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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?

smith March 07, 2012 at 04:20 PM
don't lose sight of the bigger picture: these ICMA rules are a blatant antitrust violation, with the obvious objective of protecting incumbents and throttling the markets for management talent- the providers of that talent (employees seeking jobs) and the municipal employers looking, or thinking of looking, for that talent. These rules ("tenets") are clearly anticompetitive.
Kim March 07, 2012 at 05:51 PM
You can opine about the relative merits of the ICMA all you want, but a few irrefutable facts remain: 1. Lehman Walker thought highly enough of this organization to be paying member for many years. 2. The investigation went on for months, but Mr. Walker did not relinquish his membership until the 11th hour when it was clear he would be censured and barred. 3. The mayor thought highly enough of the ICMA to use it's specific code of ethics when she drafted Mr. Walker's contract. It is easy to smear the ICMA now that their principles no longer suit Ms. Welsch and Mr. Walker, but it is clear that for many years they held the organization in high regard.
George Lenard March 07, 2012 at 06:47 PM
If the Council publicly adopted Greg's arguments as a response to calls for disciplinary action, including those I have made, it would be a reasonable public resolution, and a better explanation than the statement from the Mayor. This is no "smear" of the ICMA. Greg has laid down the gauntlet in a manner that demands that those who disagree point specifically to where and how he is incorrect.
Kim March 07, 2012 at 07:03 PM
George, he refers to the ICMA's investigation as a "witch hunt." If that doesn't qualify as a "smear" I'm not sure what does.
Nora March 07, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Since you raise the driving range light issue: How can you justify his refusal to consider committee recommendations in prioritizing a very small group of residents over the greater good of the community as a whole? His and Shelley's tenures have been characterized by backdoor negotiations, and ICMA at least takes that seriously. Just because political hacks on the council don't mind his lack of professionalism doesn't mean that the ICMA was wrong. The ICMA is doing a better job of protecting the interests of city residents than our pathetic council members and mayor.
Jeff Hales March 07, 2012 at 07:44 PM
The ICMA Code of Ethics webpage sumarizes the tenets. It includes a link to the full version of the "ICMA Code of Ethics (with Guidelines)". This parsing of language is a distraction from the fact that ICMA Code of Ethics IS the full document. When you read the Code of Ethics as downloaded from the website, there I think it's very hard to characterize the ICMA's actions as a "witch hunt". The strongest argument to be made in the City Manager's favor is that these things took place prior to his becoming City Manager. The ICMA's actions, legally speaking, probably are not grounds for termination, as his actions took place prior to the his employment at UCity. All of this come's back to the mayor. She looks utterly foolish for including the ICMA Code of Ethics in Mr. Walker's contract when he clearly had been in violation as part of obtaining the position. I supported the Mayor and the Council's decision to hire Walker and I actually generally approve of his performance as City Manager. I have closely followed what has transpired and I've had my own "WTF" moment as Mr. Pace so eloquently puts it. Mayor Welsch has created a political mess and a public relations nightmare and has lost the trust of many UCity Residents. She has no one to blame but herself.
Traci Moore Clay March 07, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I usually don't post comments on this site…but I need to say something. I don't want to speak for Julie Feier, but I am anyway. Julie & Matt Feier didn't want to go back to Colorado…they were pushed! For some reason, there were people out to get her out of her position even though she was a great Assistant City Manager in UC, and returned after moving to Colorado. Julie was invested in University City. She had children here, her husband was involved in the Green Center and she wanted to go door-to-door to get people to utilize the U. City Schools more…which is more than I can say for some of our residents. People need to stop speaking so ill of Julie Feier and her commitment to University CIty and focus on the craziness going on now. It's very interesting how many people can speak so freely online, not to someone's face. What I see is KARMA…what goes around comes around. The people who are doing wrong, and being so mean and outright WRONG, need to look in the mirror. Julie Feier is not the scapegoat for the bad behavior of our current administration. Move on. Julie has, and we're worse for it.
