Last week’s Tenino City Council meeting revealed a growing tension between Mayor Wayne Fournier and the city’s council members.
Time and time again, Fournier found himself in heated conversations with City Council members. At times, the debate devolved into bickering and personal attacks. Rarely did the discussions culminate in a decision, create a consensus or lay the framework for future accord.
The conflicts bounced off and around a litany of issues, including hiring of a replacement for the city’s clerk-treasurer position.
This is not the first time the position has been a source of contention. The former clerk-treasurer resigned at the beginning of March, citing Fournier’s alleged “bullying and verbal abuse as a management style” in a resignation letter as her reason for leaving.
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The city recently had The Evergreen State College review a short stack of applications for the position in hope of gleaning outside feedback on the best candidate. The report came back with a weighted list of candidates as well as suggestions for altering the position, including making the clerk-treasurer position two separate jobs.
Despite the feedback, Fournier and the council were at an impasse over the position.
Councilwoman Sirena Painter said she was displeased with the process of finding a replacement, stating that she does not believe it is possible to put up a classified posting and find a qualified candidate in such a short time .
“I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Painter said. “Maybe if we were offering 90 or 100 dollars to do the job, then we’d have a roomful of applicants.”
Painter wants the search for candidates to be expanded.
When Fournier said that accounting practices are not the city’s greatest shortfall or biggest priority, Painter was incredulous, saying, “It’s like you don’t even recognize that we’ve been audited the last six years in a row.”
Fournier again said that accounting is not a priority problem for the city. Rather, the mayor said, it is the city’s general lack of organization, rock-steady procedural operations and oversight that are the town’s biggest hang-ups, noting many breaches of personnel files in various city departments as evidence of the city’s inadequacies.
Councilman John O’Callahan was the mayor’s biggest critic. He had a sharp reply for Fournier’s claim: “What you’re saying we are worst at is your job.”
Councilman Craig Lester abstained from all clerk-treasurer discussions, noting that his wife is one of the applicants for the post.
Another point of contention during the City Council meeting arose during a discussion about the roles of council members as designated liaisons for various city departments. Fournier expressed concern that the liaisons may be overstepping their authority by having conversations with low-level members of those departments instead of speaking directly to the department heads.
The mayor said he believes a more traditional chain of command in which employees report directly to their supervisors is best.
Council members were largely of a different mind, viewing the liaison positions as similar to that of a union representative who staff members can freely approach to voice concerns without fear of reprisal from their bosses. Council members were concerned that Fournier’s approach could limit open dialogue within city government.
At least two council members insinuated that the mayor’s concern is a sign of paranoia.
Councilman David Watterson is in favor of hiring an outside firm to perform a comprehensive audit of the city’s operations. Watterson said Tenino lacks the resources or know-how to fix its problems in-house.
“We cannot do the things we need to do to get the city back online,” Watterson said.
Watterson said the state can send down a team to conduct a city operation audit. He suggested that route to streamlining the city’s procedures.
Fournier was hesitant about the price of a procedural audit. No action was taken on the idea during the meeting.