Special Council Meeting – June 14, 2016 – Firing of City Manage

Special Meeting June 14, 2016             Citizen Minutes


Doug Clark amended the agenda to add a new item – to terminate the employment of the city manager.   Debbie Brinkman and Bill Hopping objected.  There was a vote 4/2 with Brinkman and Hopping dissenting.

Emergency Ordinance imposing a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of new land use application for property located within the B-2 Community Business Zone District.

The ordinance was introduced as a response to the zoning of The Grove in the B-2 district that has created such uproar in the community.  The moratorium would provide staff the opportunity to revise the zoning district to address council issues.

Bruce Beckman explained that an emergency ordinance allows an ordinance to be passed without a first and second reading.  The moratorium would only impact new applications. Clark asked how many applications for B-2 are in the pipeline already and was told 4 or 5.  Brinkman moved to enact the moratorium.

Beckman expressed his concern about using an emergency ordinance to address zoning – it is not a good precedent to be creating and he was uncomfortable.  Michael Penny said developers are aware of the pending moratorium and taking the time to go through the normal process of first and second reading might lead to applications being submitted that are inadequate but would be in the pipeline and not constrained by the moratorium.

Motion passed 6/0.

Terminate City Manager

Clark moved to terminate the city manager effectively immediately.  Peggy Cole seconded “with great distress.” Brinkman suggested that Cole might want to reconsider her second if it was so distressing to her.

Brinkman wanted time to reconsider saying two council members had been excluded and one council member was absent.  “That’s nice.” She said it was obvious that four council members have had a conversation outside the public purview or perhaps with the public they speak to.  She thought it was a drastic mistake.

Jerry Valdes said he received a call from Brinkman and he had spoken to Hopping. He thought Phil Cernanec (absent) would need to recuse himself from the vote since he officiated at Michael Penny’s recent marriage.

Brinkman said she called Valdes last week after Valdes had told Hopping he was ready to fire Michael Penny during the recess of the last meeting.  Valdes said that was the first mention made to Hopping and then she called him.

Cole said it is never with joy that she would involve herself in something so negative for another person and this was very difficult for her.

Clark said there were a number of issues that lead him to make the motion.

He had a lack of confidence in the urban renewal process.  A recent example, plans were passed that included property not within the city limits of Littleton.  The County notified the city and they went ahead and included the property anyway. When it appeared that there would not be enough property to offset the agricultural land within the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan the city clarified the plan to add property that was not in the legal description – a process that wasn’t proper as recognized by the Court. Additionally the property owners had to be notified and the property blighted which was required – neither was done.

The Subdivision Exemption (SDE) Clark was perplexed how the SDE was interpreted.  The most recent update of the SDE was in 2012 under Penny’s watch and there is no mention of a lot line adjustment or a combining of lots. If lot line adjustments and combining of property are not in the SDE code it was because Penny did not put them in or instruct his staff to put them in and to claim the SDE is difficult to interpret is disingenuous.

Each councilperson should be provided with the same information as all other council members and that is not happening.

To publicly announce policy decisions that are rightfully within council’s purview without consulting council or before council makes a decision is overstepping boundaries.

These issues as well as others motivated the motion he made.

Hopping made several comments.

I hear your point on recusing but I don’t think our Charter allows that and if Valdes is afraid Cernanec would support that person maybe Clark should recuse himself who is obviously predisposed to vote in favor of this. Jerry said, “Let me ask Doug. Doug did you marry Mr. Penny?” Clark said no.

I did talk with Valdes during the break – he said that we have a problem and it is Michael. I got a call saying there were four votes on urban renewal and I was called and told that there were four votes on this.

He said Clark had spent a lot of time on the SDE and urban renewal drilling down and he respected what Clark does. But, what is your legal training? You are a retired computer consultant and I am a hotel consultant.  We have a city attorney and an urban renewal attorney.  To base a lack of confidence is not to put faith in them.  Uneven information is always an issue – that’s remedial. When I was first on council I did not get along with Penny but I have made it a point to have breakfast with Michael once a week or have lunch to discuss issues because it is part of my responsibility to build a relationship. If you are not happy – let’s do something about this.

This is not about Michael Penny – it is about city council.  This is about the way we treat people – it is about the way we treat employees. The three people that sit down and talk to Michael are the three people opposed to this motion – we work through issues.  There needs to be due process here and an actionable plan for people who have concerns.  There’s a lack of transparency and that’s what Sunshine is all about theoretically but apparently it doesn’t apply when they want to do something. It is unfortunate that we have one council member absent tonight.

