jonny Ubelhor, or the decision to allow Lance Dean’s contract to expire with the Economic Development Corporation. The City connected the terminations of McFeron and Ubelhor to problems associated with the Wetzel Park Splash Pad, and Zwernemann’s to possible legal action against her, though no legal action has been taken against her to date.

A common denominator in those five situations, as well as Boatight’s was the lack of any previous sign or indication that these employees had been performing unsatisfactorily.

Ubelhor, McFeron and Dean all shared their final performance reviews with The Independent. All were conducted within months of their terminations and all of which included positive evaluations and salary increases. Boatright’s contract had been extended three years less than a year before he was forced to resign, and he was given a 7.5 percent pay raise at that time.

When asked about how it was that this many employees would be terminated abruptly with no history of performance issues or problems, Hall simply said, “Things change.”

“To the best of my knowledge you are correct (that there were no negative reviews or job performance issues). I haven’t seen all of the reviews,” Hall said. “I know there were a couple and the reviews were pretty good reviews. But from our side looking in when we see what’s going on on a daily basis and there’s something brought to our attention we were not made aware of, it kind of changes. It’s kind of hard to tie their performance evaluations to the reason why they are no longer employed with the City.”

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