By Naomi Hatch –
Following a lengthy special meeting Feb. 23, the Taylor Town Council renewed Town Manager Eric Duthie’s contract in a 4-2 vote.
At Duthie’s request, the discussion was held in open session.
“I really appreciate the fact that we have a forum like this to be able to address the gossip, the stories, the lies that have been told for a long time and get the record straight,” said Duthie.
Mayor Debbie Tuckfield invited council members to ask questions or express any concerns they might have.
Councilman Mark Reed began the discussion, stating, “I am grateful to you for any good you’ve done for the town.” He went on to express his biggest concern, which was whether Duthie intended to remain as town manager.
“My ambition is to do the best for wherever I am,” said Duthie. “It’s been rather difficult to weather that continuous storm of stories and perceptions.”
He confirmed he had received job offers and looked at other jobs, but said, “I have no intention of leaving here.”
Councilman Jared Hatch reminded the council that they went through this process last year in executive session, where they made recommendations to Duthie, and he asked, “Did it improve, stay the same or has it gotten worse?”
“I’ll answer first,” Hatch continued. “I’ve seen improvement with issues that arise, he answers, he does what I ask him to do, he follows up with me. There’s a lot of improvement there.”
“I do feel like you’ve tackled some important issues that we’ve directed you to,” said Mayor Tuckfield, noting the water source as number one. “There have been some issues that you and I have discussed, and I do believe they play into your role as city manager. I think you smoothed my feathers, but I don’t believe you were completely up front and so for me that is still an issue, but as far as staying in communication with me and keeping me informed, you’ve done a good job.”
Duthie responded that he felt his relationship with the council has been solid, and he felt from a staff standpoint he was not aware of any issues. “From a public standpoint, it depends what public you’re talking about. If you talk about the public that is truly concerned in making good things happen, they talk to me,” said Duthie, who said he felt that relationship was good.
Vice Mayor Jordy Fuentes expressed concern, noting that he feels that staff is still off limits to the council, and said, “We are tasked with such huge issues in this town that any information is good information. It’s my impression that we get directed information. I think we had the same conversation last year.”
The vice mayor noted that he feels he has done a good job in working on those priorities set up last year and coming up with solutions, but expressed concern that some policies had not been changed. He had previously discussed with Duthie getting information out to the newspapers, because, “There’s a huge misconception in this town saying things that are completely uninformed. I want people to understand the real facts, the truth.” He noted that was one thing he felt was not addressed well.
Councilman Jay Whipple was present in Duthie’s hiring interview, and stated that there were things discussed there and at last year’s evaluation that had not been done, such as employee evaluations, Duthie continuing his education and Duthie moving to Taylor.
The council was to pay half of the cost of Duthie’s continuing education, but withdrew that in the contract last year. Duthie said that he cannot afford a master’s degree, and that he does not have the time to take classes because the closest school is in Flagstaff.
Duthie is renting a home in Snowflake and said if there was a reasonable location in Taylor for the same price, he was amenable to moving, but expressed concern about investing in a home when his contract states he could lose his job with little notice.
Whipple questioned how much time Duthie was out of the office and expressed concern that he was not accessible, stating, “I feel that’s something important to work on.” He also expressed concern about travel expenses, though he had not received figures related to that.
Duthie explained that he and four staff members under the direction of council attend meetings dealing with water issues, and that when they attend out of town meetings, they leave at 5 or 6 a.m. and return in the evening. Duthie was directed by the mayor and vice mayor to attend regional meetings. Whipple said he was aware of those issues and knew Duthie was directed to be involved, stating, “I compliment you on the things you did.”
“I think the strategic planning we’ve directed him to do, he has done. I appreciate the information he has given us,” said Councilwoman Jane Lee who said that she felt that she had learned more in the last four years than she did in college.
Councilman Robin Palmer stated, “I’ve paid attention to whenever I’ve needed him, but I can tell you, when I’ve needed his help, needed his information, needed help for the Economic Development Committee, he’s always been there. I know he’s on other committees, he’s been directed to do because a lot of times we can’t go to those. My thought is, if that’s something out of proportion, it’s redirection we need to give him, because from my point of view, I’ve had his help and his expertise.”
The meeting was then opened to public comments, though the mayor noted that if at any time she felt the comments were getting out of hand or lacking respect, she would stop the conversation. Each person was given three minutes.
“I appreciate the things that have been asked, the things that have been addressed,” said Gary Solomon. “It’s been a pleasure to sit here and listen to the council, who I have great admiration for.” He then asked for clarification on several items on Duthie’s contract, which Town Attorney Sterling Solomon provided.
“You’ve admitted that you’ve moved around a lot. Unfortunately, we do hear things about your following, so if we’ve repeated them, we felt like we had good information,” said Gary Solomon.
