On April 19, 2010, City Council voted to terminate my employment with the City, effective May 19, 2010. There is nothing inherently negative with this decision, as City Council has the ability to terminate the contract any time, for any or no reason.
The April 19 online edition of the Marco Eagle (marconews.com) shared the bullet points that that the chairman used to introduce this issue. As many of our residents receive information on our work through a Google search, I will take just a moment to briefly respond to each, almost verbatim to the response that I gave at the council meeting.
The chairman made a number of statements, and after hearing the list I would have to say that if I were uninformed on these issues I would also agree that the sheer weight of these should result in a termination of employment. Let’s look at the facts, in response to the points raised by Chairman Recker:
“Thompson did not share requests for information regarding mishandling of the toxic substance asbestos in 2006 and 2007.”
That is not accurate. Any mishandling of asbestos, and the subsequent EPA investigation, took place in 2006 and 2007, and there is nothing ongoing with this issue as far as health and safety goes.
We received three letters from EPA in 2009, all of which were simply a continuation of earlier requests for information, and nothing in these letters rises to a level that a reasonable person would consider exceptional. These requests clarified volumes of pipe shipped and so forth that the staff and the contractor answered with data from the files.
When the city finally did receive a letter implying that there may be potential fines or liability concerning the 2006 handling of the issue, I immediately notified and provided that information to City Council. My assumption is that any final fines or penalties will be neither the minimum nor the maximum possible. These may not be the responsibility of the city, and there may be options for alternate proposals.
“The annual audit was completed past deadline and over budget without communication to the City’s Audit Advisory Committee.”
There are two issues here, the delay of the audit and the overrun of expenses. The delay was the result of actions of both by the city and by the auditors. City staff was occupied with the continuation of the budget discussions, implementation of the forensic audit results, and development of the bond issue, and with the audit juggled four major issues with equally high priority.
In January the audit firm also needed to reassign staff to meet other standing commitments. The Audit Committee was aware of this delay, but no further action had been scheduled with the Audit Committee, and members were not aware of the next step in this process.
In February I received a staff update that indicated that the audit may not be complete by March, the usual date for this report, and I asked for a status update from our staff and from the audit firm. The audit firm brought forward a summary of the delay and request for additional funds, based on the delay and changes to the project scope, at the end of March.
I immediately copied City Council with this issue, and asked that the finance director bring this through the Audit Committee and City Council for review. The audit is based on a fixed price contract, and additional funding is not required, but in an April meeting the Audit Committee expressed a belief that there may be legitimate reasons for the city to split costs with the audit firm. This is an issue that will be presented through the Audit Committee and City Council for conclusion.
“Thompson contracted with former City Finance Director Bill Harrison after his constructive discharge ... ”
We did contract with Bill Harrison after he left the city. I encouraged Mr. Harrison to leave the city because his comments at a council meeting indicated that he had less than respect for members of City Council. This did not reflect on his technical capabilities, and we contracted with Mr. Harrison to continue working with the city to complete the bond issue underway and other debt-related issues. I briefed all members of City Council, and received no objections to this choice. This issue was also raised several times in public meetings, again with no objections from City Council.
“The Bradenton-based law firm Lewis, Longman & Walker was paid to assist with the defense against the EPA, without informing City Council’s contracted counsel or informing council.”
This is absolutely not correct. In 2006, well before I joined the city, the city contracted with Lewis, Longman & Walker to assist with this issue, as this firm has specialized in these types of regulatory issues. City Council was aware of this at that time, and the city made the decision to bring special counsel with specialized expertise separate from the city’s attorney, Goodlette, Coleman & Johnson, to avoid the double costs of having the contracted City Attorney reviewing the wage rates and billings of a contracted special counsel.
I share the philosophy that all of these law firms should be brought in under the City Attorney, but that was not the decision made in 2006, and did not guide this issue.
Generally, I find that most or all of the issues raised at the meeting of April 19 were, to continue with the respectful tone that I use with council and the community, an exaggeration of the facts. Even so, the correct question would be whether or not, as a result of these comments, the relationship between the city manager and one or more members of council has been damaged to the point that would not allow effective work in the future.
That is the decision for City Council, and City Council has taken the step of terminating the contract. Under the City Charter, the city manager has the ability to call for a public hearing on the issue five days after receipt of written notice of the council’s action. While I have not yet received that written notice, I will be evaluating whether or not a public hearing on this issue will have any public benefit. If this is to be the normal ugly Marco Island public meeting, I am not sure there is a real benefit in doing so. If there is an opportunity for a reconsideration of the votes, then perhaps that would be the case.
I always appreciate your consideration for this city, and I certainly look forward to meeting many of you over the next several months on Marco Island.