Our Opinion: Missing the point

Monday, April 17, 2006

An editorial in the April 6 Chronicle Times was critical of the way that the termination of the Cherokee deputy city clerk was handled. The city administrator carried out the termination after informally polling city council members.

It was the position of the editorial that since the deputy city clerk position was an appointment of the city council, it was up to the city council to make the termination and the informal polling cannot be considered a formal decision of the council.

The language in the city code that we believe made the city council responsible for the termination is "all persons appointed to city office or employment may be removed by the officer or body making the appointment…"

At the time the editorial ran, there was no action pending known to us for the city council to take any action on the matter. Since that time, the council took formal action reaffirming the termination.

One of the council members submitted to us a written disagreement to our editorial position. Although this was not given anonymously, it was not signed so has not being treated as a letter to the editor. The written commentary was accompanied by a section of the city code enumerating the responsibilities of the city administrator relating to personnel, which included (highlighted by the councilman), "…have the authority to suspend, demote or discharge summarily any appointee or employee under the jurisdiction of the administrator…"

All of the items enumerated under this section of code have the qualification -- "subject to approval of the Council." That qualification, together with the language of the other section of the code referred to earlier in this editorial leads us to believe that the most appropriate action for a city administrator who believes a termination of a council appointee is necessary would be to suspend the employee pending formal action of the council.

The written note we received stated, "As I read it, the council MAY be responsible, but the city administrator may also terminate an employee who's been appointed."

We disagree, but acknowledge that reasonable people prone to argue fine points of semantics (they're usually called lawyers) could disagree.

However, the main point of our editorial on April 6 has been missed. The main point is that, whether or not it is legal for council members to communicate and make decisions through third party relays or phone conversations, it is a bad thing to do.

If a decision is made by the council, it should be made in a formal meeting. If a matter qualifies for going into closed session, then the council should go into closed session in accordance with city code and state laws which grant specific exemptions to the open meetings law. Otherwise, the meeting needs to be public.

Convoluted forms of communication to avoid a quorum being present is a bad habit. We urge the Cherokee City Council and other public bodies to get out of that habit.