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Community Forum: ICMA Witch Hunt

An open letter to the University City City Council.

Council:

I prepared a rebuttal (below my name) to the ICMA witch hunt. I've tried to be straight up in my analysis. Yes, I support Lehamn as city manager. But I go my own way issue by issue. He wants a new police station. I definitely do not. You get the idea.

At the end of the day, I took a close look at the ICMA claims and had a WTF moment.

The ICMA is a club and they have the right to mis-apply their written rules and to sanction members as they see fit. But their ethics are not our ethics. Lehman Walker was critical of the Feier administration. This played a part in his leaving U City for Evanston. This is no secret. In privately discussing the Feier administration with Lynn Ricci he simply referenced some actions that he framed as "just cause" for termination as per her contract. He did not use a pejorative nor did he attack Ms. Feier personally nor did he impugn her motives. Heck, he did just what the ICMA did to him except that he was correct in his assessment. To one of the points, council has the right under our charter to make inquiries of staff. Ms. Feier attempted to take that right away. And to be totally accurate, this point was raised by Ms. Ricci not by Mr. Walker.

This ICMA business should never make it to the dais thereby giving dignity where there is none.

The ICMA accuses Mr. Walker of these actions:

  1. Mr. Walker failed to fulfill his ethical obligation to serve a two‐year tenure by resigning from his position after nine months to take the position as city manager in University City.
  2. While working for another local government, Mr. Walker communicated with a University City council member and mayoral candidate about city business; made comments criticizing the University City manager’s performance; and did not inform the University City manager about the discussions.
  3. Mr. Walker sent his résumé to the mayoral candidate shortly before the election.

and concludes that they violate the following tenets of the ICMA ethical code:

Tenet 2

Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant.

Tenet 3

Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the respect and confidence of the elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public.

Tenet 4

Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all people.

I want everyone to play along at home and see if you can match the action to the tenet violated (and no cheating by going back to the ). Answers at the end. While you're scratching your head please feel free to consider how utterly wrongheaded Tenet (4) is. I'll give you but one example (of many). Turning off the driving range lights is in the best interests of some U City residents while turning them on is in the best interests of other U City residents.

Government is about competing interests. The greater good and all that. It is impossible to serve the best interests of all the people.

Let's pick the low hanging fruit first. The guideline for tenet (4) states "A minimum of two years generally is considered necessary in order to render a professional service to the local government. A short tenure should be the exception rather than a recurring experience." The key words are: generally, exception, and recurring. The ICMA board stated "Mr. Walker failed to fulfill his ethical obligation to serve a two‐year tenure by resigning from his position after nine months to take the position as city manager in University City."

That dog don't hunt.

Mr. Walker's tenure at Evanston was an exception. At no other time in his career has he held a position for less than 2 years. He was a department head in U City for 11 years. He left Evanston for a promotion, not for a lateral nor for a warmer climate. In the worst economy since the great depression Mr. Walker had the opportunity to advance his career and he took it with the blessing of his boss in Evanston. That is not an ethical violation of the ICMA tenet. His short stay in Evanston was an 'exception' for good reason and was/is not part of a 'recurring' pattern.

The guideline for tenet (3) states "Members should not seek employment for a position having an incumbent administrator who has not resigned or been officially informed that his or her services are to be terminated."

The ICMA board stated "Mr. Walker also sent his résumé to the mayoral candidate shortly before the election." First, you can't seek employment from one who can not give you employment. Ms. Welsch was not a member of the council at that time. Only council may hire or fire the city manager. The mere act of passing your resume along is called networking. It is commonly done in all professions and is not an ethical violation. Also remember that the incumbent city manager and her husband were actively seeking to return to Colorado as she had applied in late 2009 for a position as town administrator in Lyons, Colorado (a town much smaller than U City):

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/deb-peterson/article_b11b8307-c2b3-5878-98e6-08a3ab3fad1b.html

Julie Feier came to U City from a job in Colorado and is now working at Western State College of Colorado. Julie Feier was actively planning to leave U City. The protection in which the ICMA wishes to blanket incumbents assumes that an administrator wishes to stay in his/her position. Julie Feier lost all rights to such protection based on her actions.

