City Manager Draws Fire

Commissioners Call Ed Meece to Task, Meece Makes His Case

BY DAVID S. LEWIS

Recently, the Livingston City Commission and City Manager Ed Meece agreed to hire a mediator to help resolve issues that had brought the commission almost to the point of firing Mr. Meece last month.

After a public meeting, though, at which public support was expressed for Meece, the commission and City Manager agreed to bring on a mediator from Helena. An initial organizational meeting with the mediator, the commission, and City Manager Meece was scheduled in late April.

The commission has reported that its reasons for having wanted to dismiss Meece are related to his alleged abrasive and dismissive management style with city officials and the public, and his failure to follow commission directives.

The people of Livingston, though, have so far remained to a significant degree in the dark about the specifics of the grievances the commission has had with the City Manager.
According to sources close to city government and well informed as to the City Commission’s grievances, Meece ran afoul of the commission in a variety of ways, notably perhaps by what the commission sees as his failure to pursue “stimulus” dollars as directed by the commission, federal funds available through the State of Montana that could finance local projects and contribute to the economic health of the community. 

In addition, assertions made regarding Meece’s management style describe him as  condescending and combative, and that his interactions with the public have been discour-teous. In terms of his attitude toward the City Commission, he is described as insubordinate, both in public meetings and privately, all of which Meece disputes.
“I am not aware of any time that I have been insubordinate to the   Livingston City Commission,” Meece wrote in a statement to the Pioneer, “[or that I] directly or indirectly failed to follow an instruc-tion from the City Commission.”

Sources acquainted with the internal workings of city government tell another story, that Meece is resistant to following commission directives, at first agreeing to do so, but then “procrastinating” to such an extent that the directives are effectively ignored.
Directives cited in this context include requests to assess the economic feasibility of a railroad quiet zone, possibilities for dealing with the old water works building near Sacajawea Park, and a feasibility study for a possible wind generation project funded by a Clean Renewable Energy Bond.

Another bone of contention that has raised the ire of city commissioners has been Meece’s alleged failure to propose projects to the state of Montana for “stimulus” funding, projects that would bring dollars into the local economy, saving local taxpayers the expense of paying for improvements through their utility bills. Funding requests reportedly not filed would have, if approved, funded projects like the north side soccer fields, a water main replacement on Front Street, a 7th and 8th Street sewer main project, the initial phase of downtown reconstruction for Vision Livingston,  and others.

Meece did not involve the commission, the Pioneer was told, in what the commission asserts is the “only” measure actually slated for stimulus funding that Meece requested, a $600,000 stimulus grant for an anaerobic sewer plant and composting project.
After failing to bring the City Commission into the funding request process, Meece’s detractors say, commissioners individually, and then the commission as a body, asked that additional projects be submitted to the state for funding. Meece reportedly informed the commission that it was “too late” for stimulus funding requests.

Meece told the Pioneer, though, that he “vigorously pursued all types of external funding sources, including grants, local mill levies, stimulus monies, and federal appropriations, to supplement the operations and capital improvement programs of the City of Livingston.”

Throughout most of the legisla-tive session, he said, even state government was not sure exactly how the discretionary portion of the stimulus funds would be distributed. Meece said that, to date, the City of Livingston has been involved in stimulus funding requests totalling $1,629,000, with $754,000 approved, $75,000 pending, and $800,000 denied.
Funding requests submitted by Meece, though, do not necessarily resemble those the commission sees as having been neglected, according to a list of proposed requests, partial in nature, acquired by this publication.
“Roughly 46 percent of our stimulus requests…were funded,” Meece said, cautioning that the funding requests are still subject to the whims of the state budget process.

The manner in which a Fire Chief was recently hired surfaced as another matter of contention between the commission and the City Manager. Generally, the City Manager manages city staff (including hiring and firing) under his own authority, but state law relegates the hiring and firing of a fire chief to the City Commission. The commission’s grievance, the Pioneer has learned, is that it was not given an opportunity to interview the new chief before he was offered a contract by Meece. Furthermore, when the commission asked to meet with the candidate before approving his contract, Meece agreed to the meeting with “great visible reluctance.”

Meece, though, characterized the process of hiring the Fire Chief this way: “During the recent search for a new Fire Chief,” he said, “I kept the City Commission advised on the progress of our efforts. I did this because it is my habit with any ‘department head’ level hiring. …Upon my final recommendation to hire, the City Commission expressed a dissatisfaction with their role and requested a special meeting to further address the topic and possibly interview Mr. Davis [the then candidate]. At that meeting, following my presentation of Mr. Davis' professional abilities, the City Commission approved hiring him as Fire Chief.”

Former City Commissioner Patricia Grabow (an auxiliary source used in the preparation of this report), who was an outspoken critic of the City Manager while in office, and a sometimes contentious  figure herself, described Meece in a recent phone conversation as “the worst City Manager imaginable,” given what she described as his pattern of defying or ignoring the elected commission’s directives and acting on his own without consulting commissioners. She also described Meece as having been in the process of “creating an empire of his own.”
 Grabow served on the City Commission from January 2005 until January  2008.

Meece told us, though, that as City Manager he has conducted himself professionally, appropriately, and according to state law.
“As city manager,” he said, “I am responsible for providing leadership and oversight to the operations of local government; that is my statutory role under Montana law. I am careful to only speak on behalf of the Administration, and try to advise the City Commission on issues with external, policy, or community implications. I am certain there is always room for improvement, but I strive to keep all necessary parties in the loop.”

Meece also stated that he acts, in his professional capacity, in the basic interest of fairness to individ-uals, organizations, and the com-munity.

 

 

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