How many of you have asked questions of Michael Penny tonight?  He has a very good reputation.  It is knee jerk firing without due process and improper.  What does this do to an applicant?  I don’t deny your issues but let’s work and see if there are resolutions.  This will set the organization back 18 months – do we really want to stop the city for 18 months without due process?  We can’t stop progress.  Michael Penny is not perfect and Hopping was astonished that four of them were doing this.  He thought this was a dramatic reaction and reflects badly on council individually and as a whole and the city as a whole.  He was opposed to the impulsive action and urged them to reconsider the motion. He volunteered to help work through their issues – each and everyone one of the four and he would start tomorrow.

Brinkman moved to postpone the motion to June 28 and hold a meeting to discuss an aggressive work plan for Penny with the details, timeline and expectations to be determined at that time.  Hopping seconded.   She thought it was incumbent on council members to work through issues with Penny.  She said that she, Phil, and Bill spend a lot of time working through issues with Penny.  She is currently working on six projects with Penny. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by dropping the bomb without an opportunity for the 8 of us to have a conversation and work together.  Tomorrow we wake up without a city manager. Staff moral goes into the tank.

Valdes said there was no corrective action plan for another employee that was terminated but now they want one for the city manager. He stressed that it was the city manager that led the way to remove their direct report and now they are asking for a second chance and a corrective plan when the other employee did not get that opportunity.

Hopping said that is doesn’t make it right and Valdes said it doesn’t make it wrong.

Cole said there were two others in addition to the one just mentioned and that were dismissed without significant council discussion.  She suggested that they needed to look at how they do the annual evaluation.  She noted weak areas for Penny but her concerns were dismissed and not even included in the evaluation. Her concerns were never addressed.  She mentioned the Ensor property – now someone realized a wrong ruling was made by the planning department and the permit was retracted.  She said we have an incredible problem with a property in the city and somebody should have been aware of what was happening. She did not know how the Grove happened. Someone either misinterpreted the code or decided to interpret it they way they wanted; I don’t know. These were serious issues. I take no joy in doing this.

Valdes said the person they let go with the support of the city manager they ended up with an excellent replacement because they had a pool of applicants and he wasn’t concerned with finding a new city manager.

Beckman was not in favor of a work plan – we are dealing with a six year professional with the highest level of education and training that we pay a considerable amount of money.  He wasn’t sure this was a situation in which to use a work plan; they are usually used for people new to the program, learning something they have never done before, or needed additional training in order to be effective.   He mentioned to Penny three times in council that he wanted a way to document citizen concerns and then report back to the council what the responses were to keep the council informed – Penny never did it.  That was a work plan.  He thought it would be very difficult to do a work plan in an open and transparent way. He did not want to mention some of the issues that were discussed in Penny’s evaluation but thought they were at the root of some of the issues today.

Beckman said communication is a concern. He did not think communication issues would be solved by a work plan.

Cole thought the city manager was selectively ignoring the Charter.  She mentioned the January murder/suicide incident.  When inquiries were made the city manager referred the inquiry to the mayor.  Why ask the mayor to address Channel 7 when the Charter states that the council will not be involved in a personnel matter so why would the city manager refer a personnel matter to the mayor?

Hopping tried to get the planning board to meet more often – can’t get two things done that are in opposite directions. Not sure they were being fair by not having a system in place – maybe that is part of Brinkman’s plan. He said they owed it to themselves, the city and the community to give the work plan a shot.

Brinkman told Cole her comment about the media was completely different than the one she had. I heard a very different conversation.  Penny has earned the privilege to hear and work on issues to work on a corrective plan – this is a pretty extreme measure – don’t think a work plan is a far ask at all.

Penny said the decision is council’s to make and it he will honor the decision they make.  It had been a privilege and honor to work in Littleton and he was incredibly proud of the accomplishments for the past five years.  Littleton was a great place to work.  He touted his one stop shop, improved snow removal, public outreach approaches and the community survey results were positive. He offered a deep thank you to his staff and thanked council for the opportunity to serve and would like to continue to do so.

Kristen Scheldorn, city attorney, said she thought this was a motion to postpone until the 28th and not a motion to amend – it doesn’t make sense. Brinkman tried to explain her motion. This is a motion to table until June 28th in order to have the issue presented in the motion by Clark to work on an aggressive work plan. Cole had concerns as well about the wording. If we schedule a work plan on the 28th that essentially replaces the motion.  So we spend the time to develop a work plan and then we vote on the motion to terminate the city manager? Seems to me they are contradictory motions – we either develop a work plan – not see if we can – it is to develop a work plan and it doesn’t make sense to have a motion to terminate after we write a work plan. Cole asked for a 5-minute recess at which time Brinkman conferred with the city attorney as to how she should word her motion.

