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 , 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.“

Larry Bruce March 07, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Anon - example of the "lies"? I don't consider my statement a cheap shot but that can be debated. The difference is I use my real name.
Steve Wells March 07, 2012 at 09:10 PM
You gotta be kidding, Katherine. Conley had no idea of this until executive session right before. This is confirmed by his words and demeanor when the motion was made, which he wasn't expecting. You're in denial if you don't think it was a total "blindside." To Joe's very valid point, one of the amazing things about the chutzpah of the perpetrators was that they didn't even bother to bring the mayor in on their plan when it was first hatched (even to just get his input on such an important issue...a necessity, as Joe suggests), but instead caught EVERYONE -- including the public -- off-guard. Why? They were smart enough to know there would be an outcry from the public, and they didn't want to hear it and risk any of their 4 conspirators getting cold feet. What they DIDN'T count on was the public outcry being as loud as it's been in the wake of their deceitful action. And sorry, if you don't like those adjectives being applied to "fellow citizens" then you need to realize what THEY did to a "fellow citizen" in a totally inappropriate manner.
TiredofMadisonPolitics March 07, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Catherine, Agree with you on that! The partisan nonsense needs to cease and these folks need to work in the bests interests of all of Madison!
Larry Bruce March 07, 2012 at 11:02 PM
So, are you saying that you know that Conley is lying about this?
Lisa Ellis March 08, 2012 at 12:28 AM
In re-reading the article, I noted that there is some presumption that a RICE Notice in directly connected to dismissal. That is inaccurate. A RICE Notice must be issued to any or all employees as formal notice that their employment status will be discussed by, in this case, the Mayor and Council. The council had made it clear that they were going to discuss job consolidation and thus everyone to be “discussed” had to be noticed. Discussion of employment status does not equate to immediate dismissal in anyone’s mind especially not that of your top, well respected employee with no negative performance evaluations. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Mr. Codey was blindsided by this action as was Mayor Conley and they were not alone.
Karin Swenson Szotak March 08, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Lisa, my understanding of RICE, please correct me if I am wrong, is that an employee has an option as to whether to have the discussion behind closed doors in executive session or in open public session. When the BOE had a tentative force reduction a year ago, the people affected were notified individually before the rest of the public on whose positions were being cut and the potential dominoe effect that resulted from the bumping process. Perhaps the public doesn't know (and may never know) the entire story, but watching that video, I felt tension that couldn't be cut w a sword, let alone a knife. Even my husband who has never been to any meeting, found the video disturbing. It will be interesting to see how many people show up for the next council meeting.
Steve Wells March 08, 2012 at 12:59 AM
A lot will show up, Karin. Especially if what I heard this afternoon from a high-placed source is correct, that the whole thing needs to be re-done by Council at Monday's meeting in order to be official. Don't know details yet, but apparently in their haste to pull their coup, the Madison 4 made improper motions (or rather their leader JT did). Because it now has to be put on the agenda, the public will have the opportunity to speak on it AT THE START of the meeting as well as at the end. Again, my source is reliable, but I got this information while "on the fly," so I don't have the two confirmations I insist on before stating something for certain. All this, and Peachie, too!
Joseph Kennedy March 08, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Steve, I can only assume that the part about "those adjectives being applied to "fellow citizens" was in response to my p.s., in which I am referring to Patch comments to each other, not comments directed to the council. In many cases if our kids spoke this way to another student, regardless of circumstance, we would have told them to reconsider before they wrote.
Catherine with a K March 08, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Steve, I hope this isn't the same reliable source that told you John Sette was ticked off about Codey getting sacked!! I also hope it isn't the same reliable source that said the R's were trying to kill the library.
