Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ICMA Director of Ethics Clarifies Conversation with SOS Caller Darin Chappell; SOS Caller Returns the Favor

"JackeHammer" < < < met with SOS (Save Our Springfield) spokesman Darin Chappell this evening after reading the clarification delivered by the International City Manager Association (ICMA) Director of Ethics, Martha Perego, to the City of Springfield.

Perego issued her reply to Assistant City Manager Collin Quigley. It was released to the public today, along with City attorney Dan Wichmer's written report of his findings on the legality of the forwarding of an email by City Manager Greg Burris. If you are not familiar with this story already, you'll find plenty of past entries on the subject at this blog.

The excerpt of Perego's letter which "CityConnect" (the City of Springfield's informational blog) posted at their Web site states:

"Please be assured that I did not draw a conclusion about the appropriateness of the city manager's conduct based on the limited information presented by the caller. I did pose questions to the caller and reviewed the intent of Tenet 7 which advises members to refrain from engaging in any activity on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for elected office. Statements that I "was astounded (or shocked) that any Manager would insert himself into an election as overtly and unethically as Mr. Burris has done," [or] thought the matter was worthy of immediate investigation and/or that the city manager had no legitimate reason for communicating with the union leadership are entirely inaccurate."

While Mr. Chappell had plenty to say this evening, (and we'll get to some of that later) I believe this statement cuts to the heart of the issue, it was one of the last things Mr. Chappell said to me tonight (Tuesday, April 14), "What has happened," Chappell said, "whether it's done on purpose or accident, and I'm perfectly willing to say that it was an accident, okay? I'm not ascribing any motivations to anyone but, whether by purpose or by accident, the words have been pulled away from their context and twisted just a little bit, to where Ms. Perego has no choice but to say, I never said that, but, I never said she did say that, and that's basically where the confusion has arisen."

Now, what has been implied Chappell has claimed Ms. Perego said, and what Ms. Perego actually said to him are two different things, according to Darin Chappell.

When Darin Chappell presented the SOS powerpoint presentation on April 9, this statement was among the many included in that presentation:

I personally spoke with Martha Perego, ICMA Director of Ethics, and, without giving any identifying characteristics of either Mr. Burris, the City, or anyone else involved, Ms. Perego was astounded that any Manager would insert himself into an election as overtly and unethically as Mr. Burris has done.

Ms. Perego went on to say that if a member of that body were to be reported to ICMA for such behavior, an ethics investigation would be immediately undertaken, and that such egregious infractions are taken very seriously by all professional City Managers.

Keeping in mind that Mr. Chappell and I discussed these issues in a windy and chilly parking lot outside the Knights of Columbus building on Grand Street, where a "Young Conservatives" meeting was being held, and did not have the documents' exact wording in front of us, Chappell responded to my question, "What is your take on why she (Ms. Perego) would seem to be suggesting, now, that she never said the things you have reported her as saying?"

"If you look at the media release that the City put out and you read it very carefully," Chappell said, "it says something to the effect that Ms. Perego did not say that she was shocked that any city manager would insert himself into a political campaign such as Mr. Burris has clearly done. She did not say that last line, she said she was shocked that any city manager would insert himself into a political campaign, the 'such as Mr. Burris has done' was me speaking. She couldn't have made a judgement, she didn't know Mr. Burris' name, she didn't know the City of Springfield, she didn't even know my position. I just gave her my name, and just told her I was concerned about something that was happening in my city, some place where I work, you know, I don't live in the City but, I work here and I participate in the city as a taxpayer, and I'm concerned about these things. So, of course she would say [she] never said anything about Mr. Burris acting unethically, she couldn't, there's no way she could have said that."

Chappell continued, "Let me just be very clear. I was careful not to (indicate where the event took place or the parties involved) because the reason I was calling her was to double check my understanding of the code of ethics, specifically tenet 7, and if I was wrong about that, I wanted her to tell me I was wrong so that I didn't look like an absolute fool when I had this media release but, more importantly, I didn't want to besmirch anybody that didn't have something done in their actions that needed to be pointed out. So, I called her, specifically not mentioning any names or characteristics that would identify the city or the city manager or the union president, and I did so just to give her a hypothetical thumbnail sketch of what happened so that I could get her take on it so I would know how to proceed."

"She did not say that it was wrong for a city manager to ever have any contact with the firefighters union, as is cited in the City's media release but, I never suggested that she did say that, I never suggested that at all," Chappell said. "She also did not say that this event was going to have a swift and certain investigation. She can't say that until a formal complaint is filed, and as far as I'm aware, there is no formal complaint...."

Chappell didn't see that the distinction the email had been forwarded to other city administrators had any bearing but thought he had mentioned it to Ms. Perego, "I didn't record the event, you know, we just had a phone conversation," Chappell said.

I don't know folks, I don't want to believe that anyone would intentionally misrepresent what Chappell said Ms. Perego of the ICMA had told him, I'd prefer to think this is all a big misunderstanding. I'll even take some of the blame for the misunderstanding, as I had previously written:

"Chappell said he spoke to Martha Perego, ICMA's director of ethics. "She was shocked that any City Manager would insert himself into a political campaign such as Mr. Burris has clearly done," Chappell said. According to Chappell, Perego said such behavior would cause an ethics investigation to be considered immediately, which might result in censure or even loss of membership in the ICMA."

But, I was quoting Chappell and while Chappell was making an effort to characterize the discussion he had with Ms. Perego, he was adding his own thoughts and completing lines of thinking as he spoke. Chappell said Ms. Perego did not say anything about censure or loss of membership in the ICMA as a result of an ethical breach, he found that information, himself, at the ICMA Web site. "I looked up the ICMA Web site, she did not say anything about censure, she did not say anything about removal of benefits or affiliation but the ICMA Web site says those things, that if someone's found to have broken a code of ethics, those are possible repercussions. I said that, not her."

