Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Review of Resolution 14-03

As you may be aware, Commissioner Nielsen presented proposed Resolution 14-03 at the May 6 City Council meeting. The purpose of this proposed resolution was to present to the City Council the many reasons why it is time for our City to move on to a new City Manager.

The process for termination of our City Manager is spelled out in the City Charter. It must be presented as a proposed resolution to Council. It must list the specific reasons for the proposed termination. If such a resolution is passed, the City Manager is suspended pending a public hearing upon the City Manager's request. You can read more about the process in the below presentation documents.

Commissioner Nielsen presented to the Council six reasons for terminating our present City Manager, each supported with documentation and audio recordings. She informed the Council that it did not have to agree on all of the reasons - any one of these six reasons, which include numerous violations of our City's rules and Charter, could justify the resolution all by itself.

Below, you will find copies of all the information presented to the Council regarding proposed Resolution 14-03. It includes a PowerPoint presentation (both in PowerPoint and PDF formats) as well as a supplement booklet containing the original documents referenced in the presentation. The audio recordings are integrated into the PowerPoint presentation, or you can download them separately below.

Presentation (PowerPoint) - click the audio icons to play the recordings linked on last page of each transcript (if you don't have PowerPoint, just download the PDF below)

Presentation (PDF) - audio recordings can be accessed separately below

Audio Recording (November 5, 2013 - Severns/Readey)

Audio Recording (April 1, 2014 - Nielsen/Auditor)

Audio Recording (April 30, 2014 - Severns)

Supplemental Documents (PDF) - use PDF bookmarks to navigate sections corresponding to each numbered paragraph in the resolution

Following the presentation, Commissioner Readey presented his own evidence in support of the proposed resolution. Later, Commissioner Gold questioned the legality of continuing to employ Mr. Severns as City Manager despite apparent conflict with our City Charter and the minimum job qualifications enacted by the City. In response, Commissioner Gold was informed by City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher and Mayor Brooks that he was not obligated to follow the City Charter or minimum job qualifications in this matter because they were unclear or just "guidelines."

The other Council members appeared unconcerned about the numerous Charter violations and the fact that Mr. Severns does not meet any of the substantive requirements for employment as Belle Isle City Manager. Furthermore, no one on the Council besides Commissioners Nielsen and Readey expressed any concern about the financial misinformation that has been provided by Mr. Severns.

It may be that the remaining commissioners simply do not understand the seriousness of this error. The City Manager is tasked with some large responsibilities under our City Charter, including keeping the Council informed about the City's financial position. The City Manager must provide an accurate financial picture to the City Council because such information provides the basis for the Council's financial decisions.

Mr. Severns has regularly informed Council that the City has well over $1 million in unrestricted cash reserve funds, meaning cash funds available to the City after spending everything allocated in the budget, including the entire $532,000 allocated for vital capital improvement projects this year, such as road maintenance. See and hear Mr. Severns' responses to Commissioner Readey's questions on November 11 in the presentation documents above.

On April 1, it was proven by the CAFR and the auditor's presentation that Mr. Severns' prior statements to Council about our City reserves were wrong. It was revealed that our City would only have the reserve funds stated by Mr. Severns if the City forgoes the half million dollars in capital improvement projects planned for this year. This led to Mr. Severns' April 30 statement to Council that our City suddenly "can’t afford to spend a dime on the infrastructure." You can read and listen to his entire statement in the presentation documents above.

This massive financial error from someone tasked under the Charter to "keep the council fully advised as to the financial condition and future needs of the city" was not rebutted by Mr. Severns or the Council. To date, Mr. Severns has not provided the Council with any explanation or apology for this error.

This error highlights the need for the Council to follow our City's hiring requirements when choosing City employees, especially the minimum job requirements. These requirements were enacted by the City for good reasons. A City Manager meeting our City's minimum requirements would be guaranteed to have the training and experience to present accurate financial information to the Council.