Devilsfan100 March 08, 2012 at 03:09 AM
I agree this may have not been the most professional way to let Ray go! But when Ray sent Doug Smith, a long time employee that never called out sick and did his job a letter in the mail informing him his position was being turned into a part time position without benefits when he had a kid sick in the hospital was far from professional, so I guess he now knows how that feels. Regardless of whether or not Doug needed to go that way was bad business. Other council members had to know this was going to happen, as I said in the past they were talking about it last year. They wanted to not re-appoint him last fall and somehow it went through. The bottom line is he had to go one way or another, he wore out his welcome. You all have no clue what goes on behind the scenes here in Madison. What's a true shame is that more of our intelligent residents don't take an interest in the day to day operations of our town as a whole!
Steve Wells March 08, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I agree, Joe. Sadly, when people (especially when hiding behind a screen name) take a position on something, too many of them vent through gratuitous insult. Which brings us to Katherine. I stand by my Sette information, from two sources I trust. All he's said publicly is that he, as Repub County Chair, would support the local party in the event of a recall. He's certainly free to state publicly that he finds blindsided coups by his party members perfectly acceptable, just as Repubs are free to say Limbaugh was correct in his verbal assault on Fluke. (Of course they haven't, but their silence is rather revealing.) YOU, though, have stated it's "obvious" that Mayor Conley is lying about when he found out about the plan of the Madison 4. Please explain what makes it "obvious" to you. Only a Repub scramble to cover up the truth could be responsible for that, which sadly flies in the face "getting beyond the bitter bipartisan politics" which you admirably yearn for. I'm as Independent as they come, but in today's municipal government it's easy to see that it's the Repubs who reject bipartisanship, to the detriment of us all.
Bill Kingston March 08, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Steve - Hate to comment on a subject mostly unrelated to this tread but you have been stating that the R's need to come out against Limbaugh when commenting on some parts of the merit of this thread. Many in fact have acknowledged his statements about Fluke to be unacceptable, yet not one D has come out against Mahr calling Palin the C word and Obama's super pac recently accepting 1 mil dollars from him, Maxine Water's "demonic" and several other vile comments on R's, and I could go on and on........! Leave that stuff at the door for these types, and specifically this thread please. Sadly, partisan politics is what now controls politics everywhere and will only hurt us all now, and in the futur - Nationally, on a State level, and here on the local level. Comparing anything here regarding Codey is a stretch at best at this point given any concrete details confirming same.
Anonymous March 08, 2012 at 03:38 AM
If you don't consider injecting a gratuitous slap at the former mayor as the first comment about a story that had NOTHING to do with her a "Cheap Shot," then you have lost touch with reality. As for Lies, how many stories has Mr. Wells alone told about this event on multiple threads - Mayor Dunne, Mayor Holden, Chairman Sette, etc., which all turned out to be, at best, figments of his imagination. And then there's your implication that this action was dictated by the governor. Seriously?! Sure you guys use your names, but that doesn't guarantee that anything you say is real or truthful. And it doesn't seem to temper your vitriol either. i prefer to remain factual, and, Anon Y. Mous
Anonymous March 08, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Is that fault of the council, or the borough attorney?
Larry Bruce March 08, 2012 at 11:36 AM
C w a K, - is it same to assume you won't be answering my question re whether you're claiming that Conley is lying?
Catherine with a K March 08, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Larry, I didn't see anywhere where Conley said he didn't know this was coming, so I can't say he was lying. But if he says he had no idea the R's were planning on eliminating Codey's position, I really can't see how that is true!
Catherine with a K March 08, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Steve, John Sette stated on this forum and to me in person that he supports the local republicans. And see my post above about whether Conley is lying. Classic straw man argument.
Steve Wells March 08, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Since we don't know who you are, Katherine, your comments lose much of their validity. (What are you afraid of?) Yes, he may "support" the local Repubs -- would be amazed if he didn't as their County chair -- but that's DIFFERENT than whether he approves of what they did and how they did it...all I know is what he's told several Repubs informally. It's amazing the amount of revisionist history that anonymous people post on this blog. I concur with your desire for an end to partisan politics, but how do you expect that end to come about when your party pulls backhanded stunts such as L'Affaire Codey? The "this was a budget issue" defense is what is disingenuous; if that were the case, the Madison 4 wouldn't have nixed the re-appointment of Codey in the subsequent vote.
