This time, also, the legality of the dismissal (which was for cause, according to the board) is being called into question on three grounds:
- His contract says he can’t be dismissed without cause within 120 days after the municipal election, which was in April,
- His contract requires him an opportunity, if fired for cause, to appear before the board and present his case, and
- The causes given for his firing don’t meet the severity required in the contract.
The causes for his firing, in a document provided to Thomas by alderwoman Ilda Kennon, are here (a couple of employee names redacted). The document opens as follows:
Terry Thomas, city administrator, has failed to competently perform his duties for the past year and a half, His tenure as city administrator has been one of turmoil. It’s time to stop blaming previous administrators, city clerks, & auditors. Take ownership of the city’s problems & move forward.
The document claims dishonesty, incompetence, and insubordination, among other accusations. The Pevely 20/20 site responds to a couple of the items in this document (scroll down to the June 3 posts). The insubordination claim refers to his comments made at the May 5 board meeting (video here (he comes in at the end) and here), during which he questioned aldermen about comments they had made and mocked their priorities while stating what he thought were the city’s real issues.
I did think the meeting remarks were improper for a city administrator to direct to the board that employs him, and thought they might have served as Terry’s invitation to dismiss him. I also wonder about that 120-day provision in his contract. Is that normal, or was that put there by the old board, which was more friendly to Thomas, to protect him in case the subsequent election turned out as it did, with all the incumbents losing? (Update: I have learned that this standard language).
Contract Not in Effect?
However, the mayor, board, and interim city attorney (in place after the city’s attorney was fired, then the city was fired as a client by that attorney’s firm) say that Thomas didn’t sign the contract, thus making its provisions irrelevant. The city attorney, Tom Duggan, also said, according to the Leader, that “there needed to be an ordinance, not just a resolution, for Thomas to have an enforceable contract with the city.” This is what the relevant city ordinance says:
SECTION 115.190: REMOVAL
The City Administrator shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Aldermen of the City of Pevely, Missouri, and may be dismissed at will in the same manner as other appointed municipal officers pursuant to Section 79.240, RSMo. (R.O. 2004 §115.060; CC 1990 §115.060; Ord. No. 417 §6, 3-31-81)
So, as I read this, Thomas’ contract was/would have been in conflict with this section, and so he was working as an at-will employee. Maybe that’s why an ordinance would be needed, to change the current fact that the city administrator can be removed “at the pleasure of the Board.”
But this may well end up in court.