Hobson’s city visit still making waves
A recent visit to City Hall by long-time Baldwin City resident Phyllis Hobson which resulted in an e-mail message from City Administrator Larry Paine to mayoral and city council candidates continues to draw interest.
Hobson stopped by City Hall on March 2 to pay her utility bill. While there, she says she made the comment, "Tell Larry we're going to clean the slate."
Later that day Paine e-mailed the remaining city council and mayoral candidates. Paine's e-mail read in part:
"Earlier today, Phyllis Hobson came into City Hall and said to the office staff 'Tell Larry that we're going to clean house down here, too!'" the e-mail stated. "I hope she is acting on her own and not representing any of you. If she is representing your thoughts, let's figure out a way to solve a departure in a professional manner.
"I have a contract with the city to be the administrator. I would like to continue. I have a financial interest in Baldwin City, as you do. I have a financial incentive to remain and do a good job for you. I believe I can help those of you who get elected become successful," the e-mail continued. "A tenant of my profession states that the governing body has the right to select their 'manager.' Should you not want me to remain, my contact outlines how to terminate and how much it will cost the city. You can get a copy from the city clerk. But obviously, I don't want you to exercise that option. I intend to do the best job I can for the city whoever is elected. You will find I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly. You should not expect less."
Hobson's comments came after the primary election where the three incumbent candidates for mayor and two council positions (a third open council position doesn't have the incumbent seeking re-election) didn't win. Mayor Stan Krysztof finished fourth out of four candidates. Four-year council incumbent Lee Whaley finished fourth out of six candidates, barely surviving the primary. Incumbent Gene Nelson finished a distant second to Todd Cohen for the two-year position.
Paine's response to the situation has drawn mixed reactions, though most candidates were surprised to receive the e-mail and questioned how it was handled. Comments have ranged from "paranoid" to "unprofessional," to "unfortunate" and it was an "over reaction."
"If he was trying to cultivate the confidence of the potential new mayor and council members, he certainly chose a strange way to go about it," said Cohen, who was the top vote-getter for the two-year council position. "It was ill advised. But we would be best to call it an unfortunate mistake and move on.
"The status of the city manager is not an issue in my mind," said Cohen. "This election is about the priorities of the mayor and council I think the people are far more interested in electric and water service, street lights and sidewalks, even loose dogs, than this matter. If the general election results mirror the primary, we will need continuity in city hall, particularly if we are to make any progress this year. The last thing we need is to develop a reputation that every time we have an election we change city managers."
Ken Wagner, the top vote-getter among the four-year candidates during the primary, was surprised by Paine's reaction. Not only did Paine send the e-mail, he also entered the comment into public record by including it in a memorandum in the packet of information given to council members prior to last week's meeting.
"Isn't that amazing," Wagner said about the e-mail and subsequent addition to the public record. "I'm a little surprised about how he handled it. I have not been any party to any discussion about dissatisfaction with Larry's job or any other city employee.
"If I'm elected, everyone has my full support until they prove otherwise," he said. "If I was on the city council, I think I would have a face-to-face (discussion) with him about that because it was inappropriate."
Nelson, an incumbent, thinks it was a situation that just got out of hand.
"I felt our customer (Hobson) was clearly stressed, apparently stressed, by previous experiences," said Nelson. "I also feel because of the election the city administrator was feeling the stress. They were both feeling stress beyond what they needed to be."
Whaley, another incumbent, wasn't pleased that it happened.
"I know Phyllis well enough to know she gets riled up," said Whaley. "I don't think it was in good taste for her to go down and say that to the city employee."
Whaley also said he had "no problem" with how Paine handled the incident.
Ken Hayes, the mayoral candidate who garnered the most votes in the primary, didn't have much to say about the e-mail.
"I think, unfortunately, Mr. Paine over reacted," said Hayes.
Carol Taul, also a four-year candidate, echoed the others.
"It is certainly not my intention of cleaning house and in no way did I reflect that to her at any time," said Taul. "I think he is just a little nervous about everything and the outcome of the votes."
Dillon, who finished second to Hayes in the mayor's race and was the only candidate not to receive the e-mail, also had little to say.
"I really don't have a response," said Dillon. "I don't know. It may be a case that he didn't have my e-mail address. Considering the nature of the message (he has since seen it), it didn't bother me at all."
As for the comment that started the whole flap, Hobson reiterates that it was misinterpreted (see Letter to the Editor, page A-4). She also says she was acting purely on her own.
"We're going to clean the slate I take credit for that line," said Hobson. "I had not talked to any candidate before I said it. I was meaning mayor and council. I can't help how he (Paine) took it. When I said 'we,' I meant the people."
As for Paine, he thinks the e-mail accomplished what he was hoping it would increased communication. He heard from all the candidates as a result of the e-mail.
"I'm so glad they did," Paine said of their response. "It gave them a chance to clear the air. I don't feel threatened anymore. I did it primarily for reasons: one was I wanted them to tell me what their intent was and they did that. I'm hearing all the rumors and I'd rather hear it from their mouths; secondly, I wanted to hear from them about the workshops I'm scheduling to help with their transition.
"It was a situation of 'let's cut to the chase and say are we going to work together or not.' All the people have said yes," he said.
Paine says he isn't worried about the outcome of the election.
"It makes no difference to me who wins the election because my job is to be a servant of the community," he said. "I shared my willingness to continue the relationship with Baldwin.
"This question is not whether Larry can work with the folks, but rather are they willing to work with me," said Paine.