City takes no action after disciplinary hearing | Local News
TRAVERSE CITY – City Commissioners took no action following a closed disciplinary hearing with City Manager Marty Colburn.
Commissioners met with Colburn on Monday behind closed doors during a special session that lasted into the night. Mayor Jim Carruthers closed this special session shortly after returning to the open session.
Colburn declined to comment, as did Carruthers. Commissioner Roger Putman confirmed that Colburn is still employed by the city as there was no vote to take action against him after the closed session.
The Open Meetings Act allows employees to request a private meeting for disciplinary matters, but public authorities must vote on any resulting decisions in an open meeting.
The meeting came a week after the commissioners unanimously agreed to uphold Colburn’s decision to fire the city treasurer and finance director, Kelli Martin. He barely gave a reason for Martin’s dismissal, other than a poor employee / employer match.
Martin said the same thing earlier, including with frequent opposition to their initiatives and several other issues that led them to conclude it wasn’t a game.
Commissioners chose not to attend a second closed-door session on Monday to discuss a privileged statement from City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht. Carruthers said commissioners discussed the same memo at their September 20 meeting, although Trible-Laucht noted Commissioner Christie Minervini was absent at the time, and Commissioner Brian McGillivary said approving the closed session would keep the option open.
A previous commission hired Colburn in mid-2015, and it has received largely positive annual reviews since then – commissioners unanimously agreed to a 3 percent increase at their previous meeting.
Before the commissioners unanimously confirmed Martin’s dismissal on September 20, she told them about several problems she had encountered in her job, including just before Colburn reprimanded her twice in August.
Along with battling outdated technology and saying it had an “assertive” tone, Martin told commissioners on Sept. 20 that she had refused to add Assistant City Manager Penny Hill back as administrator for the city’s financial accounting system . That was after Martin found out that Hill approved an expense without the city clerk and treasurer’s OK, which the city charter requires.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that City Human Resources Director Kristine Bosley was investigating Hill’s approval of two bills, one in October 2019 and one in May 2020. The first was for 38.49 US dollars from DeWeese hardware and the second for US $ 20,000 for electrical and communications service provider Windemüller. Bosley’s February 2021 report on the matter was sent to Colburn and Trible-Laucht.
Bosley noted that Hill had bypassed the approval process for both of them but accidentally did so, according to the report.
Hill was a company administrator in accounting software at the time, which meant she could approve expenses at the city secretary and treasurer level, said city secretary Benjamin Marentette.
Usually the department heads approve the city’s expenses, then the treasurer and the clerk last, Marentette said – the city manager must approve anything in excess of $ 5,000 before the clerk and treasurer do so, with the deputy city manager after Fills need.
“This means that not a penny can leave the city’s financial accounts without going through the treasurer and finally the clerk,” said Marentette.
He agreed with Bosley’s statement that Hill’s actions were unintentional.
Bosley recommended changing Hill’s software settings and running quarterly audits to look for similar issues, their report said.
And in July, the commissioners passed a new spending policy that said only the town clerk and treasurer would be designated as company administrators, Town Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said ahead of Monday’s meeting.
Hill declined to comment.
Marentette said another issue with the spending agency he found during an audit from January to June was also unintended. Three city employees – Nicole VanNess, Traffic Mobility Director for the Downtown Development Authority; Fire chief Jim Tuller; and then Assistant Treasurer James Henderson – had the ability to approve expenses within the software at all levels, including the clerk and treasurer levels.
Marentette found a few dozen issues approved this way, most from VanNess, he said. Most were small, routine expenses of $ 100 or less out of 6,670 transactions that occurred during that period, excluding payroll. He notified Colburn, Martin, and Trible-Leek on August 26th.
After reviewing the expenses, Marentette found that they were all fine, he said. He post-approved it, he said, emphasizing that none of the three knew what was going on – VanNess repeated this.
“I didn’t know I had access, so I didn’t know it happened,” she said.
Trible-Laucht said it recommended an external audit to review the spending to make sure it was all city-related and properly documented.
She agreed that she saw no sign of wrongdoing in Hills or any of the other employees’ situations.
The permissions for VanNess, Tuller and Henderson have changed, Marentette said. (Colburn has now appointed Henderson interim treasurer and finance director, which the commissioners approved on September 20.)
Marentette said he would conduct audits like the ones that uncovered the problem on a more regular basis. He also asked the manufacturer of the accounting software to make changes and asked for confirmation from any user who changed the relevant permission setting.
He’s not sure who was originally responsible for the change at Henderson, Tuller and VanNess, he said.
Martin, reached on Monday, referred questions to Marentette and Trible-Laucht.
Messages to Colburn asking about the spending control issues were not returned on Monday.
Monday’s special session took place less than a week after McGillivary expressed frustration over Colburn’s denial of requests to ask someone from city engineering to explain the implications of a proposed zoning change. The planning officers discussed the merging of the multi-family districts R-9, R-15 and R-29 into one district without density restrictions and higher impermeable surface boundaries – such as buildings and sidewalks.
McGillivary told planners he wanted someone from the engineering department to explain how this increase would affect stormwater management. Planners have been tasked with making a decision, and someone else deciding what information they need or not to make it could set a precedent, McGillivary said.
City and Planning Commissioner Christie Minervini told planners she was also surprised by Colburn’s response to the request.