Headaches Plague City of Livingston
Resignation Timing and Its Subsequent Withdrawal Speaks Volumes
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
The on-again off-again nature of Juliann Jones’ resignation from the Livingston City Commission reached an entertaining though suspect watermark recently when Jones announced in late December that she would not be resigning after all. For those who haven’t been paying attention (anyone who votes or pays taxes should) this took place immediately after District Judge Wm. Nels Swandal ruled that her resignation—submitted Nov. 16 due to health reasons, specifically headaches—was conducted improperly. It would therefore have to be resubmitted to the incoming commission, seated with two newly elected members, in January.
Swandal’s ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by commissioner-elect Bill Spannring and former commission chairman Rick Loftice, which asserted (correctly according to the judge) that the resignation did not conform to state law. And that lawsuit followed howls of protests, complete with robo calls, from residents who perceived in the timing of Jones’ resignation an attempt to thwart the will of the people and any input from the new commissioners, so that the incumbents would continue to dominate the commission. But do such accusations hold water? —Let’s take a closer look.
The cries of protest first arose over Jones’ resignation because the laws of chance seemed to preclude her having resigned on November 16 at the scheduled city meeting for any other reason than an attempt to prevent public participation in the election or selection of her replacement. Had she resigned earlier, the public could have voted to fill her seat, which, according to the November election, would have been filled by Nancy Adkins, a candidate who ran in opposition to the incum-bents, and whose election would have trumped the incumbents by a 3 to 2 majority. Had Jones resigned later than the 16th, the selection of her replacement would have effectively come under the new commission, including two new commissioners (minus her own vote) both of whom, James Bennett and Bill Spannring, also ran on platforms opposing the incumbents. For that reason, some claimed there must have been collusion among the incumbents to arrange for her resignation on the particular day that she resigned.
Much was made of the early July filing deadline for city commission candidates. Steve Caldwell, the commission’s chairman, stated in an email to this publication in late November, that “Jones' resignation of her seat within a few weeks either way of the election was irrelevant from a ballot standpoint, since the position would have been filled via the last election only if she had resigned before the filing deadline…."
True enough, but the timing of her resignation was not irrelevant in other respects. Her resignation on Nov. 16 specifically enabled her (and the incumbents, critics argue) to wait until the results of the election were in before making the resignation decision, so that they could choose her replacement if the election went against them, and by so doing maintain their status quo.
We are to believe, however, that the date was not chosen for such reasons, and we were told that the incumbents really had no idea that Jones was considering resigning. Yet here are the facts:
At the hearing on Dec. 16 presided over by Judge Swandal (regarding the lawsuit brought against the city by Spannring and Loftice), City Manager Ed Meece testified that Juliann Jones sent him an email on July 20 that asked, “What exactly is the process of being replaced?” And then she wrote, according to Meece, “I think it’s going to have to be done.” Meece testified that the same email was sent to the city commissioners. At the same hearing, Commissioner Caldwell testified that Jones’ potential resignation was discussed on July 9.
One must then assume that discussions took place about her resignation. It would hardly be reasonable to assume that the matter was dropped, that no discussion with Jones ensued regarding such an important matter, though Meece testified that he personally did not take part in any discussions. It is also more than merely reasonable to assume that a commissioner, or the chairman, talked to Jones about her resignation and it’s timing, in that it took place on a day that was so highly leveraged in the incumbents’ favor.
What’s even more disconcerting is that commissioners prevented public participation at the time, a fact apparently recognized by Judge Swandal. Jones’ resignation was received, we learned at the Dec. 16 hearing, at 3:30 p.m. on the same day the city would meet to accept it, though they did so improperly, and the item of her resig-nation was not put on the commission’s agenda so that the public might comment and participate. It was placed on an addendum, not offered along with the agenda, but placed in a separate location. It was never seen at the meeting by former commissioner Lenny Gregrey and Bill Spannring, according to their testimony, and no mention of Jones’ resignation was made until the end of the meeting after Gregrey and others left.
Moreover, actionable city commission items are to be placed on the agenda the week preceding the meeting in which they are to be acted upon. Doing so in this case though would have pushed the matter forward and effectively postponed the selection process for Jones’ replace-ment to a new commission, and a new majority.
It’s hard to believe, then, given all the coinci-dences and self-serving eventualities, that the timing of Jones’ resignation was not an attempt to exclude the electorate and new commissioners from choosing her replacement.
All of the above represents the prima facie case for persons on the commission having attempted to thwart the election process procedur-ally (though legally)—and, indeed, the odds of all these events having taken place by chance, not by design, seem astronomically remote.
Enter Judge Swandal, who effectively negated this alleged scheme (so it seemed) by ruling that Jones’ resignation was conducted improperly. It would have to be resubmitted and as a result fall to the new commission. Nancy Adkins would then likely be selected and the ideological balance on the commission would shift to the new commissioners.
Swandal’s ruling though meant that Jones was still a city commissioner, one who could still act to retain control of the commission on behalf of the remaining incumbents. With Jones onboard, their majority would still be in place. And so no matter how obvious the implication that this was the intent all along, Jones decided she would not resign. Miraculously, she was well enough after all and would continue as a city commissioner.
Headaches, indeed, for the City of Livingston.