July 30, 2014 - A Crestwood resident last week challenged City Administrator Mark Sime about his assertion that his attempt to reclassify the city clerk's position was a personnel matter that he cannot discuss with the public or press.
As reported by the Call, Sime has publicly declined to explain why he attempted earlier this year to reclassify the clerk's position as an unclassified position — a change that appears to violate the city's Charter and was opposed by City Clerk Tina Flowers, who has since resigned, effective July 25. Sime named Helen Ingold acting city clerk.
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.
During a period for public comment at the July 22 Board of Aldermen meeting, Martha Duchild prefaced her comments by reading Mayor Gregg Roby's response to a question about transparency during a candidate forum earlier this year. Roby defeated former Mayor Jeff Schlink in the April election. Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild is Martha Duchild's husband.
"Roby said, 'The public has an absolute right to know what we are doing at all times. I believe in open government completely,'" Martha Duchild said, adding, "I couldn't agree more, but judging from the actions on the issues surrounding the attempted reclassification of the city clerk's position, it appears the city administrator and city attorney (Lisa Stump) don't share the mayor's enthusiasm for transparency.
"The following remarks are directed at the city administrator. In responding to inquiries from the press and public on why you proposed and then withdrew the ordinance to reclassify the city clerk's position, effectively removing the clerk's civil service protection in addition to wasting $1,700 of taxpayer money (for legal fees), you claimed it was a personnel issue and you preferred not to discuss it. Is this correct?" she asked.
Sime replied, "Correct."
Martha Duchild said, "I found this response peculiar, given this memo dated Feb. 4, 2014. The memo accompanied the proposed reclassification ordinance, which was an agenda item that was to be discussed in public. The reason given for the reclassification in this memo refers to the need to reclassify the clerk's position due to the parameters outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). That was the reason you gave.
"How can the reason for the reclassification be open for public debate in February, but then in June it somehow is a personnel issue that cannot be discussed? I can answer that. You gave one reason in February in the February memo, but then when (Ward 4) Alderman (Michael) Vincent expressed his concern to you at the end of May about the cost of the withdrawn ordinance, you led him to believe that the reclassification was the city clerk's wish. And that it was withdrawn because she changed her mind," she continued.
"The story conveniently absolved you from any blame for wasting money on a withdrawn ordinance that was in conflict with the City Charter. The May version of the reason for the reclassification was a fabrication designed to shield you from public criticism. I have come to know both city clerks — the previous city clerk and (Flowers) through my work on the Civil Service Board, and one thing they valued above all else was their civil service protection," Martha Duchild said. "So it is completely implausible that the clerk would willingly relinquish these protections, let alone request that they be removed. Further, the city attorney's redacted version of the city clerk's side of the story in this matter was a blow to transparency.
"Mr. Sime, your conduct in this matter was unprofessional, and in your role as a personnel director, your treatment of the city clerk was unforgivable," she said.
Sime did not respond to Martha Duchild's remarks.
Flowers, who had served as city clerk since January 2007, submitted her resignation July 14. In a May 30 email sent to aldermen, Flowers wrote that Sime's proposal would directly conflict with the city's Charter, which states the city clerk "shall be a civil service employee."
Sime's effort to reclassify the post resurfaced after Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood instructed Stump on May 27 to draft an ordinance for aldermen to consider June 24 that, if approved, would ask voters to consider whether the city clerk's position should "fall entirely under the selection, control, review and direction of the Board of Aldermen ..."
However, Trueblood asked the board June 24 to postpone consideration of the proposed Charter amendment. Trueblood's proposal called for voters to consider whether aldermen should appoint the city clerk, who would be subject to the direction and supervision of the board. As proposed, the post would remain a civil service position.
Trueblood's proposal met opposition from Vincent, who wrote in a May 30 email that after talking with Sime, he believed any Charter amendment for the clerk's position 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 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.
But 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 ..."
In response to a request for copies of her May 30 email and Vincent's May 30 email, Flowers provided the complete emails to the Call. In response to the same request, Stump redacted most of the emails.