Recently the Mayor’s executive assistant was let go from her position with the city of Oak Harbor. This assistant was not hired by this mayor but was retained by this administration from the 2 previous Mayors of our city.
I spoke to the Mayor about his decision and he did not want to go into the personal detailsof the reasoning behind his executive assistants replacement but stated that the position she filled was being changed from this person being not only his personal assistant but also an ombudsman for the Mayors administration so that better lines of communications could be opened between the City Administration and the citizens of our city. He stated he felt that this was the best decision that he could make for the benefit of Oak Harbor and was surprised again at the lawsuit stating that it is pretty common for Mayor’s to have executive assistants of their choosing and not have one that was chosen by predecessors.
It is interesting that we have another at will city employee filing a lawsuit over a perfectly legal termination. At will employees serve at the will of the person or organization hiring them and are owed no reason for their termination and accept this fact upon their hire. It is very common in municipal administrations to hire at will employees that serve at the will of the administration as when the administration changes during the election cycles so do a lot of the at will administrative personnel. This is the only way an elected official like a Mayor can have any control over the administration that he is in charge of managing.
In the past we have seen other Oak Harbor Mayor’s clean house in a similar way when they are elected to office. The most recent house cleaning was done by the newly elected Mayor Patty Cohen when she terminated the employment of City Supervisor E.T. Silvers, Police Chief Tony Barge, Planner Tom Burdett, Engineer Ryan Goodman, Human Resources Director Andy Keene and City Administrator Thom Myers for a total of 6 at will employees terminated. Please note that not one of the above filed a lawsuit against the city as they knew upon their hire that they were at will employees just as the Mayor’s executive assistant does.
Here is what the Municipal Research Service Center of Washington states about Employee Terminations and at will employment:
It is certainly troubling to see this lawsuit brought against the city and the mayor by the Mayor’s former executive assistant. Apparently the Mayor and the city attempted to offer this person a severance agreement package that included payment and benefits that were in excess of what she otherwise would have been entitled to under her existing contract with the city and this is also after the Mayor kept her as his executive assistant while she was going through troubling times. I guess this just shows how far people will go to undermine the concept of at will employment in the city of Oak Harbor.
We obviously have lawyers in our city that will take advantage of any opportunity to benefit from this at will employment status that the city has with many of its employees. It is very interesting that this same lawyer that encourages these lawsuits against the city is also one of the biggest supporters of some of the members of the current city council. Influencing the council to write these at will contracts an then benefit from these same contracts when employees are terminated seems to be double dealing at its finest. I would certainly question our city council members who gain support from this attorney as this type of support certainly does not seem to be in the best interest of the city, its citizens or it’s employees especially when attorney fees are factored into the equation.
For a little background the city of Oak Harbor hires employees either as at will employees or as for cause employees. The difference between these 2 employment statuses is that the at will employee can be terminated at the will of the administration when changes are necessary and the for cause employee can only be terminated when there is an issue with their employment and for cause. In most cases the employees who accept employment with the city understand the status of their employment with the city and accept the fact that they are hired either a for cause or an at will position and accept that status when hired and when fired but not anymore.
We all know it is not easy for someone to lose their employment, especially when that employment is a well paying position in a local city that has good pay and benefit packages for employees. We also know that certain positions in a city administration depend on management having confidence in the employees that they control. In the past we have seen previous Mayors fire employees from their positions with no controversy surrounding those firings presumably because the people who were let go knew the status they had with the city. Today we are seeing something different.
When Patty Cohen was Mayor 6 at will position employees were let go from city positions and there was no controversy, no lawsuit and no real contention that something was not above board. Today when Mayor Dudley decides to replace key employees an instant trip is made to one of our local attorney’s office and a lawsuit is immediately filed against the city. It is as if we have an ex city employee chasing attorney in town instead of an ambulance chaser in our midst.
It is even more interesting when you mix politics into this. The same attorney that seems to have recently filed a lawsuit for every city employee that has been terminated also supports the opponent of the Mayor who has terminated these employees. It is as if the whole city council that is currently up for election is supported by this attorney.
Below are a few links to sources about at will employee terminations, the lawsuit filed by Christon Skinner for the city employee and also a link to the at will employment contract for the terminated Mator’s executive assistant.