Personnel issues at city hall have been much in the news lately. For example, last week the local “newspaper” reported that the city administrator had fired the new director of Planning and Building Services, thereby adding her to the growing list of administrators who have “resigned” or “retired.” Exactly why she was fired is not clear. She was winning praise among Stephenville’s builders for her leadership on issues relevant to them; reports in both the “newspaper” and The Flash say they were out in force to protest her removal. On the other hand, the administrator said she was sacked due to “attendance, performance, and conduct issues.” Based on what little we know of this matter, who’s right and who’s wrong is anyone’s guess.
But it shouldn’t be.
The law allows and in some instances mandates that personnel matters be discussed in confidence behind closed doors in executive sessions from which the public is banned. Yet personnel is policy: What the government does with, to, and for us is shaped by its officials. Given the importance of public policy, whether it concerns public safety, public works, economic development, or anything else, we the people should insist on getting as much information as possible about the recruitment, promotion, demotion, and dismissal of those who would make and carry out public policy.
This case is especially troublesome. Last January a city council member publicly complained that the staff had failed to supply the city council with enough information prior to the hiring of the director in question. Last week another city council member said her dismissal was not in accord with proper procedures. Justice for all—the city administrator who’s accused of not following procedures, the dismissed director herself, and especially we the people who will be affected by all this—demands that proper procedures be followed at every step of the hiring and firing processes. The need to hire a new director of Planning and Building Services, as well as a director for the new Stephenville Economic Development Authority, will give all involved another opportunity to try to do things right.
On another personnel issue, last week I wrote that several members of the SEDA Board of Directors may not be Stephenville residents themselves. Since then, I’ve heard from three different sources, each claiming that four of the seven board members live outside the city (whoever wishes to dispute this matter is encouraged to give me more accurate data, which I’ll present in a subsequent column). As I wrote last time, the city council was not acting illegally in composing the board as it did. Moreover, it can be argued that those who live outside the city yet have business interests in the city should have a say in city economic development policies. Nonetheless I find it odd that a board created to give, as the Chamber of Commerce told us, more control to Stephenville residents over Stephenville tax dollars should be dominated by those who don’t even live in the city. I may be in a small minority here, but I prefer that as much city policy making and implementation as possible be done by those who live within the city, since they are usually the most affected by city policies. Also, I think it’s possible to find living in Stephenville well more than three inhabitants who can serve competently on this board.
It remains to be seen whether the city council, in conjunction with the SEDA board of directors, develops better or worse economic development policies than we currently have. But I have my own ideas which I’ve discussed at various times in the past, and which I’ll offer again in my next column.
In the mean time, let me reiterate an invitation I first extended on my Facebook blog, Crosswise on Politics, for city council members to better explain the personnel decisions they’re making. To date, nobody has cared to discuss why those who “retired” or “resigned” last year chose to do so. So the importance of this issue notwithstanding, I’m not holding my breath waiting for any replies concerning the dismissal of the director or the composition of the SEDA board. Each reader is invited to speculate for himself on why more information may not be forthcoming.