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Monroe takes first votes on reforms

MONROE City leaders took the first steps toward reforming their government Tuesday night, in moves meant to reign in nepotism, curb interference in city affairs by council members and potentially ban employees from secretly tape recording one another.

The actions stemmed from recommendations in a consultant’s report that detailed rampant problems and low morale at city hall. That February report by lawyers with Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein was commissioned by a bitterly divided City Council following last summer’s abrupt resignation by City Manager Wayne Herron.

Herron quit after a heated closed-door council debate over his decision not to give Police Chief Debra Duncan a performance bonus.

This was the first council meeting for Monroe’s new city manager, John D’Agostino, who started Aug. 12. He told the board that after meeting with staff, a recurring theme was the need for council to abide by the council-manager form of government.

“The sentiment of staff and myself is, ‘Can’t we just get along?’ ” said D’Agostino, who pledged to work to build consensus.

Before the meeting, D’Agostino said he taped a Bible quote from Jesus in front of each member at the dais. It read: “But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.’ ”

Additional recommendations will be presented to council at a later meeting, City Attorney Terry Sholar said.

The council voted 4-3 – with Mayor Bobby Kilgore and council members Billy Jordan and Dottie Nash voting no – on the following measures:

• To prohibit hiring immediate family of City Council members, the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager, city attorney or human resources director. The policy does not apply retroactively. The consultant’s report cited several instances over the years of spouses and children of council members landing city jobs.

• To prohibit the mayor and City Council from participating in or attempting to influence the selection and appointment of city employees, other than those jobs hired directly by the board.

Two other policies Sholar proposed are under the manager’s purview and do not require a vote. D’Agostino said he anticipates he will enact them as recommended before the council’s next meeting. Those proposed changes are:

• To prohibit the hiring and employment of immediate family members in permanent positions within the same department or work unit.

• To prohibit employees from secretly taping other workers. But the city manager may authorize such recordings “upon substantial showing that such recording is necessary to address violations of policies or rules, criminal investigations or other legitimate city purposes.”

The consultant found evidence that Duncan had secretly tape recorded Herron without his consent, although Duncan was not disciplined over the incident.

Nash, one of Duncan’s biggest supporters on the board, also said she had taped Herron without him knowing it because she thought other board members would not believe their conversation. The anti-taping proposal does not cover secret recordings by council members.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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