The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 14, 2013

EDITORIAL: New council should make city attorney decision

Herald Editorial
The Clinton Herald

---- — Every once in a while, something happens at a local meeting that catches us completely off guard.

Something that seems so off the wall we are left scratching our heads and muttering in unison: “Wow, I did not see that coming.”

Such a moment unfolded Tuesday in the council chambers of Clinton City Hall when At Large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf made a motion, quickly seconded by Ward 2 Councilwoman Julie Allesee, to ask City Attorney Jeff Farwell to resign.

Now we have to couch this by saying Farwell’s performance evaluation was on the agenda for discussion Tuesday night and he requested that it be done in open session, so talk about his performance was expected. What we didn’t expect was that the council would ask for his resignation, agree to pay him a six-month severance package — which is twice as long as the terms of his contract state — with health insurance costs covered, and for the action to be voted on Dec. 20.

What seems so strange is the declared reason behind it: That several new members of the council will be seated next month and it should be up to those members to decide who they want to serve as the city attorney.

We agree with that sentiment. The new council members should decide who will be the city’s attorney. So why is this council making that decision for them?

The new council, which will take office Jan. 2, should be the final decision-makers in regards to Farwell’s employment. If they deem him satisfactory, then the new council should not ask for Farwell’s resignation.

If they want a fresh start, then the new council should make the best decision for Clinton residents.

What also has us questioning this situation is the ease Farwell displayed when agreeing with the council’s position. After all, wouldn’t most people faced with the prospect of being asked to leave a job feel the need to defend his or her work or provide reasons why they are the best one for the job? But instead, Farwell said that when he was going through the hiring process in 2010, there also was a new council and it was good those members had the chance to select their city attorney. He thought it would be good this time around as well.

If that is the case, then what about every other department head in place at City Hall. Couldn’t the same be said for those positions?

There must be more to this, we thought. And whatever it is — whether the council wants him out, he wants to leave, or both — it can’t be good for Clinton’s taxpayers.

That’s because if the council truly was not happy with his performance would it not then demand accountability and follow that up with termination? That’s how it would be in a private business situation.

And if Farwell wants out? That’s OK. Many a worker decides the job he or she has is not the right fit and looks for something else to pay the bills. But in private business, if a worker resigns, he or she does not walk out the door with severance pay, which like we mentioned earlier is twice as long as the terms of his contract state, or health insurance coverage.

Whatever the reason, it wouldn’t surprise us if there have been talks between Farwell and council members; it is no secret the Clinton City Council in past years has negotiated with department heads who resigned and then were given a tidy severance package. The council gets what it wants and the former worker basically is paid to leave.

But when times are tough financially, and Clinton has had its share of tough times in that department, wouldn’t the council want to guard against having dollars go out the door?

The current council was right — it should be up to the new council to have the representation they desire. On Dec. 20, give the new council what they deserve. Do not vote on this resolution, allowing the new council to evaluate this resignation and determine for themselves what’s best for the city of Clinton.