With its changes to the city manager’s job description it appears Mayor Linda Joy Sullivan and the four other council members plan to take over the job of supervising city employees. This is a terrible idea.
In the best of circumstances it would be a bad idea to give that responsibility to a board with the power to change the city’s personnel policy with a simple vote. But these are not the best circumstances.
By its treatment of Karen Geraghty and its willingness to entertain complaints about Public Works Director Tom Bernier in secret without giving him a chance to respond, this council has shown that it is unfit to make decisions that affect city employees’ work environment.
Quite properly, the council votes to appoint department heads at the reorganization meeting held immediately after the city’s annual meeting each March.
It is also a proper use of council authority to create a framework for employee relations in the form of its personnel policy. That should be enough of a guide to allow anyone entrusted with the office of city manager to make sure employees are performing their jobs as they are expected to.
Adding a political element to the process is not helpful and, frankly, is not fair.
Unionized employees have a well established grievance process they can use if they believe they have been unfairly treated. Inserting the council at the start of that process undercuts the authority of those workers’ supervisor.
In the case of Mr. Bernier, the council invited workers to a lengthy complaint session under the guise of evaluating a public employee. Mr. Bernier has said he didn’t know he was the subject of such an evaluation and was not invited to say his piece.
In the case of Ms. Geraghty, who remains interim city manager even though contract negotiations have been cut off, the job description advertised was changed by the council after she accepted the post. Granted, the council managed to rescind her hiring by rewriting minutes so they reflected what some council members wished had happened, but whether anyone favors Ms. Geraghty’s appointment or not, nobody would wish to be treated as she has been by the council.
As everyone knows, Newport has serious problems. The council doesn’t need to be one of them.
By refusing to do business in public by taking every legal opportunity to go into executive session, and by focusing on expanding its power, rather than looking for ways to improve the city they are sworn to serve, its members are showing themselves unworthy of the trust reposed in them by the citizens of Newport.
They are the people who have the ultimate ability to judge the job performance of their employees, the city council. It might be the best course to fire the lot of them when the opportunity arises at the next two annual meetings.