Town leaders decided to make the town marshal the only department head to be considered an at-will employee, with six months severance offered if terminated. He was previously a "for cause" employee answering to the town manager, not the council.
Marshal John Wischmeyer said this week that it's a reminder of the ordeal he went through in 1997 with the town, when he was terminated while on Family Medical Leave Act. After that event and subsequent legal action, town leaders were forced to re-hire Wischmeyer and procure back pay.
"It is reminiscent of what happened to me six years ago," the marshal said after the meeting. Asked why he was the only department head among eight to have his employment status changed that evening, he replied, "I've racked my brain and can't think of a good reason."
He added, "I'm not particularly interested in a severance package. I'm interested in continuing to be the marshal."
Mayor Brenda Hauser and council members Tony Gioia and Leroy Hunter opposed the idea during the council meeting.
"I'm going to vote no on this," Gioia said Wednesday night. "With all due respect, I do not feel that this was a business policy decision."
Gioia called it a "personal agenda" and warned that the move could "erode our relationship with our personnel."
Council member Mitch Dickinson backed the idea, and termed it a business decision. He noted that the marshal's office employs about a third of all town workers and takes roughly 40 percent of the town budget.
Asked after the meeting if there was any grudge between his family and the marshal stemming from the previous termination, Dickinson responded, "To me, that's ancient history. If indeed my sole purpose was to terminate the marshal, it could have been done at any time. It's not my goal, not my mission."
Dickinson added, "It's got nothing to do with politics."
The marshal, however, said during the meeting that the change would overly politicize his job. "My interest in this ordinance is that it singles me out," Wischmeyer said. "This would allow the council to terminate the marshal with no cause. It doesn't seem fair and equal to me."
He concluded, "The marshal will once again be thrown into a political whirlpool."
Citizens including June Meacham and Clayton Young said during a public forum that they also opposed the change.
The subject arose under the rationale that there was a disparity between the town code and the personnel manual about conditions of employment.
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