The masses turned out to bear witness at a special call meeting of the Marathon City Council Tuesday afternoon to determine the fate of City Manager Clyde Burnett.
City Attorney Jimmy Morales said on Sunday, the city clerk brought to his attention allegations of inappropriate conduct by the city manager that could create a liability for the city under labor and employment laws. He added that Diane Clavier included in her statement that she did not even want to come to work the next day because of the situation.
The council called the meeting to discuss three options available to address the situation.
The first option to do nothing was simply not an option.
Morales said there was a termination provision written into Burnett’s contract, but recommended placing the city manager on administrative leave until an outside human resources or labor law firm could conduct an investigation.
“I would advise you all not to get into what the allegations are or any potential facts,” Morales told the council. “I don’t want to give them any credibility, and I don’t want statements made to create potential liability.”
In his statement to the council and the public in attendance, Burnett said he has proven his passion for the city and its citizens.
“I’ve not been charged or convicted of any offense or misdeed,” Burnett stated. “I respectfully request the council give me administrative leave with pay to give me the opportunity to absolve this issue. I feel I deserve a fair and equitable opportunity. I will cooperate with any investigation into this matter.”
Following his statement, Mayor Mike Cinque opened the meeting for public comment and discussion but cautioned everyone on speaking directly about the allegations of harassment.
“If you wish to show support for Mr. Burnett or not, we’ll give everybody the opportunity if the council pleases,” Cinque said.
Community Services Director Susie Thomas said she’d worked under every city manager since the city’s inception and pledged 100 percent of her support to Burnett.
Donna Cofano, Cynthia McPherson and Walter MacDowell, all employees of the city, echoed Thomas in their pledge of support for Burnett.
Former city biologist Darla Williams called Burnett’s management style Machiavellian, adding that under his tenure, the atmosphere at city hall “became positively toxic.”
Councilman Don Vasil called the issue “most distressing” adding, “Our responsibility tonight is not to judge right or wrong, guilty or not guilty or do what is politically expedient at this particular point in time.”
After weighing each of the options out loud, Vasil said “These kinds of issues are losers for everybody. We need to be cautious here. I’d like to see this end tonight.” Adding that it would be the cheapest option, Vasil called for Burnett’s termination.
Councilman Pete Worthington said after having more than 24 hours to consider the issue, he said he would have to wait to see how the other councilman voted before he made up his mind on whether to place Burnett on leave or dismiss him on the spot.
“I think we have all heard preliminary allegations,” Worthington said. “I think we all had time to weigh preliminary allegations, and I think that is why we are all here tonight.”
Morales quickly reminded Worthington that the purpose of the meeting was not to address civil matters at hand between Burnett and Clavier.
Councilwoman Ginger Snead and Councilman Dick Ramsay both agreed that Burnett deserved his day in court to defend his position and supported his request for administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.
Cinque added that the issue has been a stressful one to the community but lamented the spread of allegations to the public.
“I think there is some politicking going on,” Cinque continued, and then asked, “What cost do you put on right and wrong? Clyde Burnett does have a right to have his defense heard by this council before we make an arbitrary decision without the facts.”
The council will hear recommendations from Morales of three possible firms to conduct the investigation on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at their regularly scheduled meeting.