Craig city manager terminated; council might have violated state meetings laws

Eleanor C. Hasenbeck and Jim Patterson
Craig City Manager Mike Foreman poses at his desk in April.
Lauren Blair/file

CRAIG — In executive session late Tuesday evening, the Craig City Council agreed “by consensus” to terminate the employment of City Manager Mike Foreman.

The decision was announced in a statement emailed to local news outlets following Tuesday’s late-night executive session.

However, the decision may have been made in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law.

According to CRS 24-6-402(4): “… no adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action, except the review, approval, and amendment of the minutes of an executive session recorded pursuant to subparagraph (II) of paragraph (d.5) of subsection (2) of this section, shall occur at any executive session that is not open to the public …”

Yet, according to Craig Mayor John Ponikvar, no vote — either public or during the executive session — was taken regarding Foreman’s termination.

Ponikvar said the reasons for Foreman’s termination were “personnel issues” he could not address.

“There was consensus that we needed a change, so there was discussion with Mike (Foreman). During that discussion, we chose to part ways,” Ponikvar said. “There were no formal votes or anything there. There was consensus that we needed a change, and we had that discussion with Mike.”

But according to the head of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, decisions may not be made outside open session.

“They can’t make a decision in executive session,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the CFIC. “Executive sessions are for deliberation. The Sunshine Law was passed by voters, so the people can see how their government works. So, why would they do this in secret?”

Ponikvar defended council’s actions, as they regarded personnel matters.

Colorado Sunshine Law allows local governing bodies to discuss personnel matters in executive session, unless the individual being discussed requests that the discussion be held in an open meeting. Ponikvar said Foreman did not request an open meeting.

The law also, however, implicitly states decisions may not be made outside open session.

“During executive sessions, we try not to make decisions, and in this case, like I said, there’s some consensus, and then we talked to Mike about it, and then we chose to part ways,” Ponikvar said.

Based upon the suspicion that Foreman’s employment might have been terminated improperly, the Craig Press on Wednesday filed a Colorado Open Records Act request with City Clerk/Human Resources Director Kathy Larson, asking for access to the audio recordings made during the executive session.

City Attorney Sherman Romney declined to comment on Tuesday’s executive session, though he did confirm there was no public vote on the matter.

What comes next?

Ponikvar said City Finance Director Bruce Nelson will serve as acting city manager, and council will begin a search for Foreman’s replacement.

“This is a decision that certainly wasn’t taken lightly by council, and we’ve been working on this for a little bit of time here,” Ponikvar said.

He added that Foreman’s termination was effective immediately.

Foreman signed a two-year contract with the city Dec. 16, 2016. The contract would’ve been up for renewal or re-negotiation in December. The city is now negotiating Foreman’s severance package.

“I think, overall, we just feel that the separation is best for the organization of the city of Craig and also for the community,” Ponikvar said.

Ponikvar said the search for a new city manager will soon begin, most likely with Strategic Government Resources, the same company the city used to recruit Foreman. The process is expected to take several months.

“I assume that we’ll be using the same search company that we used last time, and actually, there’s a clause in there that if the city manager that you hire separates before a certain date, they’ll come back in and re-do the process,” Ponikvar said.

Nelson, now acting city manager, served in the same role when former City Manager Jim Ferree resigned from the position in July 2016.

“We have full confidence in the staff and in our department heads,” Ponikvar said. “The citizens aren’t going to see any difference in the services the city provides, and we’re going to move on in a really high level of service in the community.”

Foreman previously served as city manager of Celina, Texas for five years and worked as an assistant city manager for nearly 20 years in Grand Prairie, Texas.

The city manager reports directly to council and oversees all administrative aspects of the city government. According to city code, the city manager is supposed to be evaluated by council annually. In Foreman’s case, this evaluation occurred in November.

Day-to-day responsibilities of the city manager include managing the city’s budget, preparing monthly and annual financial and administrative reports and the hiring and firing of city employees that do not require council approval.

Foreman did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday. Ponikvar said Foreman is traveling and is expected to be out of the area until Monday.

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