With no public transparency, the Gardner City Council emerged from a closed door executive session March 6, added a resolution revising personnel policies and approved it. The resolution was apparently prepared without review or knowledge of city staff, including Alan Abramowitz, human resources director, and it did not appear on the city’s published agenda for public review.
After executive session, held under attorney client privilege to discuss non elected personnel, Steve Shute, council president, handed out copies of an already-prepared Resolution 1963, amending personnel policies and procedures.
General policy revisions and discussion should be conducted in public session, although state statute does allow for specific exemptions regarding individual personnel. The Gardner News has lodged a formal complaint with city officials questioning whether the resolution was prepared in closed session.
“Resolution #1963 was not prepared in executive session,” said Chris Morrow, mayor. “It was distributed to all of the members of the governing body only after we adjourned from executive session.”
An e mail sent to Shute, and Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, were not answered by press time.
Resolution #1963 adds an appeal opportunity for employees and amends procedures adopted in 2010. It’s unclear why the resolution couldn’t have been added to the next agenda allowing time for review and public input.
As adopted, it does not appear the resolution is retroactive to prior employee evaluations; it takes effect on March 6, 2017. It also does not indicate how bonuses or goals – sometimes tied to employee evaluations – will be handled. Nor does it indicate how it will affect the city administrator’s contract, who acts as chief personnel officer.
The resolution adds a section allowing director-level employees to appeal directly to the city council. Resolution 1963 states, “In cases of written reprimand, special probation, suspension, demotion, or termination, the notice of disciplinary action shall contain information explaining the employee’s right to appeal the action and a form that allows the employee to waive their right to that appeal.”
The resolution does not address how council members – who do not have day to day interaction with city staff – will judge whether employees are following established rules and procedure or whether goals are being met.
According to a social media post by Lee Moore, city councilman, “You may recall that the city has had turnover in every director-level position except Finance Director, including the Police Chief, during the tenure of this current City Administrator. Combining this turnover with the contents of the resolution the Governing Body just passed and the January 3rd outburst from the Human Resources Manager, directed at Chief Pruetting, may lead one to a reasonable conclusion or two about what has been happening behind closed doors at City Hall.”
Further, Moore states, “I do not wholly agree with it, but I voted in favor of the resolution because my conscience and a modicum of common sense left me no other alternative.”
In January, 2016, the city council unanimously approved the city administrator’s four-year contract, which provides that she oversees and manages city staff.
Previously, Moore made several posts on social media requesting citizens e mail Jim Pruetting, Gardner Police Chief, and then attend a subsequent meeting to show support for Pruetting. About 40 e mails were obtained by The Gardner News under a Kansas Open Records request.
Seven people came forward to speak at the Feb. 10 meeting. Most were concerned by a comment made at a January meeting by Abramovitz who said the police chief had released information from a confidential internal document and told the other directors that – because of that – their trust in the chief should be reduced.
In January, Rich Melton, councilmember, gave a presentation regarding a possible change in the reporting structure of the Gardner Police Department. The GPD has reported to the city administrator since the 1980’s. Melton suggested that because of the unique necessity of GPD to work around the clock, it should report to an independent board, such as the Citizen’s Police Advisory Commission, of which he is chair.
The council approved Resolution 1963 4-1, with Kristina Harrison, councilmember, voting no.