After a nearly three-hour meeting on Tuesday, March 25th, commissioners directed their attention at City Manager Jack McLean, whose employment status has been on shaky ground as one or two members of the body attempted to terminate him in recent weeks.
Commissioner Derek Elias, who had been informed on at least two previous occasions by the city’s attorney, Jerry Miller, on proper procedures to void the manager’s contract, got the floor. He had earlier been thwarted in his determination to fire the manager because he had not requested that it be placed on the agenda. Removal of the city manager was the final agenda action item at the meeting.
“Two times in March this came up and motions were made without a second,” said Mayor Keith Dowdell. Dowdell said that the issue could not now be brought back up according to the city’s charter.
“It’s my contention that my motion is valid,” responded Elias. Attorney Miller said the rule cited by the mayor was not a valid position.
“I’ve known for the three years that I’ve been up here on this dais how one commissioner feels about the city manager,” said Commissioner Larry Edwards. “If you’ve lost confidence (in him), there’ll be litigation and it will cost the city money. If you’ve lost confidence, let him know it and do an RFP (request for proposals) and let the contract run out. I beg you and my constituents to think about what this will cost the city,” said Edwards.
Manager McLean said he’d been there as city manager for five years. “I prefer to work out the terms of my contract. I don’t want to sit at home and let you pay me. I don’t agree with the attorney’s opinion (that the issue could be brought back a third time for consideration),” said McLean. “I’ve rendered good and faithful service to this city. I know I have. Utility bills were lowered by 14%. When I got here, there was $1.1 million in reserves. I’ve gotten them up to $1.6 to $1.7 million. We’ve lost $6 million (in utility bills) due to the weather, yet we’ve always spent within our budget. There’s been no mismanagement. Add in all that has been done, the new fire station, the Tanyard Creek Park … I reduced staff, reduced costs,” he said.
“I don’t know what happened that you’ve lost confidence. Commissioner Elias’ position has been pretty steady. We have got to look as a community to not focus on what’s the bad and focus instead on what’s good,” said McLean. “I have a contract - the charter says I get two weeks’ notice. I got notice of this termination, four days ago. I think I have that right. There’s been a blood sport here that’s not good for the city. My record will speak for itself.”
“If (as you say) I don’t have a contract, I get the two weeks notice. I went two years without collecting retirement or benefits, two years of pay (without raises like other employees) because I believe in this city. If I have a contract, let me sit down and work things out,” he said.
Commissioner Andy Gay said the deterioration of the financial situation of the city molded his current position. “The last thing I want to do is go out and hire a new city manager. I’ve stood with Jack McLean since he’s gotten here. But, it took us nine months to get an unqualified opinion in the audit. That’s unacceptable.
That burden, whether you like it or not, is that the city manager is the captain of this ship,” Gay said, saying his determining factor was that the manager has also had another contract with another municipality as a labor attorney while serving as Quincy’s manager.
“We’ve developed a non-compliant, late-paying culture that’s caused closed bank accounts,” said Gay. “You’ve done some good things here, but looking at the past five years’ picture, the city’s taken some steps backward in the past three years. I’ve lost confidence.”
Elias said it would be an economic decision either way. “Looking at our financials, we’re already being impacted. Sometimes in order to heal we have to hurt a little,” he said. Elias said the city could look at malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance. “I’m not interested in the two-weeks provision. My motion was based on his opinion that he has a contract,” said Elias.
McLean said he would be due about $90,000 in unused leave time, plus five months’ worth of severance. “That’s my point - let me continue working to the end of my contract (October 2014). This contract was given to me by this commission,” said McLean. He said the city has an unrestricted cash reserve balance of $.1 million and still has the ability to finish the year in a positive manner. “We are losing money (because of the weather). I cannot control an act of God,” he said.
“The best way to do this is to let me continue working for the next five months to get someone good in here and not spend all this money. I’ll work it out.”
With a motion from Derrick Elias that was seconded by Micah Brown, the commission voted to terminate McLean immediately. The motion was supported by Andy Gay. Mayor Keith Dowdell and Larry Edwards voted against the termination.
Utilities director Mike Wade was confirmed as Interim City Manager after the termination vote.
When asked if he'd accept the responsibility, Wade replied, "This is a very demanding, tough job. I just hope I can meet the expectations of the commission and citizens."