Caryn St.Clair March 07, 2012 at 09:15 PM
I am more shocked by the day as more and more of this story comes to light. What happened to the campaign promise of an open and transparent government? Apparently even 3 members of council are left out fo the loop! Greg, I respectfully disagree with your witch hunt comment. This is a respected professional organization which has a code of conduct to prevent the exact sort of thing that has happened. I don't see anyway one can defend someone who not only actively sought a job which was not open, but undermined the current job holder by suggesting to a candidate and city council member(s) ways the person could be terminated. That a city employee was also involved by feeding information to all of the parties concerned just ups the slime factor. We, as a household have been very supportive of the current administration, but I'm afraid this is it for us. Our trust in these people as leaders has been shattered.
Steve March 07, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Mr. Pace is just wrong. 1) While claiming the ICMA, "ethics are not our ethics" his entire argument is based upon how he would apply something he disavows. It is like an atheist telling the Pope how to run the church. 2) The ICMA ethics WERE Mr. Walkers' and the City's because that is the promise they made. Is it Mr. Pace’s position that we should not have any faith in agreements made by Mr. Walker or the City officials? 3) The finding that Mr. Walker’s conduct was unethical occurred during Mr. Walker's employment. There is no breach until the body authorized to make such a ruling does so. The contract did not specify that the conduct must occur during employment. Had Mr. Walker had forged documents in Evanston but was convicted while employed here, would Mr. Pace make the same argument? 4) Should he be terminated? Who knows. He asked that his contract be revised and the Council obliged. Seems like a moot issue once the contract was changed.
Kelly March 07, 2012 at 10:34 PM
George, what are Greg's credentials besides local anti-Feier and anti-tax curmudgeon? I agree with Kim that his "witch hunt" is clever way to try to deflect. What is Greg getting out of this? Seems one-sided again. How many different failures and outright crazy times by this mayor and council majority have to be uncovered. I bet the surface has only been scratched.
Deedis Dunn March 07, 2012 at 11:29 PM
The hallmark of this admisnistration is their inability to accept any responsibility. It is always someone elses fault. Political motivations, political witch hunt, sour grapes, etc. etc. Accept some responsibility and act like leaders, instead of little children all of the time.
bobette luckett March 08, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Community Forum Wednesay 03/07/2012 7:00 pm I was at this meeting, Ms. Adams indicated the most pressing issue specific to Ward 2 was the fact that people in University Park, a private subdivision cannot get their snow removed by University City. As two people died and I watched 2 feet of water come into my home (no basemet). I watched neighbor after neighbor sufffer. I was on the committee meeting with Senator McCaskill and Congressman Clay. I contend there are more pressing issues specific to ward 2 than snow removal in University Park. Bobette Luckett
Lehman and the Golden Girls March 08, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Can't a man keep up his friendships without coming under attack?
Jeff Hales March 08, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Agreed Bobette.... and wanting help from the city to contribute to repave the streets in her subdivision. That was her most bizarre answer of the night, but I think was the only question that she didn't mention that she is a lawyer!
George Lenard March 09, 2012 at 03:58 AM
I wasn't thinking about the "witch hunt" wording. I'll grant that is a bit of hyperbole, but it doesn't make the whole thing a smear when it is the most thorough, tightly reasoned analysis to date and if the whole letter were to be rated on the "smear factor" compared to a good deal of what I have read on this issue, it would be in the bottom 20%. Just my opinion, as always.
George Lenard March 09, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Whether technically an antitrust violation, Smith is right about the anticompetitive thrust of the rules. Imagine being punished for leaving a job where you were employed less than two years, submitting a resume for a job occupied by someone whose position you know or suspected was not secure or who you felt more qualified than, and expressing opinions about that person--for the purpose of advancing your own career. Who here could honestly say they would gladly join an organization that demanded we not do any of those things?
George Lenard March 09, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Kelly: What are your credentials? Anyone else? Most comments are anonymous, so we can't even investigate credentials. As to myself, I have strong opinions that run contrary to what I think are minority views of the citizenry as a whole that are over-represented here and on Facebook and now StLToday. People who don't think it's a big deal aren't following every word about the story. My opinions are just that--except when I comment on an employment contract or related legal point. Then, my credentials are over 26 years practicing employment law, but I still speak only for myself.
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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