Larry Bruce March 08, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Steve - Agree 100% re the uselessness of anonymous comments, especially from cwak since she seems to be knowledgable about local goings on. However, your continued reference to "several (nameless) Repubs" is no better. Either name them or stop bringing it up. Also, please explain your last sentence, I don't follow the logic.
Steve Wells March 08, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Valid point, Larry. Maybe we shouldn't care, or repeat, what any anonymous sources, no matter how well placed, have to say. After all, it creates an opening for a sideshow. My last sentence simply refers to what happened AFTER the initial vote to consolidate positions. Conley nominated Codey to fill the newly created position, and the same Madison 4 voted it down. Given that, their argument that the motive behind this axing was "budget savings" becomes ludicrous. I must say, reading the Eagle this morning, and seeing residents from as diverse constituencies as George Martin and Gene Zipper expressing their outrage is making me think that maybe, just maybe, a recall effort could be successful. In 14 years of living here, I have never seen the citizenry this collectively outraged over anything. If we're looking for a positive in this sad episode, it's the decency of the Madison populace coming to the fore.
Larry Bruce March 08, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Now I understand re reappointment. I guess the rest of your answer means you won't reveal your Sette info sources? Gene Zipper, really? Wow.
Noreen McManus March 09, 2012 at 05:11 AM
The manner in which Ray Codey was dismissed as Borough Administrator is a disgrace to the citizens of Madison. I expect better from our elected officials. I want to know the real reason Codey was dismissed. I can't believe it was an economic move, not after stellar performance by Mr. Codey during his years serving Madison and by his January 2012 appointment for another year. Let us know the truth behind this action. I respect Mr. Burnett and I respect Mr. Codey. I am not sure the actions of our council deserve my respect.
Robert McDowell March 09, 2012 at 07:40 PM
I do not want to be too negative in this comment, but this is our own fault in allowing the majority to rule as they will on the council. What I do not understand is why Mr Landrigan, a JPMorgan Chase fellow like myself would go along with this. As a community we need to parse our candidates more thoroughly and use our votes to avoid the early year show of muscle from the council majority. This is not new, this has been happening the last few years. I say, wake up Madison!!!! especially if this tactic was a big surprise to you.
TJ March 09, 2012 at 07:47 PM
unfortunately it happens at every level mr mcdowell. how do you think we got stuck with Obamacare?!!
Larry Bruce March 09, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Right TJ, heaven forbid everyone should have health insurance. Maybe you can explain why all the right wingers on here go nameless.
TJ March 09, 2012 at 10:48 PM
I'm a leftwinger and I dont like Obamacare! Since it passed my premiums have continued to skyrocket and many of my low income friends have dropped their employer coverage because its too expensive. Sounds great to give everyone health insurance but someone has to pay for it. Its going to be you and me my friend I'm afraid. get your checkbook out
Karin Swenson Szotak March 09, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Larry, There are a few right wingers who post w their name. Mr. Stevenson is one, or at least he leans that direction and certainly put that in the Eagle, I would tend to classify myself as right (certainly not an ultra conservative), but I tend to lean that direction w a more moderate viewpoint though. I also really want to give Council the benefit of knowing more than they can share. Admittedly, I'm still struggling w/ this though. Mainly I am disappointed in how it was handled and I question the way it happened. But speaking of the right wingers w/o names, I haven't seen any comments from Mad recently. Perhaps he has moved, or even changed his name. Regardless, I've always enjoyed his remarks, even when I didn't agree w them.
Robert McDowell March 09, 2012 at 11:53 PM
I thought we were talking about Madison. Losing Codey will hurt the town and it is our fault for letting it happen.
Patrick Franklin March 10, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Enough with the Obamacare debate, lets stick to the topic at hand.
Larry Bruce March 10, 2012 at 12:18 AM
You're right Patrick My fault, I let TJ suck me in.


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