It goes to show how careful one must be when, both giving second hand information in discussion, and quoting someone regarding second hand information. Because Chappell had made it clear that he did not identify the city he was calling about or the name of the city manager, and I had noted it in my previous reporting on this issue, I assumed people could understand there wouldn't be any way she would have actually made a comment about Burris, specifically. Likewise, the powerpoint presentation stated very clearly that Chappell had not identified the city he was calling about or it's city manager but, apparently it wasn't clear enough for all parties reading it to understand that distinction.

I also need to make clear that I'm not defending Chappell out of any interest other than the want for the issue to be clear and not misrepresented, taken out of context, or misunderstood.

I don't, personally, pretend to know whether Springfield's City Manager Greg Burris has broken tenet 7 of the ICMA code of ethics. Darin Chappell believes he has, "Ms. Perego said that unless there was an active negotiation going on between the City she saw no reason for a city manager, again, this is all hypothetical, for a city manager to be forwarding the position of Council candidates, who are actively seeking office, to the firefighters union," Chappell said. "I believe it's an unethical breach. I believe it's a breach in the ethics because of, and I didn't explain to her MoLiCo (Missouri Liberty Coalition) or anything but, because of MoLiCo, because of the word "blindsided," I have a problem with that as an ethical consideration."

This reporter/blogger feels if any segment of the public has a question about the ethical standing of Mr. Burris' actions, it's better to deal with those questions than let them fester.

City attorney Dan Wichmer has, in his "E-Mail Investigation Report," stated:

"SOS has alleged that Greg breached ICMA ethics guidelines and that he may have violated the City Charter. I have reviewed the matter and find no basis for the claim of a violation of City Code or City Charter. Since ICMA guidelines have no legal effect, I have not included that allegation in this memo since it has no bearing on my conclusion."

The allegation of a violation of the City Charter was not a part of the power point presentation, however, SOS co-spokesman Mark Wright did allege Burris might have violated the City Charter during the course of that press conference.

It also concerns me that simply reporting on contentious issues such as this may have the effect of causing some people in the community to think that I have a personal vendetta against Mr. Burris or am looking for reasons to *attack* the City government.

I live in Springfield just a many City employees live in Springfield, and have a vested interest in this City. I like this City and happen to think it is a beautiful City, that said, I also believe the public has a right to see serious issues treated seriously and reported fairly. Because I feel this is a very serious issue, I have done my best to treat it in a serious fashion, not because I have any animosity, whatsoever, toward Mr. Burris but because some members of the public have expressed a concern over the matter, and they deserve to be heard as much as City officials deserve to be heard.

The clarification of Ms. Perego makes it appear that Mr. Chappell has been less than honest. I don't, personally, believe that to be the case, and just like Mr. Chappell, I'm not ascribing any motivations to anyone but, I do not believe everything pertaining to this issue has been fairly represented, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and I felt Mr. Chappell deserved the same right to clarify his position as Ms. Perego.

I'm sure we can all do a better job of accurately reporting and accurately characterizing both private citizens and public officials.

I hope to see, some day, this community be able to pull together and work together toward common goals, not as adversaries. I would wager that is what most, if not all, the citizens in this community would like to see but, when there are serious issues such as this raised they should be dealt with in honesty and with fairness. Sometimes it seems to me, and this is just me writing my personal thoughts here, sometimes it seems to me that instead of addressing serious issues as they come up, there is a knee-jerk defensive posture taken, and certainly, it could not have been pleasant for Mr. Burris to be asked to resign his position but, there has been an ethical question raised in this case. It needs to be addressed. It has not yet been addressed.

My understanding is that it will be up to the City Council to decide whether the issue needs to be looked into further. They are representatives of the citizens who elected, and very recently, elected some of them. I don't know how they will represent the citizens. Will they represent all of them or some of them? How will they select which citizens they will represent and which citizens they will deem not worthy of addressing?

The City attorney addressed the legal aspect. Will the ethical aspect be addressed on behalf of the citizens who have a concern about the ethical aspect of the issue? Does the ethical aspect of the issue matter?

I guess we'll see what the Council thinks, eventually. To be honest, I'm saddened by the whole thing.

Now, even though this post is very long and I am very tired (it's nearly 3 a.m.), there is one more issue that should be clarified by Mr. Chappell. Since I have defined most of what Chappell stated Ms. Perego did not say I should allow him to clarify for himself what Ms. Perego did say. Some of this may seem repetitious but, I believe it is important to report it.

"Her response was, basically, three-fold," Chappell said. "She said that she was shocked that a city manager would insert himself into a situation like this because of the political implications. Her words were, most city managers wouldn't touch this at all, they just wouldn't deal with it because of what could happen. She did not understand why a sitting city manager would have any reason to contact a firefighter union official about actively, seeking candidates for the City Council, (about) their positions, (by) forwarding an email, especially with a negative characterization but, she didn't understand why he would do that even if there was no characterization

"She also said, and this was her idea, I didn't come up with this, her idea was that unless the city manager, unless the city, is in active negotiations with the firefighters' union contract, that there's no reason for the city manager to be forwarding City Council candidates' positions to the unions, president or not.

"And then, thirdly, if there was a formal complaint, then ICMA would take that seriously and they would investigate thoroughly.

"Those are the three basic things, now, are those direct quotations of her? No, but those reflect the character and the content of everything she said."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

.....And then, thirdly, if there was a formal complaint, then ICMA would take that seriously and they would investigate thoroughly.....

Great work JH.

Does anyone know how to complain in a formal manner?

Does the ICMA find it strange that even with a $50,000 search firm fee, we end up with a local from down the street?