June 11, 2014 - Crestwood City Administrator Mark Sime is declining to explain why he attempted earlier this year to reclassify the city clerk's position as an unclassified position — a change that appears to violate the city's Charter.
In February, Sime proposed an ordinance to amend the city's municipal code to make the city clerk's position unclassified, or exempt — the same status as elected officials, the city administrator and department heads, who are not covered under the city's Civil Service Rules and Regulations.
City Clerk Tina Flowers wrote in a May 30 email sent to aldermen that Sime's proposal would directly conflict with the city's Charter, which states the city clerk "shall be a civil service employee."
However, Sime told the Call, "... Any proposal that I would bring forward would not conflict with the Charter."
Sime's effort to reclassify the post resurfaced after Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood instructed City Attorney Lisa Stump on May 27 to draft an ordinance for aldermen to consider June 24 that, if approved, "would put before the voters of Crestwood at the next regularly scheduled election a ballot to amend the city's Charter ..."
Under the proposed ballot issue, the city clerk's position would "fall entirely under the selection, control, review and direction of the Board of Aldermen ..."
While Sime's proposal to reclassify the clerk's post originally appeared on the agenda for the Feb. 11 aldermanic meeting, he removed it from the agenda the day before the meeting. Legal bills the Call obtained through a public records request show Stump's firm, Lashly & Baer, was paid roughly $1,690 for researching and drafting the ordinance.
Asked why he proposed Flowers' reclassification, Sime, who took his post last year, told the Call, "Well, that's getting into the personnel arena here, and since it didn't come out, then I'd prefer not to discuss it right now."
Asked if his proposal would conflict with the city's Charter, he said, "I would hesitate to say that because the proposal that I did not bring forward was not out there, so we can't say it was against the Charter or not."
When reminded that the Charter states the clerk's position shall be a civil service post, Sime said, "That is correct. The clerk's position would have remained a civil service position."
Asked to elaborate, he said, "... Well, all employees of the city are civil service employees," including department heads.
When reminded his proposal would have classified the clerk's position as an exempt post not subject to the Civil Service Rules and Regulations, Sime said, "... This is where it will be a discussion about the Charter versus the civil service rules, and I'm not here to get into that discussion with you at this time."
Also at issue is who initiated the proposed change. In a May 30 email, Ward 4 Alderman Michael Vincent wrote that he was opposed to Trueblood's May 27 proposal after talking with Sime and believes it would be better handled by the city's Charter Review Commission in the future.
"I say wait — and incur no expense now. Most of us I assume have seen the legal costs incurred the last time this was brought forward," he wrote. "It is my understanding our clerk initiated discussions with our CA (city administrator) and that he attempted to positively help her and to consider FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) guidelines.
"It is my understanding our clerk changed her mind and the issue was dropped. At that time, as now, I understand our CA had no criticism of our clerk or her work. It is my hope we all feel our clerk is doing excellent work, and needs no further protection beyond what she has with the CSB (Civil Service Board)," Vincent wrote.
Asked about Vincent's email, Sime said, "It wasn't sent to me."
However, copies of the email the Call received after making a public records request show Sime was copied in on Vincent's email. Asked if he had seen the email, Sime said, "I can't comment on that."
Trueblood told the Call that Flowers, who has been city clerk since early 2007, did not initiate the change and is opposed to it. Classified employees cannot act as a spokesperson in response to media inquiries without approval from the city administrator.
Trueblood said when he first learned of Sime's proposal to reclassify Flowers' position, he called the city clerk "to congratulate her because I thought, quite honestly in my being somewhat naive, that this was something that she really was wanting and would be good for her. And I was excited for her and I asked her, 'Hey, how does this affect you? It looks good to me. How does it look to you?'
"And she said, 'Tim, it's awful.' And I said, 'What?' I said, 'I thought you wanted this.' She said, 'No ... I never said I wanted this. It takes me out of the protection of civil service, and then I would be an at-will employee (under Sime) ...'"
Trueblood said Flowers believed that Sime's proposal also would jeopardize her independence as the city's custodian of records and hinder her ability to impartially perform the responsibilities of her office.
In her May 30 email response to Vincent, sent to all aldermen, Sime and her personal attorney, Flowers wrote, "I did not initiate nor did I support the reclassification of my position as city clerk. This issue was proposed to me by City Administrator Sime in late January 2014. At that time, I expressed the concerns of this reclassification as being in direct conflict with the City Charter and also that my position would no longer have the status of being a classified position under the city's Civil Service Rules and Regulations.
"I also advised Mr. Sime at that time that if asked in a public meeting, I would have no choice but to go on record as expressing my opposition of the proposal ..."
She also wrote, "... It is also important to know that I would never recommend any type of action that would be in conflict with city rules and regulations, especially when there could be the negative perception of intentionally promoting personal gain without any regard whatsoever for the city ..."
Asked about Flowers' email, Sime said, "That is still within the personnel arena, and I can't discuss that at this time."
He also said, "... I'm not going to comment on her opinions."
Going forward, Trueblood told the Call, "I feel like the best way to handle this position is to amend the Charter and convert it into one that's responsible to the mayor and Board of Aldermen, like our neighbors do. It just seems to me that this would be the best choice for that position.
"Now it's up to the voters to approve it. It's honestly not our say other than to put it before the voters. They have that option to do as they see fit. I would encourage them to really think hard and long about it before they voted and hope they would vote in the affirmative to make the change ..."