The civil service hearing was continued until Friday evening, August 24th to hear testimony from former finance director Maria Pierce, who was unable to attend the previous meeting on Tuesday, August 21st. The city tried to recall John Calkins to the stand, but the rules state no further witnesses or records could be admitted except Ms. Pierce.
Pierce outlined her duties and work history, including her relationship with Calkins (which had been professional). She reviewed the process of working with Calkins getting the police cars ordered, which had been delivered to the car dealer by January. Pierce reiterated that the funds for the vehicles came from the criminal justice funding, not the general funds. Police salaries are paid from the general fund, but criminal justice funds cannot be used for general fund purposes.
Pierce contacted Mayor Sun shortly after he took office about the cars when the state needed an ordinance or resolution from the city for the financing. Sun told her to stop the purchase of all five cars. She contacted the state and the dealer several times but there was no normal way to cancel the purchase contract at such a late date. The dealer had an open-ended amount they could charge for canceling the contract.
Despite being very concerned about this going on behind Calkins’ back, she “was instructed specifically no, you do not say anything.” She knew Calkins had been blindsided when she announced to the council on January 17th that the mayor had stopped the purchase.
When the council when into executive session, Pierce said she stood up. Calkins started yelling, she yelled back. “I was put into a position I shouldn’t have been put in.” She was very upset and told Calkins to talk to her boss. Calkins apologized and acknowledged he was upset at what the mayor had done. She never felt physically threatened, nor did he reach for a gun. She never felt like he intended to harm her.
Pierce was called to the mayor’s office, but said she never asked the mayor to discipline Calkins. She felt she could have continued to work with Calkins.
Calkins verbally attacked, which was unprofessional but given the circumstances she understood why. She was upset about the situation she had been put in, not just the argument with Calkins. “I was the person who had to be the bad guy.” She was angry that the mayor did not stand up and take responsibility for his decision.
Under cross-examination by the city, Pierce noted she never felt that Calkins prevented her from leaving. Both she and Calkins were yelling at each other. Calkins was not swinging his hands; he was not out of control. He was pissed.
The city clerk came over and said, “John, let’s go. It’s not her fault; it’s the mayor’s fault.” Pierce and Calkins continued to yell at each other for a few minutes with others in the room. She admitted having trouble keeping her composure. She had tears in her eyes but not because she was upset with Calkins. She cries easily, when she is angry or at a toilet paper commercial.
Pierce testified she would have talked to Calkins about the hold on the cars if she was not afraid of being fired. The mayor had warned her she would be insubordinate if she told Calkins what was going on, but she asked the mayor several times if he had spoken to Calkins as he promised. A few hours before that council meeting, the mayor told her he had spoken to Calkins but because of Sun’s “past practice of him lying”, she knew he had not and she dreaded going to the meeting.
Just before statements began, the former city clerk Jane Montgomery helped solve a problem with the recording equipment.
City attorney Elizabeth Thompson reminded the commission that their duty was to determine two things 1) was the decision to terminate for good cause; and 2) was the termination done in accordance with civil service procedures. She instructed the commission to disregard the testimony about who said what to whom or who may have been lying. What was important was did the mayor maintain an open mind before deciding to fire Calkins.
Evidence showed Calkins was out of control in front of others, including the mayor’s wife. It took at least three different people intervening to calm him down. His anger was the result of questioning the mayor’s authority. But Calkins took out his anger on other employees rather than the mayor.
If the mayor was “hell-bent” on firing Calkins, he would have acted sooner. But he took a long time to deliberate. The mayor’s decision was based on conduct that was indisputable. Calkins conduct was improper. The civil service code provides for discharge for this transgression and the city asked the commission to find the discharge was for cause and appropriate.
Calkins attorney Chris Vick noted there are many other issues at play. Was the decision for political or religious reasons? Clearly it was political. Either the mayor is lying or everyone else is lying. There was plenty of testimony that the mayor planned to fire Calkins before this incident. Calkins behavior was unprofessional, but the situation was orchestrated by the mayor.
In addition, procedure was not followed. The mayor had already decided to fire Calkins before he was elected. Sun did not keep an open mind as required. No one had been fired for an argument before. The punishment was disproportionate. Vick asked that the commission find that the mayor was disingenuous in his testimony, that he had prejudged and that this incident did not rise to the level of discharge.
The commission then went into deliberations. Once a decision is reached, their attorney will write it up for their approval. The process is expected to take three weeks.