Following the Council's discussion about the proposed resolution, Mr. Severns responded to some of the issues raised in the presentation. He related the story of becoming friends with Mayor Brooks while on the Council, after which he was invited to resign from the City Council so that he could become our new City Manager. Mr. Severns stated that he was the only choice left after the Council was unable to locate a single qualified candidate out of dozens and dozens of applicants.

Although Mr. Severns and at least one Commissioner spoke at length about the time Mr. Severns "volunteered" to serve the City without pay, both omitted the fact that Mr. Severns and the Council originally intended to pay his $150,000+ salary from day one. This plan only changed after Commissioner Readey alerted residents of the Council's intention to breach the City Charter in an article published in the Conway News. The Council's discussion also completely omitted the fact that Keith Severns was earning money from no-bid contracts awarded to his construction company, KNS Construction, during this supposed "volunteer" period.

Mr. Severns discussed the allegation that he has not been obtaining competitive bids on City purchases over $10,000, as required by law. I have been requesting records of these bids for over year via public records requests, yet I have not received a single bidding document in response to my requests. You can see these requests in the presentation documents above, along with Commissioner Nielsen's unfilled requests for similar documents.

While discussing the missing bids, Mr. Severns held a stack of papers that were never shown or distributed to Council while claiming to have documentation of each and every bid required. If this is true, then there is no explanation for the City failing to produce these documents over the past year as required under the Sunshine Law. Regardless, Mayor Brooks ordered Mr. Severns to produce these bidding records immediately. But over a week later, I still have not received anything from the City regarding my request for bids.

Some locals involved with the Pioneer Days Committee attended the meeting to express their disappointment at the fact that Mr. Severns had still not issued the check to Pioneer Days which he was directed to issue by the Council all the way back on February 4. In response to Committee members' claims that Mr. Severns would not return calls regarding this check, Mr. Severns repeatedly stated that he had not received a single call about the Pioneer Days check.

However, in emails from Commissioner Pisano to the Pioneer Days Committee, Commissioner Pisano stated that she had called Mr. Severns about the check and he had not responded to her inquiries. On April 29 she wrote that "No. He didn't answer me back. Let me call him." A week later on May 6, Commissioner Pisano still had not received a reply from Mr. Severns regarding the unissued Pioneer Days check.

After the presentation by Mr. Severns, the Council voted on proposed Resolution 14-03. Some Commissioners indicated that they would have liked more time to review the resolution before voting. This could have easily been accomplished through a motion to table the resolution until the next meeting while they explored the evidence. No Commissioner made such a motion, so the proposed resolution went to a vote.

Commissioners Readey and Nielsen voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Pisano, Ady, Shuck, Gold and Van Dyke voted against. After the meeting, Mayor Brooks expressed his appreciation to Commissioner Nielsen for her professionalism in presenting this proposed resolution.

Later, Commissioner Gold expressed his preference that this review process be conducted in private, as would be done in a private company. However, one of the biggest concerns raised by residents during the last election was how much City business goes on behind closed doors. Furthermore, it is important to remember that this process cannot be conducted in private. It is a decision that must be made by the Council, and any Council discussion of these issues outside of a public meeting would be illegal.

To the many residents who have expressed disappointed about the outcome of this vote, I'd like to remind you that change is often a slow process. But we have another election coming up soon enough, with Commissioners Pisano and Readey up for election at the beginning of next year.

But before that, there is a lot to do in our City. Commissioner Pisano has discussed a number of specific changes that are important to residents, including a change in Council meeting times sought by so many residents but repeatedly opposed by Mayor Brooks. Although Commissioner Pisano has brought these issues up for discussion over the course of the last two months, she has yet to present an actual resolution on any of these issues for Council vote.

Thorough discussion of ideas is important. Presenting a proposed resolution ensures that Council discussion stays focused on the idea up for vote. Without a specific resolution on the table, Council discussion often devolves into "wish lists" that accomplish little more than filling out our City's meeting minutes. Hopefully, we will continue to see our commissioners proposing and discussing specific resolutions that address the small and large changes residents want to see in Belle Isle.