City Council Responds to the Mayor’s Message

by Carla Occaso

Read Mayor Hollar’s statement clarifying council process on the manager’s contract.

The Bridge reached out by email (with short notice prior to publishing) to all city council members and the city manager referenced in Hollar’s written piece. Two of the six councilors responded in time for publication.

From Councilor Dona Bate:

“I disagree with Mayor Hollar’s opinion, memory and actions recounting the past two years of difficult negotiations within the City Council about City Manager’s contract. These kinds of out-of-the-blue public statements undermine repairing good working relationships within the City Council.

As stated in Oct 2016 Times Argus and Bridge articles, I continue to find him acting counter to due process expectations. He has not only broken executive session confidentiality, he has misrepresented Anne Watson’s earlier position about the city manager’s contract. Anne has never endorsed sacking Bill Fraser. Anne has been very articulate about her support for keeping Bill Fraser. As the Mayor has timed this attack on Anne before the upcoming elections, I want to state my unqualified endorsement of Anne Watson as District 2 Representative. Anne has served the City with high integrity, trustworthiness, and much foresight.”

Editor’s Note: Dona Bates’ references to city council member Anne Watson respond to a different version of this written notice, which The Bridge did not receive, from the mayor to the Times Argus and posted on the city of Montpelier’s website http://www.montpelier-vt.org/523/Mayors-Update. The paragraph is below:

“Notably, one of the members who supported the non-renewal of the manager’s contract was Councilor Anne Watson. It was disappointing, then, to later hear Watson’s harsh and inaccurate criticism of my support for ending the manager’s contract given her previous endorsement of this action. She is entitled to change her mind, of course, but the community should be aware of her earlier support for the action she has since condemned.” 

From Councilor Justin Turcotte:

“Accountability is important in this process for a number of reasons: A lack of accountability sends a message to the city manager that the council has a relatively short memory, or we don’t take the evaluation process, or goals, that we have worked jointly on seriously.  Worst, it could indicate we are unwilling to listen to the city manager’s request for resources to achieve our goals. From my perspective none of these are desirable outcomes. Having a formal evaluation is referenced in the city manager’s current contract and helps future council members to understand the strengths and weaknesses, the growth or regression and trends as decades pass.

“Without accountability, the council has limited ability to defend a current, or future contract, that has been offered based on performance of the city manager.  This may also be helpful to residents if contract renewal is on the ballot as a non-binding article. A petition will ask voters this question on March 7th Town Meeting Day.

“For me personally, it became uncomfortable while attempting to hold budget growth to 2 percent above inflation and cost of living, while also maintaining the scheduled increases to steady state funding to repair roads and bridges. Additionally we had the responsibility to consider giving city staff scheduled raises and increases to benefits at a rate that is well above any growth in the real economy.

“The recommendation the council approved for the 2016 ballot did this by cutting the scheduled funding increases to the steady state infrastructure plan. This year voters will be asked to borrow  $3.9 million for infrastructure this year. The unrestricted general fund has 180,000 less over last year.  This is in conflict with our own policy of keeping some money in the piggy bank for unforeseen expenses, like a flood.

“I asked the city manager if he planned to share his evaluation with the public, he has done so in the past.  He has publicly stated that he does not intend to make the 2017 evaluation public. I respect his discretion. My reason for asking is in response to many residents expressing interest in better understanding why the council had concerns about contract renewal.

“I look forward to working with the city manager during the coming year to establish and achieve our goals for the residents of Montpelier. I would encourage residents to contact me directly by phone at 223-6012 or e-mail on the city website.”

From Councilor Anne Watson:

“It’s certainly not easy for anyone in public office to change her or his mind. So as I’ve done in the past, I’d like to commend again Mayor Hollar for changing his mind about not renewing the City Manager’s contract. Over a year ago, and in closed session, I took seriously the Mayor’s and other council members’ concerns and was initially moved by them. After careful consideration and mustering courage to stand up against the majority, I decided I disagreed and in fact strongly disagreed. As an elected official, it is my job to take all arguments very seriously and go the extra mile to appreciate where people are coming from, but when it’s all said and done, I have to make my own call about what is right for the City. As we all know, I concluded that none of the concerns over Bill’s contract were substantial enough to warrant non-renewal. I informed the council of my decision in an executive session in early February of 2016.

“I think we’re all ready to put this in the past and keep moving forward. I’m excited to work on pressing and important city business. I’m looking forward to working on the vision for the City and working collaboratively with my fellow council members to consider how we support sustainability, our local economy and our spirit of community.”

City Manager William Fraser told The Bridge by email he did not care to comment. Comment was not received by publication time from the other four city council members: Jessica Edgerly Walsh, Tom Golonka, Jean Olson and Justin Turcotte.

From City Manager William Fraser by email to The Bridge:

“I disagree with Mayor Hollar’s characterization of my performance reviews. My reviews through 2015 were previously released publicly, and speak for themselves. During the most recent review the council’s cumulative rating exactly matched my self rating. As with any evaluation, there are areas in which I am very proud, and areas in which I am working to improve.   

“I am puzzled as to why the mayor issued his statement. On the eve of the approval of a new contract between the City Council and me, I believed we were trying to leave divisiveness behind us. I remain hopeful that we — community, city council and city staff — will move forward together productively for the best interests of Montpelier.”

Editor’s Note: This response from City Manager William Fraser came in to The Bridge office moments prior to publication.

Also, published today by City Clerk John Odum on Front Porch Forum:

“It has come to my attention that an elected official with access to the official City website has recently used that website as a platform for the purpose of continuing a personal feud with another elected official. As a Citywide elected official myself, and on behalf of those of us who work hard to promote the city’s positive image as well as encourage a culture of professionalism, I’d like to offer my personal apology to the entire community.

“The City website is often the first place potential tourists go to learn about Montpelier in order to decide whether or not it is the sort of community they would like to visit. In recent weeks, I have been contacted by many potential visitors from across the U.S. and Canada who have expressed interest in coming to Montpelier in light of our growing reputation as a welcoming small city that proudly values and respects people of all walks of life. To those folks, and others who may come across the recently posted missive while checking out what Montpelier has to offer, I’d like to assure you that this is not reflective of who we are as a community, or of how we conduct our civil affairs.

“Again, my sincere apologies.”

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