The guideline for tenet (2) states "When members advise and respond to inquiries from elected or appointed officials of other local governments, they should inform the administrators of those communities."

The ICMA board stated "While working for another local government, Mr. Walker communicated with a University City council member and mayoral candidate about city business; made comments criticizing the University City manager’s performance; and did not inform the University City manager about the discussions." A mayoral candidate is not an "elected or appointed official" so any thoughts Mr. Walker passed on to Ms. Welsch do not violate this tenet. The ICMA press release further clarifies the intent of this ethical tenet by stating "Such ongoing communication, especially when it is unknown to the incumbent, can be disruptive to the administration of the organization and undermine the incumbent manager." But the statements to Ms. Ricci were made in missives to a private email address and were assumed private communiques by Mr. Walker. His thoughts were not expressed on social media sites nor on blogs nor to news media. These emails were not made public until after Julie Feier moved to Colorado and not by Ms. Ricci. Mr. Walker had worked closely with Ms. Ricci while she was on U City's council. He had a good working relationship with her. His characterization of Ms. Feier was shared by Ms. Ricci. He was preaching to the choir and in no way affected her opinion. Mr. Walker may have violated the wording of the tenet (2) guideline, but he did not violate the intent. Mr. Walker's emails to Ms. Ricci did not "disrupt the administration" nor did it 'undermine' Ms. Feier. But the rub is that, ICMA ethics aside, individuals have personal ethics. At the time of these emails, Mr. Walker owned property in U City and had many friends in the community. Ms. Feier publicly stated that the budget could not be balanced without new revenue. She claimed that all departments were cut to the bone. Mr. Walker found his own personal ethics in conflict with the ICMA ethics as he had a vested interest in the well being of our community. He chose to follow his conscience and offered advice on how to cut the budget deficit without curtailing city services.

It has been stated by some that the action of the ICMA board puts Mr. Walker in violation of his employment contract with U City. That is false. These so called violations occurred before Mr. Walker signed his contract. His contract does not have a time machine clause. The ICMA code of ethics tenets are incorporated into Mr. Walker's contract by reference. And that is it. Any action by the ICMA is irrelevant to his employment contract. He must abide by the ICMA code of ethics in the eyes of council and their eyes only. Also note that the ICMA guidelines are not incorporated into his contract, only the tenets. On the ICMA
website the heading "ICMA Code of Ethics" lists just the tenets. But to see the guidelines you must go to the document "ICMA Code of Ethics with Guidelines." The tenets and the guidelines are separate. Good luck judging Mr. Walker based on the tenet language alone. That is why I opened with the pop quiz.

QUIZ ANSWERS:

The ICMA concluded that Action (1) violates Tenet (4), that Action (2)
violates Tenet (2), and that Action (3) violates Tenet (3).  

How well did you do?

Lisa K March 09, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Who is the "we" who wants to investigate credentials?
Lisa K March 09, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I am an independent thinker, like others on this forum. I voted for the mayor, and think that some of what she has worked to accomplish is good for our city. I do not expect to agree with everything that our officials do, but that is okay. They have a job to do, ans i want to trust that they can fulfill their duties in a way that is appropriate for our city. What bothers me (and this has nothing to do with the upcoming election, or who did what to who in the past) is the way our leaders have chosen to respond to certain events, such as the censure. This is not about a minority of citizens trying to push an agenda. This is about independent thinkers who are concerned about what is happening at City Hall, not online.
George Lenard March 09, 2012 at 01:54 PM
The "we" who wants to investigate credentials is "Kelly Anonymous" who asks about Greg Pace's credentials. Perhaps I should have said "one." There's a tidbit or two about Greg Pace here: http://tinyurl.com/7gn7q3x
Lisa K March 09, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Thanks for clearing that up, George. Guilty of not rereading the whole thread.
George Lenard March 09, 2012 at 02:17 PM
No problem, Lisa. It's getting a bit long and convoluted.

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