MOUNT CARMEL — City Manager Mike Housewright was the subject of Friday’s special called BMA meeting for apparently making a “mistake” so bad that no one on the board would speak it out loud.
On the other side of the boardroom, there was a standing-room-only crowd, many of whom defended Housewright throughout the meeting, which had been advertised as his “90-day evaluation.”
The anonymous document
The large crowd was likely motivated to attend Friday’s meeting based on a document that has been circulating on social media that outlines a supposed plan for Housewright’s termination.
The only board member to address that document was Alderman Diane Adams, who described it as “rumors” and “lies.”
The document claims that the BMA intended to fire Housewright, name Police Chief Jeff Jackson city manager, name former interim police chief George Copas police chief, and Mayor Chris Jones would resign and become public safety director at an annual salary of $38,000.
Vice Mayor Carl Wolfe would then become mayor and Alderman Eugene Christian would become vice mayor.
What’s the origin of these rumors?
The Times News did some digging and, based on accounts of various City Hall sources, determined that some of those ideas were actually proposed by Mayor Chris Jones about a year ago when it was announced that former city manager Gary Lawson was retiring.
Jones reportedly suggested resigning to take over the public safety director job after Lawson’s departure and suggested that then public safety director Jackson would serve as assistant city manager until a permanent manager was hired.
That was long before Housewright had even been considered as a replacement for Lawson, however.
Jones’ original proposal was presented about a year ago to Lawson, who then distributed it to the rest of the BMA, but it was dismissed by the board and never came up for a vote or discussion.
Is there any truth to the rumors?
Jones told the Times News last week that he hadn’t seen the new document suggesting Housewright be fired until the Times News sent him a copy last Thursday.
Jones also stated there was no truth to the rumor that Housewright would be fired and that none of the changes suggested on the document are being considered.
Jackson, who is retiring as of June 29, told the Times News there is no truth to any rumor about him becoming city manager.
What about Housewright’s “mistake”?
That’s not to say that some members of the BMA don’t have a bone to pick with Housewright.
On multiple occasions during Friday’s meeting, board members referred to Housewright’s “mistake,” although they refused to speak specifically about what he did.
It’s common knowledge, however, that some board members weren’t happy with Housewright’s decision to demote former interim police chief George Copas to patrolman.
The specific reason for that demotion hasn’t been released.
Does Housewright think he made a mistake?
Housewright told the Times News Tuesday, “I looked at the department, assessed the needs and made a personnel change based on what I felt was in the best interest of the department and the city.”
Housewright added that, despite the controversy generated by that move, if he had it to do over he would make the same decision.
It’s an election year, and Housewright said he realizes as a new city manager he will be used as political fodder.
“I’ve got to focus on the administrative side,” he said. “It’s tough here because there are a lot of rumors, and they travel very quickly. ... I’ve got to base my decisions on what I see in the operation of the city and not on the rumor mill out there.”
One bit of consolation for Housewright was the fact that every member of the audience who spoke at the beginning of Friday’s evaluation told the board, with varying degrees of ire, not to fire him and to give him a chance.