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UPDATE: MT. Pleasant issues aired at emotional hearing

 

By James Tilson

Staff writer

9-13-2018

 

MT. PLEASANT—At a meeting before an emotional, overflow crowd, the Mt Pleasant City Council introduced its “temporary administrative support” employee amid criticism over the method by which the new hire was made.

The meeting Tuesday night was ostensibly to conduct regular city business, but the meeting room was filled with Mt Pleasant residents who wanted to voice their opinions and hear from the council about the new city administrator.

The agenda said the council would make a statement regarding the resignations of Mayor Sandra Bigler and Sam Draper, the public works director, and introduce Paul Madsen as new temporary city manager.

But before the council started its discussions, time was set aside for “public participation.” And people took advantage of the time.

The first speaker and one of the harshest critics of the night was Randy Wooten, who said “a city council is a servant of the people” but this council was failing in its duty because it was not following the rules.

Wooten then asked the council a number of rhetorical questions. “Why were two persons hired without posting the jobs on the Utah Department of Workforce Services job site.

He asked Councilman Justin Atkinson, “Why did you insult our mayor (Sandra Bigler) by telling her to just be a Walmart greeter?”

He went on. “Why have Justin Atkinson’s and Kevin Stalling’s companies benefitted so much (from work for the city)?”

Wooten called for an audit to see if city funds had been mismanaged and finished by asking, “Why have so many good people left? Why have so many people been put in tears?”

Other residents expressed concern over city finances without criticizing the council directly. Kelly Cruz-Wilkey said, “This pettiness is ridiculous.”

She said she hoped people would stop being critical with each other and work together to find solutions. She also said a city manager would answer to the council, not the people, and before one is hired, there should be a vote of the people.

Jason Clausen, a local contractor, said he could “see both sides of the problem.” As a contractor, he observed that Mt Pleasant “is in trouble” because it doesn’t have enough revenue to deal with the infrastructure needs. As a result, he said, changes had to happen, he said.

Some people in the audience praised the council for trying to solve the problems facing the city. Beth Collier told the audience, “I have appreciation for every one of the city council (members). I personally know of their honesty and integrity. I truly believe they are doing their best.”

Natalie Atkinson asked the crowd, “Why do we have to be divided?” Although it’s sad Bigler and Draper resigned, the council was not to blame, she said, adding, “If you don’t like what they’re doing, run for council.”

Former councilmember Jeff McDonald asked to be placed on the agenda to share the  research he had done regarding a new advisor position. He told the council he had three main points.

First, he reminded the council that according to both the U.S. and Utah Constitutions, “all authority in inherent in the people.” The people delegate that authority to their representatives through elections, he said. A city manager, not being elected, would report to the council and not the people.

While admitting that the council could legally create a city manager position, he said doing so “chips away at the people’s authority.”

Second, he reminded the council of the budget hearings earlier this year, where the council said there might not be enough money for a city manager, only for another worker. And then, he said, the council discussed funding the manager position by taking money from all other city departments.

McDonald then cited HB 167, a Utah statute he said required a city to hold public hearings any time funds were removed from a power department.

Finally, McDonald cited another Utah statute, 10-3b-103, which he asserted said that when a city is in an interim period (when an appointed mayor is in office until a mayor can be elected), a city council may not appoint a city manager until after a new mayor takes office.

When it came time for the city council’s statement, Councilwoman Heidi Kelso stood to read the statement to the audience.

“The resignations of Mayor Sandra Bigler and Public Works Superintendent Sam Draper have resulted in a firestorm of false accusations and negativity on social media and in countywide newspapers,” she said.

The statement referred to events in 2017 when David Blackham, the mayor preceding Bigler, resigned. The statement said Blackham’s resignation came after multiple city workers made allegations regarding “inappropriate sexual-related comments” by Blackham.

After a closed meeting on the matter, the council found that such comments had in fact been made and asked Blackham to apologize. Blackham refused and asserted the employees involved had misinterpreted his comments. However, he resigned, citing health concerns.

The statement said Blackham had taken actions to vindicate himself of the charges (inferring the former mayor had taken his case to the media). “Each and every one of us mentioned at the beginning of this memo (in other words, the council members) are the victims of his actions.”

Kelso read on, saying Bigler had begun her administration with cooperation and by  agreeing to divide responsibilities for city administration with the council. The new building maintenance supervisor, Lynn Beesley, had been hired with her consent and advice, the statement said.

A crisis in the city administration occurred during the summer when Beesley and a seasonal employee were involved in a serious chemical accident at the splash pad. After investigation, the council found that Draper had been cited by OSHA for violations. Kelso said the specifics of the violations were being withheld from the council for unknown reasons.

After the incident, Draper offered his resignation. Bigler, citing a disagreement with the council on her role as chief executive, resigned soon after that.

Following Kelso, Councilman Kevin Stallings answered questions some of the council’s critics had made earlier.

Stallings agreed with McDonald regarding the timing of hiring a city manager but said  after consulting with an attorney from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the council had decided they could hire a temporary “advisor to the council and mayor” to help keep city work flowing after Draper resigned.

“We weren’t expecting Sam to resign,” Stallings said. “It came at a very tough time of year.”

Stallings also addressed allegations that his company had profited from doing work for the city. He pointed out he did not get every project he bid on. For example, he said, he was not one of the contractors on the new pool.

He said the majority of city work that his company had done during his tenure was on the Triangle Apartments and that work was paid for out of grant money, not city funds.

Stalling finished by pointing out he had copies of all contracts and invoices for the work done by his company. Many of those had been signed by former Mayor Blackham, he said.

As for the allegation that he influenced the hiring of Madsen because he was his best friend, Stallings said, “My best friend is my family.”

Atkinson also answered the allegations made against him. “You can crucify me if you want,” he said, denying that he had ever met with more than one other council member at a time outside of council meetings, or that he had ever profited from work awarded to his employer, Sunrise Engineering.

“What motivates me is a love for the citizens,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Anderson, at times choked up with emotion, called on the audience to understand that the council and administration were reacting to an emergency, and were trying to solve the problems in front of them the best they could.

“All we’re trying to do is get the job done,” he said.