In his first meeting as Warrenton mayor, Jerry Dyer criticized a recent decision by the board of aldermen to grant employment contracts to two department heads calling it “unethical.”
Dyer also further explained why he decided to get sworn in early rather than wait until Tuesday night’s board of aldermen meeting.
He was sworn in April 6, three days after winning a six-person race, during an impromptu ceremony held at the courthouse where the oath of office was administered by 12th Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Keith Sutherland.
Typically, newly elected candidates are sworn in at the next meeting following the election. Two new Warrenton aldermen, John Cornell and Jim Dreyer, and one incumbent, Fred Flake, were sworn in at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The contracts for Director of Operators/Finance Officer Terri Thorn and Police Chief Greg Houdyshell were approved by the Warrenton Board by a 5-1 vote during an April 3 closed meeting, the same evening Dyer and two new aldermen were elected.
The contracts were proposed by then-Mayor Greg Costello, who said Thorn and Houdyshell had been targeted by termination by Dyer.
Thorn and Houdyshell are the only city employees who have employment contracts.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Dyer spoke out on why he felt it was necessary to be sworn in early.
“My reasoning for being sworn in early was what I term damage control,” Dyer remarked. “I was overly concerned and appalled at what happened at the April 3 meeting with what Mr. (Stan) Shelton alluded to. I thought it was unethical to offer contracts by a board that was in their 11th hour of session and getting ready to leave office and encumbering this new board to follow up on their actions.”
He added, “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I disagreed with their action. I was afraid I was going to come on board and everybody was going to get a bonus, everybody was going to get a contract. I wasn’t sure where it was going.”
Dyer’s comments Tuesday night drew applause from a packed city hall that included many people who supported his mayoral bid and former city employees who also disapproved of the employment contracts.
Earlier in the meeting during the public comment portion, resident Stan Shelton announced he had filed paperwork with the state auditor’s office to have the city audited. He said that once the petition papers are ready, he will need about 375 signatures (from residents) so the request can be forwarded to the auditor’s office.
Shelton criticized the decision to grant employment contracts to Thorn and Houdyshell and the city’s attempt to get a half-cent sales tax proposal approved for an indoor recreation center. He also questioned the city paying $791,170 for 7 acres located behind the Warrenton Cinema 8 in 2007 where the proposed indoor facility was to be built and said a postcard sent out to voters in the days leading up to the April 3 election was misleading.
“You said we’re not telling you we’re for it or against it,” said Shelton referring to the postcard. “On the front of (the postcard) was a recreation center. That is called marketing. When you try to market something, you’re trying to sell it.”
The sales tax initiative failed by a 569-387 vote.
Shelton’s comments to the board were cut short due to a five-minute rule on how long a member of the public can speak
The contracts for Thorn and Houdyshell were signed following the April 3 closed session meeting and went into effect immediately. They will renew automatically each year. If they would be dismissed without cause, each would receive severance pay equal to a year’s salary. Under the terms of the contract, if either employee is discharged for cause, they would not be entitled to severance pay.
Thorn is currently the highest paid employee in the city with a $79,536.06 annual salary. She has been with the city since March 2003 and has been director of operations since January 2008.
Houdyshell, meanwhile, is the second-highest paid with a $64,890 salary. He has been employed with the city since 2008 and has been police chief since September 2009.