Five U City Residents File Suit Against City of U City Alleging Sunshine Violations; Ask That Hiring of City Manager be Voided
Hiring of City Manager Lehman Walker last year is at the center of suit brought by five University City residents.
Five University City residents have filed a lawsuit against the city of University City, claiming it violated Missouri's Sunshine Law in its hiring of City Manager Lehman Walker last year.
The suit, which was filed in the St. Louis County Circuit Court on Tuesday, also alleges numerous other Sunshine violations by the City.
The plaintiffs are Paulette Carr, Mark and Tamara Donohoe, Steve McMahon and Tom Sullivan. The suit asks that Walker's appointment to city manager be voided, and that the City Council be found in violation of the Sunshine Law.
The five also want civil penalties assessed as well as reimbursement for attorneys fees and costs incurred in bringing the suit.
In a press release that accompanied their petition, the plaintiffs allege city officials deceived residents about the city manager selection process, by announcing at the end of April of 2010 that a search was being conducted or would be conducted.
In their press release, the plaintiffs said, "The city manager’s job was never posted or advertised as planned, no questionnaires were ever distributed to citizens, no search firm was ever contracted with and no search was ever conducted. No meeting was held seeking public input. The only candidate interviewed was Lehman Walker."
The plaintiffs point to email correspondence they obtained from Walker's previous employer in Evanston, Illinois, between Walker and Shelley Welsch.
The email from Walker to Welsch is dated April 1, 2010, five days before Welsch was elected mayor. The email's subject line reads; Resume for Lehman Walker. The text states "Hello Shelley, As discussed. Lehman."
After the council voted to hire Walker on July 12, 2010, Welsch sent Walker an email at 6:42pm, which states "The deed is done. It went well."
Walker, whose hiring is at the center of the lawsuit, told University City Patch he had "no comment on pending litigation."
For almost twelve years Walker worked as U City's director of Community Development, before he left in November 2009 to become director of Community Development in Evanston, Illinois.
Click here to read the resume Walker submitted to University City officials.
In an email to University City Patch on Wednesday, Mayor Shelley Welsch defended the City's hiring of Walker.
She wrote,"Under the Charter of the City of University City, the City Council has the full authority in the hiring of the City Manager. Six members of this City Council voted to hire Mr. Walker as City Manager." Councilmember Terry Crow voted against offering Walker an employment contract.
In her email, Welsch said Walker has extensive experience in municipal government - "more experience than any previous City Manager had upon his/her hiring," she wrote. She said in Walker's first eight months in office, University City has been well served by him. She added the City "will continue to benefit from his expertise and professional approach to municipal management for years to come."
In a letter posted on the City's official website that's dated July 29, 2010, Mayor Welsch addressed the City's path to hiring Walker.
"The City Council chose to hire Mr. Walker without going through a national search. Although the Council had planned to do a national search, when we became aware of Mr. Walker’s strong interest in the job, and the equally strong support for him that existed on the Council, we realized he would rise to the top of any applicant pool," she wrote in that letter to residents.
She also said "We felt it was in the best interest of the City to truncate the search, to not spend the money and time the national search would involve."
Plaintiff Paulette Carr said the suit is intended to hold city officials accountable for their actions. “Mayor Shelley Welsch and the city council had the responsibility to select the best person for the city manager’s job and do so in a lawful manner. They failed to meet those responsibilities," Carr wrote.
The plaintiffs obtained copies of Walker's e-mails through a Freedom of Information request.
Residents wishing to read copies of the email exchanges can go to www.ucitycitizen.org.
Click here if you want to know more about Missouri's Sunshine Law.