Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bonner city manager lands on hotseat

August 11, 2011

Some members of the Bonner Springs City Council Monday made an attempt to not renew the contract for city manager John “Jack” Helin.

The issue arose when the council was considering an amendment to the city manager’s contract and an ordinance establishing the salary of the city manager to allow for the 1.8 percent salary increase the council had decided would be given to all employees in the 2012 budget, but retroactively effective as of July 16. A motion to approve that item failed and was followed by a motion to not extend Helin’s contract, though it was unclear if the motion would take effect immediately. While the contract amendment and raise eventually passed, it required two half-hour executive sessions for the council to determine the final vote.

Mayor Clausie Smith said he was “blindsided” by the four council members’ support of the motion in opposition of Helin.

“I’m not going to speculate on what their goals are, why it came up, or what they were hoping to accomplish,” Smith said after the meeting. “But I will say that Jack Helin is an excellent city manager. You look at what we’ve done in the last several years, without raising property taxes … he’s done an outstanding, outstanding job.”

The 1.8 percent increase raises Helin’s salary to $104,968, and Smith confirmed that Helin’s annual performance review had been discussed in an executive session at a previous council meeting with no indication of problems. Smith noted that even with the salary increase, Helin’s annual salary would be less than that of the Edwardsville city administrator.

But council members George Cooper, Racheal Haas, Eric Freeman and Jack Knight voted in opposition to a motion to approve the amendment to Helin’s contract, and with council member Bob Reeves absent from the meeting, the motion failed 4-3.

Smith then made a statement regarding the situation.

“Let’s face the facts, folks; if we lose the city manager, we’re going to be spending $100,000 to replace him,” Smith said.

He added there was no reason to vote against the city manager when an employee has as high of an evaluation as Helin received.

Council member Jeff Harrington asked that the issue be tabled until the full council was present, but Cooper then made a motion not to renew Helin’s contract, seconded by Knight.

Helin’s contract automatically renewed on his anniversary date, July 22, and it was unclear in the wording of Cooper’s motion if the non-renewal of Helin’s contract would take effect immediately, terminating his employment. The Chieftain was unable to contact Cooper for comment following the meeting, but Helin said it was his understanding that the intention of the motion was to terminate his employment.

After a heavy moment of silence, Harrington stated that he felt the council was in “very tenuous territory” and asked that the council go into an executive session not to exceed 30 minutes to discuss non-elected personnel.

After 30 minutes, Harrington announced that the council would go back into another session not to exceed 30 minutes. Both executive sessions ended at the 30-minute mark with a motion to go out of session with no action taken.

Once back in open session, Cooper stated that he would not withdraw his motion to not renew Helin’s contract, but the motion did not pass. Haas joined Harrington, Tom Stephens and Rodger Shannon in voting against the motion.

Harrington made a motion to extend Helin’s contract with the raise, seconded by Shannon, which passed 4-3 in a reversal of the previous vote.

After the vote, Smith cautioned that discussion of the issue needed to be continued.

“In the very near future, we will need to have an executive session to discuss the matter with the city manager,” he said.

After the meeting, Smith said the council members voting against the renewal of the contract indicated their main complaint about Helin was his level of customer service.

“But dealing with the public is an extremely small part of what he does,” Smith said. “We need someone who can lead us down the path of financial security, and that’s what he does.”

Had the motion passed, Smith said he intended to ask that the action be rescinded at the next council meeting, with the full council present.

“I strongly believe a decision of that nature should not be made without a full council on hand,” he said.

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