An investigation on three Commerce city council members was called by Mayor Quay Throgmorton for violations of the city charter, Open Meetings Act, city administrative policies and the city manager’s employment contract following the council’s split decision to suspend City Manager Dion Miller for an undetermined amount of time during a special council meeting Thursday.
In a 3-2 vote, with members Billie Biggerstaff, Tony Henry and Richard Hill in favor and Bob Monday and Throgmorton against, Miller was suspended with pay following a public hearing and action item in which several council members voiced their concerns about Miller’s performance.
Miller’s status as city manager was also brought up last September by Henry, during which time Miller addressed several concerns brought forth by Henry by providing documentation regarding each issue.
The complaints against Miller during Thursday’s meeting were primarily led by Biggerstaff, who first made a motion to discuss the status of Miller in executive session rather than in public.
Following Biggerstaff’s comments, she was reminded that a public hearing had also been scheduled and the council could conduct the public hearing and executive session in the order the members desired.
Biggerstaff then made a motion to suspend Miller with pay for an undetermined amount of time, which was then seconded by Henry.
Miller then suggested that he felt the item should be discussed in public and that the crowd in city hall had come to here the council deliberate on the issue.
Throughout the course of the meeting Miller and several council members addressed one another’s comments.
“I am extremely concerned with the direction of the city,” said Biggerstaff. “I do have a list of problems.”
Biggerstaff alleged that as city manager, Miller has been unable to complete tasks in a timely manner, exercised poor leadership, had created an environment with low moral for city employees and questioned Miller’s handling of a break-in at the city’s wastewater plant last year.
“This to me seems to be a pattern and more than occasionally,” said Biggerstaff.
Biggerstaff also said she had talked to several department heads, and said some were looking for jobs and that there were other city employees who were not happy with their jobs.
“We don’t need the city staff to get up and leave,” said Biggerstaff.
Biggerstaff also said that the council does not have to provide a reason to the public if it chooses to suspend or dismiss the city manager.
“He works at the will of the council,” said Biggerstaff.
Hill also questioned Miller’s handling of the break-in at the wastewater plant, while Henry voiced his perception that the city manager communicates with the mayor too much and not enough with the council.
“I am not one for many words, and I am not happy,” said Henry.
Miller then addressed the council regarding the allegations.
“Some of them are very subjective,” said Miller. “I believe I provided documentation to show that I have followed city policy,” said Miller, referencing the September 2009 meeting in which he addressed Henry’s concerns.
Miller said that he received a broad and vague letter from Biggerstaff late last month that a public hearing would be called to discuss his status and he did not have any time to prepare for and provide documentation to refute Biggerstaff’s claims.
Miller did not comment on the break-in at the wastewater plant, as there is an ongoing criminal investigation regarding the matter.
“It is not unusual for department heads to send out resumes from time to time,” said Miller as he addressed Biggerstaff’s claim of low morale among city employees.
Miller also said that his office had brought forth an option to the city council for a two percent raise for city employees, but that it was never acted on by the council.
“I don’t tell you what to do. I recommend,” Miller said in response to a claim made by Biggerstaff that he had attempted to tell council members what to do. “I would quote some charter to you but I don’t think it would make a difference.”
Miller also suggested that the council some members of the council may be too involved in the day-to-day activities of the city operations and should focus more on policy-making.
Following Miller’s comment about some council members involvement in the city’s daily operations, City Attorney Jim McLeroy said he observed the Commerce City Council to be more hands-on than other city councils.
Despite the issues brought forth during the meeting, Miller expressed his desire to continue working for the city.
“I stand ready to continue working for this city and council,” said Miller.
After Miller spoke, the public was given an opportunity to voice their opinions to the council.
Dick Walker spoke on behalf of Miller and also spoke about some council member’s alleged involvement in city operations.
“There is going to be continual problems,” Walker said about department heads talking directly to council members about their frustrations without the involvement of the city manager and vice versa.
“That man has true integrity,” Walker said of Miler. “You need him in this spot. He is doing a good job.”
No members of the public spoke against Miller.
“I feel the that the council has failed to communicate properly,” said Monday, who voted against the motion to suspend Miller.
Following the vote to suspend Miller, Throgmorton called for the investigations to be conducted by an outside party, which was met with applause by some in attendance.
Throgmorton quickly told the audience that the matter was nothing to applaud.
The scope of the investigation is scheduled to be discussed further during an executive session during the council’s next meeting.
The next regular meeting of the city council is scheduled for March 16.