BY SUSIE CURRIE — On October 3, the city council accepted the resignation of City Administrator Gregory Rose. Rose’s contract was to expire on January 18, 2012, and he will be paid salary and benefits through that time.
But the council voted 7-4 to make his last day in office October 7 rather than January 18. Mayor Marc Tartaro joined six councilmembers in voting for the earlier ending date.
The vote came after a closed session that was twice as long as the public one. When the public meeting resumed – after midnight – Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3) sponsored a motion that would have had Rose to remain until January 18. Nicole Hinds Mofor (Ward 5), Shani Warner (Ward 2) and Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) supported that motion.
Rose came to Hyattsville in January of this year, at a starting salary of $110,000.
“I think the council made an incredibly unwise decision not to have Mr. Rose work the remainder of his contract,” said Hunt later. “We’ll be paying him for those 3 months — that’s close to $40,000 that we’re just throwing away.”
Still, this buyout pales in comparison to what one observer called “the platinum parachute” Rose got as city manager of North Las Vegas, a job he held for six years beginning in October 2003.
In June 2009, a divided North Las Vegas City Council voted to extend his contract for four years. But by mid-November of that year, he was taking a 30-day leave of absence for reasons that were never made public.
During the leave, that council voted 4-1 to accept his resignation and approved a $337,000 severance package in exchange for his releasing any employment claims against the city. It also provided Rose and his family continuing health, dental and vision insurance for one year.
At press time, it wasn’t clear who would be in charge until a new city administrator is found for Hyattsville. The recent practice has been to appoint a staff member to temporarily fill the slot, as when communications manager Abby Sandel was named acting recreation director this summer.
“We’re committed to get the work of the city done,” she said. “A lot of us [city staff] live here.”
In the letter, dated October 1, Rose expressed a desire to return to Texas to be with his wife and family. During the council meeting, he gave no hint that he intended to resign, presenting a quarterly report that included, among other things, progress in filling the newly created position of senior-services coordinator.
But several councilmembers expressed much more concern about another vacant position: the human resources manager. With at least three other high-level positions vacant, this had been identified as a priority at various meetings since at least January.
After a 60-day hiring freeze, the position was advertised on the city website beginning in March. During the May 9 council meeting, Rose predicted it would be filled by mid-September.
Over the summer, two more employees left: Steve Yeskulsky, director of recreation and the arts, and Assistant City Administrator Vincent Jones. Jones dealt with personnel matters as part of his job. He had, said Sandel, the greatest depth of [HR] knowledge of anyone on the staff.”
By August, with the hiring process apparently stalled, the mayor asked former Ward 2 councilmember William Tierney to head a search committee. As a longtime deputy director of personnel for the U.S. House of Representatives, Tierney had experience that Tartaro thought would help move the process forward.
On August 22, the council approved Tierney’s appointment in a motion that included a three-month timeline for hiring a human-resources manager.
Following that schedule, he brought some ideas to the next council meeting, on September 6. “I’m making the following recommendations to council and these will be council decision points,” he said.
Among his suggestions: have the city’s longtime human-resources consultant, Karen Lehr, revise the job description; make this a contractual position hired by and accountable to council rather than the city administrator; and appoint at least two councilmembers and two employees to the committee.
As of the October 3 meeting, the committee consisted of Tierney and three staff members: Rose, Sandel and Treasurer Elaine Stookey. The job description had not been revised.
Instead, Rose told the council, “I’m working on meeting with council members individually regarding their thoughts about Mr. Tierney’s presentation as well as the existing job description.”
“So basically, we haven’t even … started the hiring process,” said Councilmember Paula Perry (Ward 4).
Councilmember Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) said, “I don’t understand why it’s now on hold while we express our opinions to you before anything’s getting done. It’s just frustrating to me that we’re not further than we are – which is nowhere. ”
Rose defended the individual meetings. “It’s important for everyone to have input into the shaping of the position description,” he said.
But Tierney, speaking during public comments, said that revising the position description should be left to the HR consultant, to ensure that the required professional standards are met.
And, said Tierney, “if what you’re discussing [individually] are specific tasks associated with annual goals and objectives … that’s a separate discussion, and, frankly, that is something that should be discussed as a body in this chamber” for transparency and efficiency.
Otherwise, he said, “you’re not all hearing the same things at the same time and … you’re losing the ability to have an exchange with each other. … I really ask you consider whether that’s an appropriate way of doing city business.”
He went on to express concern about Rose’s practice of meeting individually with council members “on a variety of issues, not just this one.”
Tierney, who was a councilmember for Ward 2 when Rose was hired, said one reason Rose got the job was that “he represented himself as someone who could do these kinds of things expeditiously and would be a leader and transformer in this government. I have to admit that I have not seen that and it concerns me.”
The closed session that followed was, by all accounts, a bruising one.
“It was one of the worst nights of my life as a councilmember,” said Frazier. “The whole process was difficult for everybody; we took no satisfaction in any of it.”
Warner said, “I can’t say he was a perfect fit, but I found him to be professional, responsive and knowledgeable. And I don’t see how his absence is going to move the HR process forward any faster.”