First City Attorney Wayne Coment announced his retirement, then City Clerk Tammy Bursick was offered retirement or be fired and did neither (with help from the public and her attorney). Now City Manager Jim O’Connor has announced his retirement. The three top City officials have either retired or were almost forced out. So why? And why now?
Happy New Year? Not likely. Looking ahead, it will probably be an unusually difficult year, so this might be a good time to jump ship. But wait, Bursick wasn’t trying to jump ship. Instead she successfully resisted efforts to push her overboard. So what other reason could have precipitated these actions?
For starters, these were the three members of the City Canvassing Board. They voted unanimously to reinstate Linda Hillman and Brian Heady as candidates for City Council after they had been disqualified, drawing the ire of at least one incumbent member of the Council. At that meeting, the Canvassing Board – Coment, O’Connor and Bursick – tasked City Council with setting the date for a new election.
City Council refused. That led to a lawsuit by Hillman against the City. City Council refused to budge. That lead to Hillman seeking an injunction to put the November 6 election on hold. Judge Paul Kanarek agreed. City Council met privately and decided by a 3-2 vote to settle the lawsuit, paving the way for a new City Council election on February 26.
So back to the City Canvassing Board members who either retired or were almost forced out since all this went down. Could it be retribution for their part in the election fiasco? Or possibly it was retribution simply for reinstating Hillman and Heady, particularly Hillman, because they or she posed a threat to the current Council majority if elected?
The current Council’s actions over the past year have met with a great deal of anger from many citizens over selling or
leasing City assets against the public’s wishes. Hillman announced her candidacy back in July 2018, firmly opposed to City Council’s actions. Councilman Lange Sykes, one of the three-person majority on City Council, had announced his decision not to seek reelection, leaving the critical third person majority position open. Council members Laura Moss and Tony Young, both vocal opponents of the current three-man majority, were up for reelection. They were joined by Hillman and
Heady as the only candidates, with Hillman clearly opposed to the current majority’s positions. At that point it seemed as though a new City Council majority would be elected on November 6.
Facebook posts and rude comments by City Council members were directed at Hillman almost from the time she announced her candidacy. But she persisted. On Friday, September 7, the last day to qualify as a candidate, Robert McCabe and Robert Brackett announced their candidacy. On Tuesday, September 11, Hillman and Heady were disqualified from the race. They both felt their disqualification was unjustified and appealed to the City Canvassing Board to be reinstated. The Board agreed and ultimately we have a February 26 special election featuring all six candidates.
Getting back to the three City Canvassing Board members who reinstated Hillman and Heady, were they paying the ultimate price (in a political way) for upsetting what might have been an effort to eliminate the one candidate who could cost them a majority?
We may never know, but the best result from all this is the opportunity to tighten up the entire election process so it doesn’t happen again. The City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk would be key to making these improvements. But with two of them retiring and the third on a perpetual hot seat, who will ensure these improvements are made? And do we need to worry about mischief leading up to the February 26 special election?