Former Mayor: Codey Firing Wasn't the Madison Way
Kerkeslager says move was political and should have been done in a more appropriate manner.
Madison Council President Jeannie Tsukamoto, who made the motion last week to fire Borough Administrator Ray Codey, maintains the move was purely budgetary and not political.
However, others, including former Republican Mayor Woody Kerkeslager, feel differently.
“I don’t believe the average person on the street or a knowledgeable attorney would say the effect of firing an administrator can be construed merely as a budget transaction,” Kerkeslager said Tuesday.
Kerkeslager also said the public setting of the termination was atypical of borough leaders.
"There is a Madison way of doing things. That is not the way you do things," he said. "If you know you’re going to be firing someone, you should treat them like a human being, like an employee, like a person that you value. You will not in public, on the spur of the moment, say goodbye."
Mayor Bob Conley, who tried to revoke the majority action by motioning to reappoint Codey to the position, said there was discussion after the executive session prior to the public meeting last Monday night regarding the possibility of consolidating the borough administrator and assistant borough administrator positions. But no discussion indicated what the four Republicans were about to do, Conley said.
Conley said he expected public discussion to cover all possibilities of consolidation and that action on any consolidation would come at the final budget vote on April 9.
Instead, Tsukamoto made the motion to consolidate the positions and hand the responsibilities to Assistant Borough Administrator Jim Burnet, who has earned $95,000 a year. The motion was supported by fellow Republicans Robert Catalanello, Donald Links and Robert Landrigan.
Tsukamoto maintains that all department heads were warned after a Feb. 16 budget meeting that their job descriptions were being considered for possible consolidation and that a Feb. 22 meeting was held under the direction of Codey, also an attorney, who explained the RICE notices.
A RICE notice must be delivered to affected employees that they may lose their job due to economic reasons, an anticipated failed budget or due to bumping rights, according to the Sunshine Law. Affected employees must be given warning, known as a RICE notice, which gives the employee the right to request a public hearing.
Besides the borough administrator and assistant borough administrator, the positions under review included the CFO, personnel officer, purchasing officer (now vacant), municipal engineer, tax assessor (part time), borough clerk, director of technology, superintendent of public works, electric utility superintendent, police chief and fire chief.
Tsukamoto said everyone holding any of those positions was under fair warning.
“The actions we take must take place in public," she said. "Whether or not that someone knew they were going to lose their job…they don‘t know that 100 percent until they lose their job."
The fact that Codey was reappointed in January for one year as borough administrator after taking the position with a four-year contract in 2007 points to a budgetary move, Tsukamoto said.
“We had the opportunity to get rid of him [in January], but we didn’t,” she said. “It was nothing to do with a Republican majority. We’ve had a Republican majority for quite a few years already.” The decision not to keep Codey for the three months he will continue to be paid was a decision of the council’s labor attorney, she added.
Tsukamoto said once the council decided there would be no rate increases in electricity or water and that the budget could only increase by 2 percent, the move was logical. The council voted to expend $81,000 to keep the library afloat and budget $46,000 for a new police officer and $23,000 for additional public works salaries.
For a home assessed at about $400,000, the 2 percent tax hike will amount to about $73, or $36.50 per 1 percent. By removing Codey’s position at around $200,000 with salary and benefits, the budget increase went from 3 to 2 percent, she said.
Residents like Bill Cole, who has called for a recall of both Tsukamoto and Catalanello, whom he calls the architects of the ouster, say the savings don’t make sense when local officials confirm that the Codey/Burnet team has saved $1.4 million in two years.
“Doing the math, $1.4 million over two years, what a performance that is,” Cole said. “When we say it has nothing to performance it should have everything to do with performance. ... There is clearly something else there. They were trying to get rid of him.“
Conley said the next meeting on March 12 will feature ordinances to dismiss Codey and to lower the salary of borough administrator to match Burnet’s current one.
“I thought they would come out and not take any action in removing anyone,” Conley said. “He was given warning between executive session and public session.”
Conley said he was aware the council might try to combine positions “but not aware of necessarily of how it was going to be done,” adding that he agreed with Kerkeslager that an unannounced, very public firing was not the Madison way.
“If you want to teach anyone how to act as a gentleman in any circumstances, Ray Codey and Jim Burnet will give you two great examples,” he said.
The real loser, according to Kerkeslager and Cole, is the public.
“I think the best thing to happen would have been to have the council reconsider that decision and ask for input, bring ideas to the table and have different ways to resolve the budget,” Kerkeslager said.
“It just came up and it was approved just like that and it blindsided everyone, including Ray Codey.“