Brinkman withdrew her motion – Hopping agreed.   Then Brinkman moved to table the original motion to July 5th and to schedule a discussion with the city manager on a performance plan on June 28th.  Hopping seconded and motion failed on a 3/3 vote with Clark, Beckman and Cole dissenting.

Main Motion now considered.

Beckman said the last month there had been intensive public comment on major concerns in the city. Each councilmember had a different point of view.  His was based on his experience in the past eight months.  It was clear to him there’s a definite issue of faith and trust in the relationship between council and the city manager.  All councilmembers received calls from a channel 7 investigator. Council was told by the city manager that it was nothing that he didn’t need to return the call – some have, but there’s nothing to it. Beckman did not return the call but he got several more calls.  Penny told him it was sweeps week and the reporter was trying to get something but it was nothing and that no one would be responding. Then Beckman got a personal email from the reporter looking for an interview.  Which got him involved again – he heard, once again, there’s nothing to it – it is sweeps week. Beckman said he was concerned about being ambushed by the reporter and not have the information.  He asked for information and said they needed some training if we are going to be responding to reporters. He was told to say something like how much sympathy he had.  He was never provided the information about the story the Channel 7 reporter was investigating.  It was the death of a woman in our city.  It wasn’t just a sweeps week. He told the city manager he did not know why he was in the position of having to respond and of having to fall on his sword for the city. He expects the City Manager, the Communications Director, the Chief of Police, the police department’s Public Relations person to fall on their swords for the city before it gets to the mayor because it is operational – it is personnel, it has nothing to do with what council does. So he asked again – what’s up and he was told it was nothing.  And, Beckman was approached by the reporter at the public meet and greet where he learned from the reporter that he had been investigating the story for three months and there were issues with possibly misplaced or hidden information, problems with the reports and reports were not provided to the family of the victims.  And then Beckman is interviewed for TV where he is asked – what do you think about a department that does not provide information? Beckman told the reporter he couldn’t believe it was happening. Beckman said this was the first conversation he had on this subject with the city manager and he knows Penny knew what happened and he knows I wasn’t told the whole truth and he knows I wasn’t prepared and I know he set up the whole council for the same thing. And then, I am never told there was going to be a follow up, something would be on the news – the Police Chief took control of the situation 10 days after Beckman’s interview.  During those 10 days Beckman pulled six CORA reports by the reporter on this police matter. It wasn’t sweeps week it was an absolute lack of candid discussion by the city manager and staff with the mayor about a real problem in the police department.  It was at that point his sense of confidence in the city manager left.  Penny is always telling them they need to trust the staff – we have your back. He told Penny that is was all about trust and Beckman did not believe him.  It is a problem – it has nothing to do with Sunshine, other events, or The Grove. I have lost confidence. And, I would not have talked about it tonight if Peggy had not brought it up.

Hopping told Beckman that he probably should have heard something about this from Beckman and he was only hearing about it now. And, with Beckman’s 30 years on the police force he should be able to handle a quote. At the end of the day, good for the City for coming clean. Beckman told him he missed the point.

Hopping moved to table the motion to July 5th since Cernanec was not there.  Brinkman seconded.  Motion failed 2/4 with Clark, Valdes, Cole and Beckman dissenting.

Brinkman then suggested to council members that if the main motion was a 3/3 vote it would fail and if the motion failed she would make a motion to take the matter up in a study session.

Valdes said he lost faith. Spending the citizen’s money is critical. When he asked about why there was a sole source contract when they were trying to bring in Englewood Fire Department and again with the Streetscape.  When he asked Penny why there was a sole source contract on the Streetscape plan ($200,000) the response he got, in writing, from Penny, “we don’t have to”.  He also stated that Penny said he was not involved in the process for The Grove that got us where we are today.  He said there had been times Penny had not been forthright with him and at one point he said Penny told him it was political and he had to say those things. He hung in there as long as he could.

Motion passed 4/2 with Brinkman and Hopping dissenting.

Council moved to go into an executive session to discuss the legal matter of Burkett v City of Littleton.  Motion passed 5/1 with Brinkman dissenting.   The city attorney and the outside legal counsel on the lawsuit were invited into the executive session.

Meeting adjourned about 30 minutes after they went into the executive session. Appears from the video that Brinkman had left before the meeting adjourned.

2 Responses

  1. I recall that when Council reconvened (only for adjournment), after the Exec session, it was noted that Brinkman had left, “not feeling well”. Her unprofessional meltdown found steroids it seems.

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