Posted on 06 November 2014.
By Judy Reed
The Cedar Springs City Council voted 4-2 in a special meeting last week to rescind the motion from Aug. 21 to go into closed session, and reaffirmed City Manager Thad Taylor’s contract (both in the same motion). Voting for the contract was Mayor Mark Fankhauser, Mayor Pro-tem Patricia Troost, and Councilors Ashley Bremmer and Ken Benham.
Jerry Hall and Bob Truesdale, who both dissented previously, cast dissenting votes. Council member Dan Clark, who also dissented previously, was out of the country.
The reason for the special meeting was to redo the action that caused a lawsuit to be brought against the city.
Truesdale, Clark, and resident Mark Laws filed the lawsuit October 7. They allege an Open Meetings Act violation occurred at the August 21 City Council meeting, when they went into closed session, believing there was a written communication from the attorney to consider. Mayor Mark Fankhauser told the council during the workshop portion of the meeting that they needed to go into closed session because he had correspondence from the attorney, and it was added to the agenda that way. They went into closed session at the tail end of the meeting, and when they came out, they voted 4-3 to renew the contract of City Manager Thad Taylor.
The lawsuit alleges that there was no attorney correspondence considered.
Those who voted against the contract—Dan Clark, Jerry Hall, and Bob Truesdale—noted that they had not seen it before, and did not have time to digest it. And, in fact, said they did not know they were going to be voting on it that night. They also noted that the evaluation was not recent.
City attorney Jeff Sluggett explained at the special meeting that one option the city had was to do a “re-do” by rescinding the motion to go into closed session, and instead, discuss the city manager’s contract publicly. Councilor Jerry Hall asked if that was an admission of guilt, and Sluggett said no. Hall then asked him if they violated the Open Meetings Act. “I’m not going to answer that,” answered Sluggett.
Truesdale then asked if there was any attorney correspondence, because he was told there was. “With all due respect, I can’t answer anything that has to do with the lawsuit,” explained Sluggett.
Truesdale also asked about the severance pay in the City Manager contract, and Sluggett explained that the six months severance in the contract only applies if they fire Taylor for no cause at all.
Truesdale asked why they had to rush and have this special meeting, when Dan Clark was out of the country. He told the Mayor that they had postponed a meeting for him (the mayor) when he was unavailable.
A few members of the audience spoke in favor of the City Manager, but many also spoke against the Manager and his contract.
Councilor Ashley Bremmer wondered whether the lawsuit would be dropped if they went with the motion. Truesdale said he wasn’t sure, that he had to check with his lawyer, who was out of the country.
Sluggett explained that if the lawsuit goes forward, and the judge awards the fees to the plaintiffs (for lawyer fees), that it would be the taxpayers paying the fees. He also explained that the minutes from the closed session could also be released.
Mark Fankhauser said the special meeting was an attempt to stop the lawsuit for the taxpayers.
Councilor Ken Benham said he was appalled at what had been happening, and referenced the recent announcement that Taylor is one of the top 3 chosen for the Village Manager job in Howard City. “You are running the City Manager right out town. He takes no health benefits, has no leased car. He’s a nice man.”
Bremmer wondered if postponing the meeting was really about going over the contract, or waiting for a new council to come in and get rid of the city manager.
Mayor Fankhauser noted that City Manager Thad Taylor may not be the most dynamic and outgoing, “but he was instrumental in bringing the Cedar Springs Brewing Company here—a million dollar business that will bring even more business to Cedar Springs. He kept me abreast of things, even when I was in Alaska…no one should be bullied into a position. He’s offered for everyone on Council to come in and talk with him about the way he is running the city, and his evaluation is above average.”
Then Council then voted 4-2 to reaffirm the contract.
According to the minutes of the closed session, which the Post received Wednesday from the city, the following occurred during the closed session of August 21:
Fankhauser reported he had correspondence from City Attorney Jeff Sluggett regarding the City Manager Contract. The City Attorney had reviewed the contract and was comfortable with the proposed changes. He passed copies of the proposed contract to Councilors, asking them to review the proposed employee agreement. He stated the contract fit within the terms of the current contract.
He provided comparable salary ranges for city managers in towns of similar size such as Greenville, Rockford, Allegan, Wayland and Lowell.
The proposed agreement changed the dates of employment as well as a new address for the city manager. It was a three-year contract providing a three percent increase the first year; a two percent increase the second and a two percent increase the third year bringing the salary to $75,000. It provides for vacation days an annual evaluation by the council and six months’ severance pay.
Fankhauser said this was standard language for the industry and reminded councilmembers that the city manager did not use a city vehicle or take advantage of the health care provided other city employees. He also had not received a pay increase in the two years he had been with the city.
The city manager had scored above average on all categories in his last evaluation, Fankhauser said.
Clark questioned the comparable figures that had been presented and wanted more time to check his own figures.
Fankhauser responded that he had gotten the figures from the Michigan Municipal League and told councilors to take all the time they needed to review the contract.
They then adjourned and returned to open session at 9:50 p.m.
After the election earlier this week, none of the Council members who voted for the City manager’s contract are left on the Council. Fankhauser, Bremmer, and Patricia Troost were all voted off, and Benham did not run. Four new members take the oath of office next month.
The contract may be a moot point if Taylor is awarded the Village Manager job in Howard City.