City administrators have come under fire in Faribault County
More than one person in Blue Earth this past week has asked me, “What is going on at City Hall?” They are referring, of course, to the sudden controversy over City Administrator Kathy Bailey’s evaluation and annual review. It has been on the agenda for several weeks, and will be on it again this Monday night. The answer to the question is, officially, we don’t know. That is due to the fact that any real discussion on the matter is being conducted behind closed doors. However, although the door might have been shut, it didn’t keep out all of the sound. There was a lot of loud voices and shouting. Not a little, mind you, but a lot. The discussion was loud enough that a Fairmont Sentinel reporter, standing closer to the closed door than I was, put names and comments from the closed meeting into her story. I was further down the hall in a separate room, and I could still hear the yelling from there. I am not sure if we had been booted out of the building that we wouldn’t still have heard it out on the street. One of the people who was inside the room summed it up later by saying, “emotions were running high.” Seems like an understatement to me. Because the whole thing is playing out in closed sessions, the public is forced to have to guess what is going on. As reporters, we try and refrain from guessing in our stories, but this is a column, my own opinion, so guessing is allowed. My guess is, there are three members of the City Council who have one opinion of Bailey’s performance, and three others who have a differing opinion. You can speculate who each of the three are by checking out the names on each of the special ‘evaluation sub-committees’ listed in the front page story this week. One person, after the long closed meeting was over, was heard to say, “I guess it’s Blue Earth’s turn.” Now that seems like a funny comment. I would guess he is referring to the fact that former Wells City Administrator Ronda Allis came under some heat, and wound up leaving. Then in Winnebago, City Administrator Jennifer Feely came under fire. She, too, left her post for another position. Now it is Kathy Bailey in Blue Earth. Apparently she is also taking some heat. You can draw your own conclusions from this pattern. I am not sure there is a true connection, but it sure seems possible. There has also been some serious issues in each of the three cities as well. In Wells, there is an ongoing investigation into two unnamed employees. Although the probe is complete, the public is still in the dark on the resolution. The price for the investigation, over $24,000, is causing some councilmen to experience sticker shock. Winnebago has the issue of former administrator Feely accusing council members of violating state laws. That resulted in another expensive investigation, with results never fully released to the public. Blue Earth, too, has both the airport runway expansion issue, as well as the forced move (or removal) of the ambulance garage. Both of these have resulted in some heated exchanges at council meetings. City administrators have an unenviable position many times. They have to report to the City Council, and follow their lead. If the council itself is split on how an issue should be addressed, the administrator is going to upset some of them by proceeding either way. We received some criticism at the Register this past week, for reporting on these negative issues. A person thought we should concentrate on the positive only. I feel we do a pretty good job of filling our pages with some wonderful, warm human interest stories. But, our mission is also to report on all of the news. It is the public’s right to know what their public officials are up to. And, it is our responsibility to report it. We’ll keep on doing that despite some closed doors once in a while.