Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2006

Beatty suspension exposes council rift

October 19, 2006

City Administrator Cheryl Beatty and the role she plays in city government continues to divide the Eudora City Council a month after the council voted to hand the top city employee a three-day suspension.

Saying he remained as angry as the day the decision was made, Eudora Councilman Dan Gregg apologized last week for the September unpaid suspension of Beatty.

Gregg, who with Councilwoman Lori Fritzel voted against the disciplinary action, maintained the suspension was unwarranted and would be reversed.

"I want to publicly apologize to the city administrator for the action the city council took against her. I want people to know that our city administrator is of extremely high moral character and integrity," he said.

Beatty was disciplined for sending inappropriate e-mails, Gregg said. The e-mails contained short humorous and inspirational items that were said to violate city regulations. But Gregg and Fritzel said information that had since come to light convinced them Beatty was unfairly punished.

"A proper investigation wasn't done before punishment was handed out," Gregg said. "She was punished on hearsay."

"There was no due process," Fritzel said. "She was completely slandered. She was not given a chance to defend herself."

None of the recipients were offended by the e-mails, Gregg said. The message that led to Beatty's suspension was forwarded to another city employee, he said.

Two council members who voted for the suspension, Scott Hopson and Bill Whitten, said it was inappropriate to discuss personnel matters or issues discussed in executive session. Hopson declined all comment.

"If someone is discussing that out of executive session, they have a major problem," Whitten said.

Mayor Tom Pyle continued to support Beatty, joining with Gregg and Fritzel to criticize the suspension and process that led to it.

"It was not properly investigated," he said. "We took the word of people, and it turned out it wasn't right.

"It wasn't done right. It was bullying tactics."

Pyle, Fritzel and Gregg said Beatty has been subjected to intimidation, including foul language and raised voices, from those opposed to her.

"It was worse than what I used at the council meeting last night (Oct. 9)," Gregg said, who admitted to using an obscenity out of anger in open session.

Pyle said executive sessions were becoming so unpleasant that he told Beatty to sit by him near the door so they could leave if she became the subject of abuse.

"I've heard the 'F' word used toward her," Pyle said. "I informed her if it starts again, I'll just say, 'Let's vacate.' She doesn't have to put up with that."

Fritzel said the heated environment was not what she anticipated when she ran for council two years ago.

"It's using volume and intensity to control a situation instead of reason and logic," she said. "Actually, at one time our legal counsel had to step in to control a situation."

Whitten again refused to comment on anything taking place in executive sessions, except to say he maintained professional behavior.

Pyle, Gregg and Fritzel said the division could be traced, in part, to differing views of Beatty's role and that of council members. In their view, concerns from the staff should be funneled through department heads to Beatty and then to the council. Similarly, council concerns about day-to-day operations and personnel should filter through the city administrator.

Others on the council take a very different view about Beatty's role and council members involvement in day-to-day operations, they said.

Whitten said he shared Pyle, Gregg and Fritzel's view. He said he thought it was appropriate for council members to become informed by speaking to department heads about issues other than personnel matters.

Whitten also said he supported Beatty.

"Up to this point with the information I have, I have to say she's doing her job," he said. "As I've said in the past, Cheryl's very smart at what she does."

The city administrator's job, and one she was trained to do, is to move the city forward rapidly, Whitten said. His job, he said, was to make sure decisions were right for the city, even if it sometimes appeared to slow the pace of progress.

"I think to be honest with you, there's a pattern of people going too much with what the experts say," he said. "I want to make sure I have everything covered. I've caught myself depending on the city administrator. I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm going to research it."

Whitten gave the example of the proposed $1 million rehabilitation of an old lagoon at the wastewater plant, which was advanced as a way to increase the city's capacity during heavy rainfall. He suggested the city investigate using an existing lime lagoon for that propose, or at least find out if it was still active or decommissioned.

Engineers might have looked at the option, Whitten said. But when he brought it up during a meeting, Beatty couldn't tell the council if it had been considered, he said.

"If it looks like I'm going against the council, I apologize, but that's the way I do business," he said. "I'm not trying to buck the system; I'm trying to look at every option out there to make it work. Trust me, it's a thankless job at times."

Despite the disagreements, the council has made noteworthy progress this year, Whitten said.

"I think the city council actually works well together," he said. "Things are getting done."

That could end with the growing acrimony, Fritzel said.

"I think honestly we're going to just hold on for the next five months and then see what happens with the election," she said.

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