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Dear Decaturish – What are Clarkston’s options for parting ways with city manager?

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Dear Decaturish – What are Clarkston’s options for parting ways with city manager?

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

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Dear Decaturish,

Leadership is difficult work. Even more so when the task is representing the interests of the 14,000 human beings who make Clarkston the vibrant, diverse community it is. One way or another, a leader’s decisions have an impact on people. In our situation, it seems that the mayor and council members of Clarkston, with few exceptions, have placed the interests of an individual ahead of the well-being of the entire city.

Regardless of whether this situation is mismanagement, dysfunction, corruption, something else, or a little bit of everything, action is required. Ultimately, whenever those in power refuse to hold each other accountable or begin to remove healthy accountability from the system and people they were appointed to lead, we should be concerned. That’s where we are in the city of Clarkston. The question is, where do we go from here?

I am a former Clarkston City Councilmember who served on the Technical Advisory Committee for Clarkston’s Recent Zoning Rewrite. I have worked in various capacities with the mayor and every member of the current council. I know what the council’s options are for dealing with the city manager. From a contractual standpoint, they are honestly pretty simple.

Without a resignation letter from the city manager, the council has three options. First, they can keep on going as if nothing is wrong. Second, the council may terminate the city manager without cause, paying her $67,500, the equivalent of 6 months of her base pay. Finally, the third option is immediate, for-cause termination.

To terminate the city manager for cause, the council must determine that one or more of three criteria have been met, indicating cause for dismissal. The three criteria for firing Clarkston’s city manager for cause are:

1) Indictment for a crime, 

2) A violation of the city’s Code of Ethics, or 

3) “[…] dishonesty, gross or repeated negligence, incompetency, insubordination, or any conduct that is detrimental to the public perception of the City.”

Over the last few months, we have witnessed a great deal of problematic news flowing out of city hall and impacting the public perception of Clarkston. Exit interviews citing poor communication and a negative culture, a questionable suspension, a threatening response to officers’ concerns, and now allegations of signed contracts and hiring decisions lacking the proper paper trail for items that legally must go out for bid if they are over $5,000. Where is the accountability?

Arguably, the problem with the city manager started long ago. Appointing a city manager with little executive leadership experience who was also overseeing a major zoning rewrite is questionable at best. This situation isn’t the fault of a single individual, it’s what happens when a leadership body flounders in its responsibility both to the only employee under its direct supervision, and the people it serves. 

The immediate decision of where we go next is in the hands of seven individuals: Our mayor, our council members, and our city manager. It’s up to Clarkston voters to determine if the council is making the right choice.

— Mark Perkins

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