Kerry Miller and Phylise Walker reactions by Council
Several South Lake Tahoe City Councilmembers are rallying behind City Manager Kerry Miller, calling Councilman Bill Crawford’s allegations against him a breech of confidence and ethics.
“Frankly, I’m very disappointed in Bill Crawford for quoting items to the media straight out of closed session. Confidentiality has been thrown out the window, and I feel Mr. Crawford should be the one to resign (instead of Miller),” said Councilman Tom Davis. “I suggest Mr. Crawford shouldn’t talk to the media when he has been drinking. I am very disturbed by this, he has completely broken my trust.”
Crawford responded to the allegation: “Mr. Davis must be clairvoyant, he’s never been in the same room as when I’ve spoken to the media. If he wants to make a horse’s ass out of himself, he’s free to do that. He has done it before.”
After a Sept. 7 closed session of the South Lake Tahoe City Council, Crawford said he planned to ask Miller and arts coordinator Phylise Walker to resign because of what Crawford called “a serious misappropriation of public funds.” He was referring to two checks totaling $548 – made out to Walker, and signed by Miller – reimbursing the arts coordinator for her health insurance.
Walker’s consulting contract with the city did not include health benefits.
According to Councilman Hal Cole, the city manager’s actions were appropriately dealt with during the closed session. But, Cole said, Crawford’s subsequent decision to leak the discussions to the press, as well as announcing he would seek Miller and Walker’s resignation, were, respectively, improper and exaggerated responses.
“I felt that writing the checks was clearly not allowed under (Walker’s) contract, and I was probably as upset at Phylise asking for the money as I was at Kerry for granting it. But I don’t think it’s worth firing someone over,” Cole said. “Kerry Miller has been a great city manager, but everyone makes mistakes. I thought his actions were inappropriate, but not illegal.”
The sticking point, according to both Cole and Davis, is Crawford’s breech of confidence in discussing closed-session items with the press.
According to The Brown Act, a law that legislates the release of public information, Crawford’s actions could have consequences. According to the law – which says that personnel and litigation issues that do not affect the public can be resolved through closed city council sessions – Councilmembers could bar Crawford from future closed sessions, or obtain an injunction against his making public disclosures.
However, according to Crawford, “The Brown Act does not prevent a city councilmember from talking to anyone. If there’s a breech of confidentiality, how come Tom Davis told the Mountain News that Kerry Miller’s behavior was inappropriate? They’re willing to talk, and that’s just what I’m doing.”
Councilwoman Brooke Laine said she has no plans to pursue the matter.
“There is city business, such as personnel issues, that sometimes necessitate a closed-session discussion. If the content of those closed sessions is not honored, then it puts the issue of the city and its elected officials being able to handle the delicate issues in serious question,” said Councilwoman Brooke Laine. “That is extremely unfortunate. It is disheartening that the confidentiality of that process was breached. But I don’t focus on going after anybody, and I personally do not have a plan of action.”
Davis feels differently. He said the issue will have to be discussed in a future closed-session meeting and appropriate action taken.
“I think Crawford ought to decide what his punishment should be for violating the council’s trust. It’s kind of like when a kid lies to you – it takes a long time to build that trust up again,” Davis said. “I believe the next step is for the city attorney to look at the situation, for Bill Crawford to apologize to the City Council and then to tell us what his punishment should be. However, if he wants to continue the battle, so be it, the swords are drawn.”
Mayor Judy Brown refused to comment on any of the issues.
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