Hillsboro city officials need to be more forthcoming about the reason that a former at-will city employee continues to be paid.
Through a public records request on Tuesday, The Times-Gazette confirmed that former Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin remains on the city payroll, so far being paid nearly $9,000 in gross wages across three two-week pay periods since his dismissal by Mayor Drew Hastings on Nov. 22, with the latest payment covering the most recently completed pay period of Dec. 25 2016 through Jan. 7, 2017. The arbitrary decision to continue these payments deserves further explanation.
Hastings has said multiple times that he opposes the payments. Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery – who apparently directed the city auditor to continue the payments – has defended that decision, but his reluctance to discuss the matter in much detail, while understandable to a degree for legal reasons, makes the situation that much more mysterious. There have been suggestions by various officials that city council has tacitly approved the arrangement. If that is true, where is the record of that approval? Was a vote taken? Such decisions are not permitted out of the public’s eye.
An appeal letter filed in December with the city by Wilkin’s attorneys includes a claim that in May 2016, Beery sent Wilkin an email stating, “Rest assured, as Lee (Koogler) and I have explained to you, your status as a whistle blower is accepted and acknowledged.”
Whether someone qualifies as a whistleblower is a legal determination that is not made arbitrarily without all sides first presenting their facts. It can be argued that back in May, Beery and Koogler felt that if Wilkin was dismissed before Hastings’ indictment and trial occurred, Wilkin might have had a strong whistleblower case. Perhaps they do not continue to agree with that assessment following the mayor’s acquittal. But assuring Wilkin that it was “accepted and acknowledged” that he had whistleblower status was an odd guarantee in any case.
After Wilkin’s dismissal, The Times-Gazette reported on Nov. 30 that Beery said that he “considers Wilkin’s employment terminated as of Nov. 22 when Hastings fired him.” But on Monday, Beery seemed reticent to repeat that conclusion in an interview. So is Wilkin still considered a city employee?
The mayor has called for a special council meeting on the subject, which has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Council will likely once again adjourn into executive session, which is appropriate to discuss personnel issues. But we believe council should emerge from that session and take a public vote on whether it supports keeping Wilkin on the city payroll. Whatever council decides, at least city residents and taxpayers will have a record of the decision. Without a formal motion or some other on-the-record description of the decision to continue the payments, under what authority are they continuing?
Under Hillsboro’s form of government, safety and service directors throughout the years have always been hired by the mayor, serving at the mayor’s discretion. At the very least, the city officials who support these continued payments should be more forthcoming about why the payments are being made, under what authority they are being continued, how long they can be expected to continue, and whether continuing the payments indicates that safety and service directors no longer work at the will and pleasure of this or future mayors.
We support Wilkin’s right to pursue whatever appeal or legal recourse might be at his disposal, including a claim that his firing was done improperly in retaliation for whistleblower activities, although the mayor disputes that. A hearing or court case will determine whether that was the case. But in the meantime, he clearly worked for the mayor as an at-will employee, and his dismissal by the mayor happened on Nov. 22. Taxpayers have a right to clearly understand why his pay and benefits did not end at that time.