“I appreciate the fact that you claim ownership on researching those things you have heard,” responded Duthie, noting that when Gary Solomon said “we,” he was talking about his group. “No one has asked me about these and I would like someone to explain to me what relevance they have here.”
Gary Solomon said he would do so at a later time, stating, “Leave it alone. You covered yourself really well. You’re argumentative.”
“If being blunt is being direct and honest, fine,” said Duthie, expressing concern that untruth was put into print and the accuser has never talked to him, and he would like to set the record straight.
Ray Cox referred to the “demeanor policy” Duthie put into place, noting, “The sole discretion is Duthie screening all the paperwork.”
“I want you to know, the information you and your wife are repeating is very incorrect,” said Mayor Tuckfield, who explained the call to the public. She explained the forms are given to the clerk and then to the mayor, with Duthie never handling them.
“I would like to straighten something out,” said Fuentes referring to a letter to the editor submitted by Catherine Cox. “I and Debbie (Tuckfield), sitting at her house, talked about it. Mr. Duthie was nothing more than directed by me and Mrs. Tuckfield to make that happen, so the information was incorrect.”
“It’s unusual for anyone to be able to stand up here and speak for three minutes,” said Cox, who also expressed concern that the 2009 contract had been lost.
Town Clerk Kelly Jones made a statement regarding the missing contract and said she has implemented a new policy.
In the letter, Cox also accused the town and Duthie of consolidating the Little League program with Snowflake and that was discussed.
“Does this have anything to do with Eric’s contract,” asked Sterling Solomon, because if it did not, legally it could not be discussed. It was decided that it was part of the misconception people have.
Fuentes, who served on the Little League, explained why they formed the Silver Creek Little League, which came down to a lack of volunteers.
Cox brought up the $6,000 misused prior to Duthie’s hiring.
Mayor Tuckfield assured Cox that the town did not fund Little League, acknowledging that at one point when Steve Sturgell was town manager, some money was given to help with problems the league was having.
Tuckfield explained again that the time for call to the public has never been gone; at her request they moved it to the end of the meeting because she felt town business was more important.
“The freedom of speech has always been present with this council,” said the mayor.
“It was implemented after the council was placed under citizen’s arrest,” explained Fuentes, who then said to Cox, “I think your logic is flawed.”
There was a lengthy discussion on the call to the public policy and the policy regarding placing an item on the agenda. Mayor Tuckfield had the policies displayed on a screen and explained. Jones said that Taylor is one of the last towns to implement these policies.
Brian Birtcher, who served on the council two years, said he felt Duthie was beholden to the council and he completed directions he had been given by the council even though at times it was not in Duthie’s best interest. “But I feel like he followed that anyway,” said Birtcher.
“I’m not sure if Mr. Duthie’s contract should be renewed,” said Shirley Hatch. She stated that Duthie and Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson contacted the county a year prior to the consolidation debate to discuss how to get consolidation approved. She said consolidation was Duthie’s objective, noting, “He knew it would cause contention and most of you (looking at the council) knew it would cause contention. Taylor has won.
“He (Duthie) has been looking for other jobs, he doesn’t stand up for Taylor, we don’t seem to have anything here that we had traditional,” Hatch continued. “My group here, we have been called names.”
Duthie addressed Hatch, stating, “I appreciate you bringing this out in the open. Have you and I ever spoken about consolidation?”
“Absolutely no way,” responded Hatch.
“One thing obviously clear, it amazes me that there are people who are willing to express my opinion and more than willing to tell me what my plans are and have never spoken to me. It’s the stories, the gossip and the rumors,” said the town manager.
Duthie then stated that he never has spoken with the county regarding consolidation. He said that at no time did he make public comments about consolidation because it was not proper for the town manager to take sides; however he was instructed by the council to work with the consolidation committee.
Hatch said Snowflake was taking over the rodeo grounds.
Fuentes, who had just attended a Special Days meeting, stated, “In no way, shape or form does Snowflake do anything without Taylor’s approval,” adding “they pay for the rental of the rodeo grounds.”
Hatch told him she appreciated his conduct and would come in to talk to him, but will bring a witness.
There was a brief explanation by Sterling Solomon on the process for renewal or non-renewal of the town manager’s contract. He pointed out that if a motion was made, it must be done by March 1 unless Duthie approved an extension. There was concern because two of the 30 evaluations had not been returned and the council had not reviewed them.
Duthie did not request changes to the contract. His salary is $85,000 annually.
Council members said they felt that additional direction could be given to Duthie at a later date.
Palmer was asked how he felt and responded with a motion to approve Duthie’s contract for the next year. Lee seconded the motion, which passed with Palmer, Lee, Hatch and Reed voting in favor of it, and Tuckfield and Fuentes opposing it.