City Council fires city manager, hires former community development director
January 15, 2010
By Tim Pfarr
NEW — 6 p.m. Jan. 15, 2010
At a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted 6-1 to terminate City Manager John Starbard’s contract without cause, effective immediately. The only dissenting vote was that of Councilman Sonny Putter.
In terminating Starbard’s contract without cause, the city must pay Starbard his full salary for six months as severance pay. Starbard’s total severance pay will be $66,500, as his annual salary was $133,000.
In another 6-1 vote, with Putter dissenting once more, the council appointed Rob Wyman, former community development director for the city, to take over as interim city manager for the next six months.
Wyman worked for the city from 1998-2006.
Wyman took over Wednesday as Newcastle’s new city manager. The city will pay Wyman $10,000 a month, more than $1,000 less than the city paid Starbard per month, without benefits. Wyman will be paid as a consultant, and he will not receive benefits.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Bill Erxleben moved to terminate Starbard’s contract, and Councilman Rich Crispo seconded the motion.
During discussion of the motion, nearly every member of the council gave his or her opinion.
“Voters want the city to head in a new direction,” Erxleben said. He later added, “The new direction is fiscal discipline, neighborhood responsiveness and maintenance of the city’s streets, parks and trails.”
Crispo said there was a discrepancy between Starbard’s vision for the city and the wishes of city residents.
“I believe that what he thinks it can become is very different from what the residents want it to become,” Crispo said, adding that residents have told him of their aversion to a multistory downtown and the city’s new signage and branding efforts.
Deputy Mayor Steve Buri said the city’s relationships with other agencies have deteriorated with Starbard as city manager, and he said he would support the motion because of that.
“I think those relationships, sadly, have been damaged beyond repair,” he said.
Putter dissented in the vote.
“I think this motion is far too premature,” he said.
Putter said in an interview after the meeting that the council had given Starbard above-average reviews in its evaluation of his performance at the end of the year. He also said if council members were unhappy with Starbard’s job performance, Starbard should have been given time to change.
“Any employee is entitled to an opportunity to improve their performance before they are let go,” Putter said.
After voting to terminate Starbard’s contract, Mayor John Dulcich asked if Starbard would be willing to privately meet with Buri and City Clerk Bob Baker to further discuss the termination. Starbard declined, saying he would not discuss the matter with city officials without legal representation. He then set his keys on his desk in the council chambers and left the meeting.
Next, Erxleben motioned to appoint Wyman to the position. He said he previously spoke with Wyman, and Wyman said he would take the position.
Erxleben said Wyman’s familiarity with the community, his experience working with commercial property and his ability to effectively work with the business community made him a good candidate for the interim city manager position.
However, Putter cited Wyman’s lack of experience, as Wyman has never served as a city manager before. Putter also said Wyman contributed financially to Dulcich’s campaign last year, and said he felt that makes Wyman “ethically compromised.”
Wyman contributed $500 to Dulcich’s council campaign in the fall, according to Public Disclosure Commission records. Dulcich received more than $12,000 total in contributions to his campaign.
Putter referred to the International City Manager’s Association code of ethics, which states, “refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.”
Putter said that should have prompted the council to look for a different individual for the position.
“With so many other potential interim city managers out there, why would we choose one who is under a cloud?” Putter asked.
He said he would rather have appointed a senior staff member to seek out an interim city manager, as he said such a decision is standard in such a situation.
Read a previous version of this story and comments about it here.