The City of Monticello is without a city manager after an emergency meeting of the Monticello City Council on February 2.
After meeting in executive session for nearly two and one half hours, the city council opened a public session with a motion to discontinue the employment relationship with longtime city manager Trent Schafer.
With a motion by Walter Bird and a second by Jeremy Hoggard, the vote was three in favor (including Brad Randall) and one against (Jerry Ward). Councilman Scott Shakespeare was not in attendance.
A group of approximately 30 Monticello residents had waited for the public session and were eager to ask questions about the decision. However, Mayor Doug Allen said that the city would not answer questions about the decision, aside from making a statement that an investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Schafer.
Allen explained that the council had two interests to consider and respect: the interests of the city and the interests of Schafer. As a result, he said that he and the council would not answer questions about the decision.
The city has been without the services of the city manager since Schafer was put on paid administrative leave in mid-December. A team of auditors from the state of Utah completed an investigation of city finances in January.
Allen said that the findings of the investigation may never be made public, aside from the statement that it found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. “I wish that I could make a statement, but we are advised by legal council that we cannot,” said Allen.
When asked how the city can operate without a city manager, Allen said that it would continue to limp along, like it has during the administrative leave of Schafer.
Allen said that the city is likely to hire a new city manager and then move toward filling the additional open positions in the city. The Assistant City Manager has remained unfilled since the departure of Greg Martin in November, 2007. The Hideout Golf Course does not have a director of golf. Public works director Nathan Langston and assistant recorder Debbie Rush have announce their resignations, but apparently have agreed to stay on for the short run.
In addition, the city is involved in a number of projects that require the attention of a city manager, including the rebuilding of the city water collection system on the Abajo mountains, landscaping at the visitors center, and construction of a new city shop and maintenance facility.
At the February 2 meeting, the council also addressed the salaries paid to city employees and the offer by several city residents to volunteer their services through the current crisis.
Schafer is being represented by Moab attorney Steve Russell, who said, “They set this thing on Saturday and people stayed there for an hour and a half while the council did whatever they were doing. Then they came in and were not given a chance to hear the answers to their questions.”
“They not only didn’t tell the people why Trent was terminated, they didn’t tell us,” added Russell. “They sent a two or three page memo outlining their concerns. We made sure that we answered all their questions before we left. Then they went into session for an hour and a half and seemed to come to a conclusion that seemed pre-ordained.”
Schafer was hired as Monticello city manager in 1994, soon after the death of prior city manager Dan Shoemaker. He served for more than 13 years, during which time a host of issues and controversies besieged the city.
A firestorm of controversy erupted when the City Council announced their intent to purchase the community electrical system from Empire Electric. Four community members filed a lawsuit. More than 60 percent of registered voters in Monticello signed petitions asking that the electric system decision be put on a ballot.
Several years (and several hundred thousand dollars) later, Empire Electric signed another 20-year extension to provide electrical services in Monticello.
The U.S. Department of Energy completed a $250 million superfund cleanup of the Monticello Mill tailings during Schafer’s tenure. The massive project was completed with the construction of waste repository south of town and city ownership of a large tract of land at the site of the old vanadium and uranium processing mill.
Schafer was also involved as city manager during the construction of the 18-hole Hideout municipal golf course on the site of the nine-hole Blue Mountain Meadows. Construction of the multi-million dollar course took place in 2002, during one of the worst droughts in memory. The course has operated near a break-even point for the past two years.