By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com
There were no hand-shaking moments with council members posing for photographs on Tuesday after Cleveland City Council hired its new city manager, Stacy Williams. The council continues to be bitterly divided on Williams’ qualifications and lack of formal education, with two councilmembers and the mayor criticizing the apparent rush to hire Williams without interviewing or reviewing applications from any other candidates, or even reviewing Williams’ resume.
“I still don’t know Stacey’s vision. I don’t think anybody knows his vision. Where are we going? What are your plans for infrastructure? Do you have plans to bring businesses to Cleveland? This is about our city, about Cleveland, our youth, our police, our firemen, economic development and jobs,” said Councilman Danny Lee.
In a 3-2 vote, Council authorized a two-year contract with Williams that provides him an annual salary of $140,000 a year and a $10,000 automobile allowance, as well as vacation, holiday and sick time, retirement benefits, and medical, dental and life insurance, the latter of which is comparable to benefits provided to other City employees. Williams’ employment agreement also includes a clause that states if he is terminated by the City Council within the first six months without cause, the City will have to provide him a cash payment equal to one year of salary or the remainder of his agreement, whichever is the lesser amount.
While the salary is similar to that of former city manager Bobby Pennington, who left in January, the car allowance was increased for Williams, and a buyout clause was added with terms that Williams said he wanted due to being threatened with termination by Mayor Richard Boyett who has been vocal in his opposition of Williams.
“If I am terminated in six months, then I want the entire contract paid because I have been threatened by the mayor that he is going to terminate me. He has made that very clear, so I have to do things to protect my wife and family,” Williams said. He added that he had no intention of adding this clause to the contract until last week when the mayor visited city hall and “blew a fuse.”
“I am caught in the middle of a political problem. There is an election in two months. They have rallied the troops. If a council member is overturned, he is going to get his wish. I will be terminated,” Williams said.
Boyett tried to explain to the packed council chambers what led to him having a heated verbal exchange with Williams that resulted in curse words being shouted within earshot of other city employees.
“Carolyn, her husband, Jim Bloss, Stacy Williams and our attorney were having a closed door meeting on Monday. They wanted to discuss his contract. I got a little upset. I am passionate about this city. I have seen it when we didn’t do a durn thing. We didn’t ever move or have progress. I am passionate about wanting to do things right. I came down Tuesday. I will admit that I have a temper and I lost my temper. I will apologize to him right now. I said I would fire him and I mean that. I mean that to everybody sitting here. He cannot be our city manager. He has come at this backwards,” Boyett said.
Boyett said Williams currently has the backing of three councilmembers – Carolyn McWaters, James Franklin and Delores Terry – but believes that will change in May if new councilmembers are elected. Two of the three who approved Williams’ contract are up for reelection and have contested races.
There was an audible gasp when Boyett called Councilwoman McWaters “the evil one,” suggesting she orchestrated the current rift in council as a way of gaining power.
“If Carolyn wants to be the mayor of the city, let her run against me. She should have run against me last year. She, Delores and James, if they want to run it, let them run it, but I am not going to let the citizens suffer because what they are trying to do tonight,” Boyett said.
“We could argue all day long. But there is one thing: when you don’t even want to post the job. I had three applications given to me that had degrees in accounting, degrees in management, yet we are going to hire a man who has no degree, has no idea what a city manager ought to be,” Boyett continued. “He thinks he can come into the City of Cleveland now. He has three people against him – me, Danny [Lee] and [Councilwoman] Marilyn [Clay] – and he thinks that’s good. He thinks he has the upper hand. He wants to sign a contract that is going to bind us for two years, paying roughly $350,000 or $400,000 if he doesn’t work out.”
Former City Councilman Mike Penry, in public comments prior to the vote, called the contract “a golden parachute” and said Council should have sought other applicants before hiring Williams.
“To me, that makes no sense at all. The city manager is the heartbeat of the city. If we are going to grow and prosper – and we are right on the precipice of that – we have to have a well-educated, clear-thinking person who can negotiate, and we have to have him in the right spot,” Penry said. “People say, ‘Well, he’s a nice guy.’ I don’t doubt that, but is he the right person for city manager?”
Penry said positions of importance, such as a city manager or heart surgeon, should be filled by candidates with the most experience and education.
“I don’t have a heart problem but if I did, I would want to go with the guy who has the most education and experience to work on me. I am not going to go to the nicest guy I meet,” Penry said. “That’s what we are getting ready to do tonight if you don’t think about what you are doing.”
Councilman James Franklin was quiet throughout the meeting except to vote in favor of Williams’ contract. However, Terry and McWaters expressed strong sentiments that Williams is the right person for the job based on their interactions with him.
“The long and short of this is Stacy Williams is able to do this job. He’s experienced. He’s got education. He’s got good people skills. The employees are behind him 100 percent and that is a very important thing in this city. Everyone I have talked to, and there have been many, they endorse him 100 percent,” McWaters said. “I don’t have a problem putting him in this position. If we didn’t go about it in the way they thought we should have, well, that’s a different issue. That has nothing at all to do with whether he can do the job. Of course, there are five people on council and three are always going to be a majority.”
McWaters also took exception to the mayor calling her evil.
An executive session was listed on the agenda, but the entire meeting on Tuesday was held in front of the audience. Terry vows she will never meet again in executive session without the presence of law enforcement, citing issues that occurred at a previous meeting where they were discussing appointing Williams as city manager.
“The reason we came back out of the meeting the way we did was because of the language and the actions back there were no good for anybody. I made it clear that I will never go back in that room without police security,” Terry said. “It was horrible. The actions that were taken back there. Mr. Stacy has not done anything wrong. He has enough experience to do what he needs to do. He hasn’t sneaked, or undercut, or tried to pay nobody, or con nobody, or ask nobody to sneak him in to do this job. I hold my head up high when I say it. I don’t run with mess. I don’t do undercover.”
Councilwoman Clay, pointing out that Williams “smirked” as Councilman Lee was talking, said she has “seen ignorance at its best” in the recent weeks leading up to the vote.
“All we asked for is to go through the process so that people would see that we are going to do things the right way. If Mr. Williams wants to apply for the job, that’s fine, but we owe it to the citizens, to the taxpayers, to do the right thing. We were elected by the people. We are the voice of the people so we should do things the right way. It’s okay to disagree, but at the end of the day, the council as a whole should come to an agreement about what’s best for the city,” she said.
Mayor Boyett vowed he will continue pursuing Williams’ termination, promising to have it listed on every single agenda going forward. When the agenda for the March 15, 2022, meeting was posted on Friday, March 11, it appeared that Boyett was true to his word.
In addition to a State of the City Address that will be made by the mayor, the last action item on the agenda states: “Consideration and possible action to terminate current City Manager.”
If you want to watch the meeting in full, please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIfUWZVmA0w