Fast-Tracking a Golden Parachute for City Administrator Print
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Wednesday, 11 April 2007 02:12

Editor's note: Prior to press time, the Davenport City Council tabled the appointment of John Nahra and canceled meetings scheduled for April 11 and 12.


Last week, eight Davenport aldermen and the mayor signed what several of them thought was a petition seeking the reorganization of the city legal department that had been drafted nearly a year ago but vetoed twice by the mayor. Following the petition - less than a week later - the demotion of sitting corporation counsel Mary Thee (without a formal performance review), a revision of the ordinance governing the council's supervisory purview of the legal department, and the hiring of retired Judge John Nahra to replace Thee were all on the table for a special council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 10, at 5 p.m. The administrator's office scheduled three special meetings - for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - in case Tuesday's meeting did not result in a waiving of the "three readings" requirement for an ordinance change.

The licentiousness of this administration and certain members of the city council knows no bounds. Once again, city leaders are trying to foist their agenda on the backs of taxpayers with a ridiculously benefit-heavy contract (for example: $124,000 salary with a guaranteed 5-percent increase each year and paid health care for 25 years regardless of termination for both employee and spouse) for the proposed new head of the legal department, in this case Judge Nahra, in order to set the precedent for ordinance changes later on that will protect the equally ridiculous employment contract currently in place for City Administrator Craig Malin.

Unfortunately, many of the aldermen who signed the petition because they earnestly believe in a more accountable and responsive legal department were unaware that proposed changes to the accompanying ordinance that was drafted Monday, April 9, do not accomplish this legitimate goal. Aldermen are seeking oversight of the legal department by shifting it from the city administrator to the city council. However, the April 9 ordinance - via vague and open-for-interpretation language, and a clause that expressly calls for the administrator having operating oversight that covers the hiring and firing of legal-department personnel - leaves said control with the city administrator and completely undermines the intention of at least five aldermen, including Aldermen Meyer, Hamerlinck, Lynn, Ambrose, and Van Fossen.

While aldermen need to read the documents and make the comparisons, how dare the administrator and mayor conspire to fast-track such sweeping changes to the city code that absolutely negatively impact taxpayers, leaving us exposed for even greater risk and/or financial obligations in the future. If the ordinance as drafted on April 9 goes through, the city will have set a precedent allowing a department head's employment contract/agreement and severance package to be part of city code. Davenport's current city code does not include these nuances as part of the ordinance governing the administrator's compensation, and this now presents a big problem for Administrator Malin.

Why? Because the Iowa Court of Appeals recently upheld a January 2007 decision by the Iowa District Court of Story County (William H. Bass Vs. The City of Huxley) that a city administrator's contract does not supersede a city's ordinance. This means that the city is obligated under the terms of the ordinance, and that it trumps any other agreement. By initiating language into an ordinance governing the compensation of a city employee, the groundwork is laid to incorporate the same protection(s) for Administrator Malin's utterly bloated severance package.

The April 9 amended ordinance reads as follows: "The corporation counsel shall be appointed by the city administrator, with the approval of the mayor and city council. The corporation counsel shall be appointed pursuant to employment and severance terms specified within an employment agreement, approved by resolution of the city council."

The next order of business would be for Malin to cite this amendment as appropriate for inclusion in the ordinance governing his employment agreement and severance, which currently reads: "2.30.050 City administrator - Dismissal. The Mayor or any two members of city council may initiate a resolution to dismiss the city administrator at any time. A two-thirds majority vote of the membership of the entire city council is required to pass the resolution of dismissal."

This would more firmly protect his precious severance against any challenge that may present itself should Malin be terminated. Imagine all the energy being expended here by a few people to covertly exact their own agendas at the expense of the public process or regard for taxpayers.

This civic ruse should be all that the council needs to finally recognize how little regard Malin and Mayor Winborn have for them and for the citizens of Davenport. The above aldermen, with the exception of Ambrose, are on the record claiming that most of the process relative to this so-called "reorganization," including the intent to fast-track it by either suspending the "three readings" rule, or holding three consecutive special meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for the purpose of conducting the necessary three readings, was done unbeknown to them and without their input or approval. Hopefully, they have no intention of allowing this to be fast-tracked, and are committed to challenging the appointment of Nahra by insisting on more thorough due diligence and requesting additional applicants as proper protocol dictates. Let's hope they demonstrate the same commitment to leaving severance and employment agreements out of any amended ordinances. But, obviously, the proof of this will be how each votes on this poseur of an ordinance throughout the week.

blog comments powered by Disqus