Fired Crocker city adminstrator accused of swearing at mayor
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, February 9, 2009 11:17 pm
Mayor Jim Morgan listens to comments made Monday night during a Crocker City Council meeting.
CROCKER, Mo. (Feb. 9, 2009) — Alleged acts of insubordination by terminated Crocker City Administrator Joyce Peterson included swearing at Mayor Jim Morgan and “loud yelling” in city hall, according to minutes of a three-hour closed city council session held last week that were released Monday night.
That wasn’t the only personnel-related matter discussed Monday night.
Area resident Mike Smith asked the aldermen for answers on what would be done with other city personnel.
“Is there anything further on the question I asked at the last meeting? Is there going to be any answer to that or not?” Smith asked. “Since we are working so hard on removing people from their positions that work here, what are we going to do about people that are trying to start stuff with people, confrontations? Are you overlooking all that? Is it my understanding that’s not a problem here?”
Alderman Kim Skaggs-Henson said she didn’t know what Smith meant, but asked whether it should be handled in closed session.
“I want to hear out the complaint. Exactly what is your complaint?” Skaggs-Henson asked. “This is the first time you have made that accusation … These are personnel problems. Would that not be something we should discuss with someone one-on-one?”
City Attorney Ronda Cortesini agreed that personnel matters were a legitimate reason to go into closed session, but said the council members didn’t have to reply to Smith.
“He’s entitled to speak, but I don’t think that the city council is required to respond to him,” Cortesini said.
It’s not clear what Smith said in closed session or what response, if any, the aldermen gave.
City Clerk Rita Bomar, who will now need to prepare budget reports since Peterson has been terminated, asked council members for details on what she needs to provide. Council members agreed to give the clerk time to meet with representatives of the city’s software provider to learn more about the system.
“What is it that we need, exactly?” Bomar asked.
“We need all the budget items entered in correctly,” said Alderman Charles Stroburg.
The minutes of the closed meeting on Feb. 4 were distributed by Morgan to numerous audience members near the end of Monday night’s city council meeting, following a request by an audience member who wanted to know what had happened and why Peterson was terminated. State law allows release of closed session minutes upon request 72 hours after a personnel action.
The minutes note that the vote to terminate Peterson was unanimous and provide considerable detail about the information provided to the city council prior to that termination vote. Peterson has hired local lawyer Tyce Smith and sued the city for violating the Sunshine Law by holding an improper closed meeting and terminating her improperly; city council members voted Monday night to call a special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. to hold a public hearing which Smith said is required by Crocker’s city ordinances to terminate the city administrator.
The minutes of the Feb. 4 meeting at which Peterson was terminated indicate that Morgan told the aldermen that during a Jan. 22 special city council meeting, he received a phone call from Peterson. “She was very upset with him and swearing at him and that he felt ‘worthless’ after the phone call,” according to the minutes.
Peterson was upset because “she claims to have been told by the mayor that she did not have to attend the meeting that was in session,” according to the minutes. Morgan then told council members that Peterson “had commented the day of the meeting that ‘it was not in her best interest to attend’ and that he had not told her not to attend.”
According to the minutes, Morgan said he “was verbally attacked by Mrs. Peterson and her husband” the day after the meeting, with the city administrator swearing at him in the front office of the city and her husband giving him a “tongue lashing” that included a demand that the mayor “get the **** out of here and go back to New York.”
Three city employees, Police Chief Robert Ishmael, Deputy City Clerk Diana Dochterman and Police Officer John Durbin were in the office at the time of the incident, according to the minutes, and both Ishmael and Dochterman were asked to meet with the city council in closed session.
When questioned by aldermen, Dochterman said Peterson “started the confrontation” but she did not hear any of the comments made by Peterson or her husband. However, Dochterman said she had previously heard Peterson ask if she should attend the special city budget meeting and asked Morgan “point blank why the city budget administrator was not supposed to come to the meeting.” Morgan asked Peterson whether she wanted to come, Dochterman said.
Ishmael said he had “heard very loud yelling coming from the front desk area of city hall” but couldn’t hear what was said because he was in the police office at the time. “As he came out of his office, he heard (Peterson’s husband) make several comments including, ‘you’re no man,’ ‘you don’t deserve to be here,” “you need to go back to New York,’” according to the minutes. Ishmael said the city clerk called him from Morgan’s home and “was concerned about (Morgan’s) well-being;” Ishmael said he then “went to the mayor’s home and talked to him for a long time and that Mayor Morgan was very distraught over the incident” and “felt that council members needed to be notified of what had happened.”
Peterson’s closed-session comments to the city council confirmed that her husband had “lost his temper,” “called the mayor a ‘liar,’” and had told the mayor that he “thought he was dealing with a man that had a spine, but he wasn’t.” Peterson told city council members that “she felt like she ‘had been set up’ about the budget meeting on Jan. 22 and she was told not to come by the mayor.” Peterson said she had been called during the Jan. 22 meeting, told council members “were questioning why she was not present” and “was upset and angry because she felt like she had been set up by being told not to attend.”
When asked by council members what she thought should be done, Peterson said Alderman Jim Patton had also “yelled at” Dochterman which “was inappropriate as well.” Peterson said she was “sorry if there was a misunderstanding, but she was only doing what she was told to do by the mayor when she stayed home” and said she was willing to apologize to the mayor.
After discussing various options “at length” including a one-month suspension with a letter of reprimand, possible early retirement, or termination, council members voted unanimously to terminate Peterson.
Other items in the minutes included:
• Alderman Kim Skaggs-Henson told Peterson that she was “very upset about the rumors that had been circulating and that what had been put in the (Waynesville Daily Guide) newspaper by (local businesswoman) Donna Newcomb was incorrect and had created enormous problems.” Skaggs-Henson also told Peterson that she’d heard rumors that the reason for terminating Peterson was so that Skaggs-Henson could be the city administrator, and said “there was absolutely no truth in that rumor or any rumor that the position would be refilled by anyone.”
• Council members told Peterson that morning “coffee sessions” needed to cease in city hall; Peterson said her husband “had not been coming to city hall in the mornings.” The council members agreed that “no one other than city employees should be behind the counter in city hall” and that employees would need to be notified of the rule.