HAWTHORNE ‒ A City of Hawthorne employee complaint sparked a Special City Commission meeting Tuesday night after the employee contacted city commissioners about an incident with City Manager Ellen Vause.
Concern over the reason for the Special Commission meeting was so strong in the community that the meeting room had more citizens in attendance than could be accommodated, with people standing in doorways, against walls and in an adjacent room. Some had heard rumors about the meeting and others expressed concern that the posted agenda was vague and City employees referred callers to the mayor when they asked for details.
Vause, who has been City Manager for approximately eight years, had reprimanded a City Public Works Department employee because she believed that something he was doing would adversely impact the City’s ability to obtain a grant; something she had been working to obtain for the City.
It is the city manager’s authority to hire, fire and reprimand employees, but the issue between the two became heated and Vause finished her reprimand by swearing. At issue also was that the employee was reprimanded in front of other employees; something Surrency and others suggested might better have been done privately.
Commissioner Jacquelyn Randall brought up instances in which she believed Vause had either been inconsistent or negligent in her procedures. She further expressed concern that there were no negative notes in the City Manager’s employee file, which she believed should have been there.
Surrency suggested that a letter be placed into Vause’s file regarding the way in which she handled this interaction with her employee so there would be a paper record available and to help the Commission determine if improvements were made following this incident.
Vice-Mayor Deloris Roberts-Cheatham suggested the City’s Charter should be changed to reflect grievance procedures. The City Attorney suggested instead that those issues would be best spelled out in the City’s Employee Manual as a change in the Charter was a lengthy process.
Commissioner Patricia Bouie-Hutchinson said she hadn’t been aware of some of the issues Commissioner Randall raised and wants those issues addressed. The City Attorney reminded the Commissioners that the purpose of the meeting was this one incident and that her advice was not to address other issues.
Several citizens addressed the Commission to express their feelings about the issues. Comments offered both supported and opposed Vause.
At Surrency’s suggestion, commissioners unanimously approved three measures, one of which would be a letter he composes to be placed in Vause’s file, and would bring back to the next Commission meeting for final approval.
Surrency also offered that an evaluation process should take place to establish a base line and he offered to work with the City Clerk to review criteria from other similar cities and provide it to Commissioners before the next meeting.
He also suggested that the City schedule a policies workshop to evaluate the current policies.
Vause addressed the Commission, saying she would hold an employee meeting Thursday morning and provide each employee with an employee manual with the grievance procedures highlighted. She indicated she had done this previously, but would do so again.
Vause’s employment contract runs through August 2022.
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