Janesville65.4°

Sheiffer accuses city employees of ‘character defamation’

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GINA R. HEINE
April 29, 2008
— City Manager Steve Sheiffer accused some city employees of defaming him after a council member suggested he not hire, fire or promote employees before he retires this fall.

Councilman George Brunner sparked the tense discussion at the end of a four-hour council meeting Monday night by saying that some city employees are feeling “stress and concern” with the transition to a new city manager.


Sheiffer said he “knows there’s some employees out there defaming the city manager. I know it. I wonder why.”


City employees contacted Brunner to express concern over their jobs, Brunner said.


“Some feel threatened by the unknown and the change to a new city manager,” he said.


“I know there’s a lot of stress out there,” he said. “I don’t know why some employees are feeling threatened by it.”


Brunner suggested the city not hire, fire or promote anyone except for needed hires and promotions within public safety.


“No, thank you,” Sheiffer responded to Brunner’s request. “That’s certainly a violation of charter for the city council to direct the city manager to not perform his duties. And I think if the city employees have a concern, they should raise it through the proper channels.”


Sheiffer said he would not agree with Brunner’s request as the meeting neared 11 p.m.


“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Sheiffer said. “Name names.”


Council President Amy Loasching said transition in any business causes stress and uncertainty for families, which is something to be concerned about.


“But you, yourself, have said it’s good to have some vacancies,” she said to Sheiffer, “and it’s good to have some opportunities for our new city manager to be able to put people where he wants them, and that that would be a good thing for our community.”


Sheiffer agreed and said he understands the stress, but he said the city council’s request for the city manager to not perform his duties was a “very serious request.”


“If you do not have confidence in the city manager, I suggest you take this issue up,” he said.


Sheiffer said he didn’t have any “great” plans for change and again asked Brunner to “name names.”


Loasching stepped in, saying that would be unfair.


“I think that we should just understand this is an overall situation,” she said. “It’s a fact of life. It happens in the city government just like it’s going to happen for General Motors and Lear and the other companies who are under change right now.”


But Sheiffer said it’s obvious the request was made by someone who thinks “we’re going to take some action or somebody who wants to interfere.”


“Or somebody who just feels threatened with change,” Loasching said.


Councilman Russ Steeber voiced support for Sheiffer’s job performance and said it’s inappropriate for the council to make such a request because Sheiffer needs to do the job he’s paid to do.


“Steve, you do a good job,” he said. “I realize we’re in transition, but the city still needs to move on. The business of the day needs to take place.”


Steeber, a sheriff’s department lieutenant, said he understands the concerns because he gets nervous during every election for sheriff.


“I could have a new boss, and that’s just the way it is,” he said.


Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil said she agreed with Steeber’s comments on Sheiffer’s role. The issue could be an opportunity for employees who feel stressed or who are having trouble dealing with change to take advantage of employee assistance programs, she said.


Sheiffer said the turnover rate among city employees is “extremely low,” and very few personnel actions are taken. The only hiring and firing decisions Sheiffer makes come from direct reports by department heads, he said.


“I don’t know where this is coming from, it’s not true,” he said adamantly. “There’s some character defamation going on.”



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