Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin apparently remains on the city payroll despite his firing in November by Mayor Drew Hastings, and the city is taking steps to arrange for an outside hearing officer to preside over Wilkin’s challenge of his dismissal.
“He’s still being paid as far as I know,” said Fred Beery, the city law director, on Monday. Beery painted the decision to continue paying Wilkin in terms of a procedural step to limit the city’s legal exposure in anticipation of a claim by Wilkin against the city. He said he could not offer much in the way of public comment on the situation, especially since the city’s insurance company has retained counsel to deal with the issue.
“No one is doing anything without full disclosure, we just can’t discuss it very openly right now,” said Beery.
Hastings fired Wilkin on Nov. 22, about two weeks after a jury acquitted the mayor on felony charges in a trial in which Wilkin was a key witness.
Hastings said Monday he is “vehemently opposed” to Wilkin continuing to be paid. Hastings has consistently said that Wilkin’s firing was within his purview, and others should not have become involved. On Monday, he said it was his understanding that Wilkin would only be paid through the end of 2016, and while he disagreed with that, he was willing to accept it since council seemed to favor it.
But now, he said, the city is paying both Wilkin as well as Stantec Engineering, a firm Hastings has engaged under a short-term contract to handle city service issues, meaning that a total of about $14,000 a month is being expended “for SSD pay,” according to the mayor. Wilkin was hired in 2013 at an annual salary of $74,000.
Hastings said he has called for a special council meeting this week to address the issue. He said he does not believe council has a full understanding of events occurring behind the scenes.
“We are going to be hyper transparent,’ said Hastings. “Something smells. There are a lot of unanswered questions.” At its regular January meeting last week, council adjourned into executive session for nearly 40 minutes, presumably to discuss the Wilkin situation.
Wilkin has retained the firm of Freking, Myers & Reul to represent him, and his attorneys notified the city in December that Wilkin is appealing his dismissal on the grounds that he qualifies as a whistleblower.
In their letter notifying the city of Wilkin’s appeal, his attorneys stated that Beery told Wilkin in an email, “Rest assured, as Lee (Koogler) and I have explained to you, your status as a whistle blower is accepted and acknowledged.” Hastings said Monday those assurances were inappropriate and not in the city’s best interests.
According to the city employee policies and procedures manual, a hearing is to be set, although the manual states that such an appeal is to be heard by the civil service commission, the safety and service director or the mayor.
Since Wilkin’s job was an at-will position and he was not a civil service employee, that commission would not be applicable. Since Wilkin was the safety and service director and Hastings is the subject of Wilkin’s appeal, an independent hearing officer from outside the city is being arranged, Koogler, the council president, confirmed Monday.
Government offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and city Auditor Gary Lewis did not respond to text and voice messages left on his cell phone.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]