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Mayor, Council Urged to Walk Softly in Treating Employees
Posting Date: 07/25/2011

Michael McGreer

The debate over the recall of Mesquite City Councilman Karl Gustaveson has been framed around his swing-vote decision to dismiss former city Manager Tim Hacker.

However, a recall is probably unnecessary if the intent is to blunt his influence on public policy in general and individuals in particular.

For all practical purposes Gustaveson has been sidelined by the newly elected Mayor and three new city councilmen. Gustaveson's hope of becoming Mayor Pro-tem was dashed by the appointment of Councilman Geno Withelder to that position. Further his detractors have pledged to consistently and publicly, highlight his failure to listen to public input and his offensive criticism of others.

It's important to make a distinction between those formerly elected officials and the newly elected three. The former Mayor and former council members were often criticized for both the quality and the reasons for their decisions. The new Mayor and new city councilmen seem to be made of different stuff and are taking their promise to pour sunshine on public decisions seriously.

In addition to sunshine, the newly elected three appear to be changing some city processes that are, or appear illegal, inappropriate, or harmful to the public interest. Thus Gustaveson is likely sidelined simply because he is hanging onto the past in an entirely new decision making environment. How Gustaveson handles all this during the next two years will be a test of his desire to serve in the public eye. If he stands for reelection it will be up to the voter to decide if he is fit to continue holding office.

Certainly, citizens cannot expect changes in all areas that need attention overnight. Indeed, some problems, such as the budget, employee and union rationalization will take at least three budget cycles to resolve.

Because of budget austerity, and the use of at-will employment practices, city employees have cause to worry about their jobs. Worry reduces productivity.

When employees see the former city manager fired without cause, and more recently, they see Catherine Lorbeer, the Director of Planning and Redevelopment dismissed ostensibly for fiscal reasons, it intensifies their anxiety.

Applying the at-will doctrine is fundamentally injurious to the public and against the

public good and it must be modified if the city expects employees to remain hopeful and productive. First, and foremost, at-will practices are a perversion of the due process clause of the constitution which guarantees fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty.

The at-will approach dates back to the Industrial Revolution where employment relationship were viewed as a master-servant agreement where employees were domestic servants and could be dismissed at will.

For decades, modern public administrators have viewed the at-will policy as morally reprehensible and courts are routinely overturning the policy especially when applied to individuals working for governments or organizations receiving federal funds. In particular, courts are looking at the firing of highly paid professionals who are vulnerable to the improper demands of employers who play fast and loose with issues that would otherwise be exposed as fraud, waste and abuse.

Fortunately, the courts are protecting these, and other public employees, arguing that the application of at-will has a tendency to be injurious to the public, and is against the public good.

In Brooks v. Cooper, 26 A. 978, 981 the court noted that: whatever tends to injustice or oppression, restraint of liberty, restraint of legal right; whatever tends to the obstruction of justice, a violation of a statute, or the obstruction or perversion of the administration of the law; whatever tends to interfere with or control the administration of the law, as to executive, legislative, or other official action, whenever embodied in, and made the subject of, a contract, the contract is against public policy, and therefore void, and not susceptible of enforcement.”

The new Mayor and the city council need to walk softly in making employee reduction decisions. They all lack professional public administrative experience and could easily walk down a path, in the name of budget solution, that costs more then they save.

Gustaveson, in particular, has played fast and loose with government employee decisions in the past. Hopefully, the newly elected majority will recognized that budget and employee decisions are bound in legal frameworks that not even city attorney Cheryl Truman Hunt seems to appreciate.

Michael M. McGreer writes on public policy. His books: No Harm, No Foul, Bioterrorism in the 21st century, and All Rivers Flow West, Click here to see his blog


  • Posted Date: 07/25/2011
    In response to your comments about Karl Gustaveson, he always supported the past Mayor over the will of the public. The last six months of her office, she appeared to go on a tyraid for revenge. She used the death of Donna Fairchild to put a councilmember on the council who was also sypathetic to her cause. In spite of this person being voted out of office, Karl supported the Mayor in getting him back on the council instead of other better qualified candidates. This move allowed for the dismissal of the City Manger as a "lame duck" council rether than allow the new Mayor and Council the opportunity to make that decision. Karl also voted for a pay cut for the new Mayor and new councilmambers knowing his salary was exempt. It was not just the City Manager.
    By: Past CM
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