Last Friday, Sept. 28, the Town of Payson experienced a breakdown of our ordinances committed by members of our own town council.
The average citizen probably is not aware that we have a law that precludes individual council members from directing town staff or employees. It is a fact that Mayor Bob Edwards and Council Member Sue Connell invited Human Resources Director Bob Smith to leave town hall immediately, while being paid to work out of his house for five months, in effect, placing him on administrative leave.
It is my understanding that our interim town manager was directed to escort or supervise, if you will, Mr. Smith's departure from town hall, after the mayor and council member finished with Mr. Smith.
There is reason to believe that the mayor and council member Connell may have had conversations with other council members regarding the decision to immediately remove Mr. Smith from his office.
These conversations may also amount to a violation of the Open Meeting Laws of the State of Arizona. Further, we now have Council Members discussing and making decisions about an employee without the employee being notified of the discussion, denying the employee the right to address the issues being presented by the Council.
The process for terminating a town department head is not very complicated.
The town manager has the authority to fire or discipline a department head "for cause," which means there must be a specific reason, as defined in town code. The department head being disciplined has appeal rights, including the right to a hearing before the Town Personnel Board and the right to subpoena witnesses. The same department head can subsequently file a final appeal to the town council.
The right to due process on behalf of a department head is in place to ensure that a department head is being terminated for cause and not as the result of political whim or vendetta.
There are good reasons for department heads having employment protection. The first being, we want our managers of government to be professionals who will offer their advice or findings to the Council, based their experience and education.
It is critical that we have career-minded people in place to make the day-to-day decisions.
Councils, for the most part, are laymen, amateurs, if you will, when it comes to understanding the government function.
They do not have the credentials to make technical decisions regarding the day to day operation of each department.
We now have department heads and town employees who have witnessed an unprecedented violation of the council / manager form of government.
They have seen the complete reorganization of the town government done in a last-minute addition to an agenda, with little or no discussion. And now, for the first time in my recollection, they have experienced the Council leaving the dais for the purpose of ending a fellow department head's position.
One of the real down sides of this whole mess is that some, if not all, department heads, will be stifled and will refrain from engaging the Council in controversial discussion, out of fear of losing their jobs, and there is real, unhealthy fear that permeates throughout town hall.
For me, this issue is not about Bob Smith or his ability to serve as a human resource director. We need a human resource director; it is very complex job with many responsibilities.
A good H.R. director will be making decisions that impact both employees and managers, which means that it is his job to sometimes say "no", which means that he will have somebody upset with him, almost all of the time.
In this case, I believe Su Connell, who is a good honest person, acted out of emotions. She needed a buffer, a leader, who should have reined her in and educated her about our laws. As far as the mayor, he should know better.
Our leadership has created a sense of secrecy and back room deal-making that should put all of us on alert. All of us need to keep an eye on Town Hall.
Our newspapers and radio stations need to keep us informed. If there is an illegal act that has been perpetrated, I hope town staff will do the right thing, even it means availing yourself of the Whistle-Blower laws.