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City Manager Next to Go?

Newton Falls – A special council meeting was held Monday with one topic on the agenda: the possible impending termination of City Manager Jack Haney.

All council members were present, as were newly-inaugurated Mayor Lyle Waddell, almost-as- new Law Director Joseph Fritz, and the City Clerk Kathy King and City Manager Mr. Haney himself. After the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of silence for personal prayer, the floor opened for public comments concerning Mr. Haney’s contract.

Those who wished to opine openly at the forum spoke in support of Mr. Haney, citing his record of obtaining financial grants for the community as well as bringing respect back to the office he occupies. Others voiced concerns over the amount of money having to pay for a City Manager is costing the small town (of about 5,000 residents). A few members of the audience made the point that in the last several months the city has fallen into a habit of effectively dumping officials before their respective expected terms are up. In April, then Law Director Richard Schwartz was fired; just a few weeks ago Mayor Patrick Layshock was recalled. Now the City Manager is on thin ice, so who is next? (There is a current recall effort already in place to remove Councilman James Luonuansuu, the representative for Ward 4.) These oustings are becoming costly as well as not being conducive to the reasonable stability anticipated from a professional working environment.

A motion was passed (3-2) allowing the legal opinion of Law Director Fritz to be read aloud. In his opinion, Mr. Fritz addressed the options for terminating the City Manager. At this point, the only applicable option from his list is “by a majority vote of Council at a duly authorized meeting.” If Mr. Haney’s contract is terminated prematurely, he would be entitled to a severance package worth nearly $125,000 – which includes six months of salary, accrued sick leave and vacation time, health care benefits and life insurance premiums – and it could open the door for a wrongful termination lawsuit if Mr. Haney wished to pursue that avenue. Mr. Fritz said in his written opinion that terminating Mr. Haney would be “financially irresponsible” and the City’s “potential for liability in a wrongful termination lawsuit is significant.”

Council adjourned into an executive session to discuss in private the possible repercussions of exercising an early termination option. An attorney from Cleveland who is representing Mr. Haney’s interests was permitted to sit in on only part of the session. When the council members et al returned to the table, the only official comment provided about the outcome was from Mayor Waddell: “The Law Director and Mr. Haney’s attorney are in negotiations.”

If council continues down the path they’ve been on, however, it’s not hard to guess what will happen next.

The special meeting was then immediately adjourned by a vote from council, without allowing for closing public comments despite that segment being listed on the evening’s agenda. This motion effectively denied those present an opportunity to voice concluding opinions on the matter at hand. Those wishing to speak are encouraged to attend the next meeting held at the Community Center on December 6th at 6pm.

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