Shock quickly turned to outrage as the Oro Valley Town Council voted to accept the resignation of Town Manager David Andrews last Wednesday.
"Shame! Shame! Shame!" chanted the irate attendees at the Sept. 23 meeting.
After more than an hour of debate and comments from 10 residents imploring the council to retain Andrews, who had worked for the town since 1991 and became town manager in 2006, a divided council accepted the letter of resignation.
Mayor Paul Loomis was joined by council members Paula Abbott, K.C. Carter and Al Kunisch in accepting Andrews' resignation. Council members Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie and Salette Latas adamantly opposed the move, and voted against acceptance.
What left many in the audience baffled, including the council members who didn't want Andrews to resign, was that the former manager's annual review had been conducted in executive session the previous week. At that time, no council member requested to have Andrews' contract put on the agenda.
Asked later what happened to turn the tide of council opinion a mere week after Andrews' review, Loomis replied, "I'm not really sure."
Unless the town council votes otherwise, a town manager's contract renews annually. State law permits a manager's contract to be called up for debate at any time, and allows elected bodies to terminate the employment agreement with or without cause.
Kunisch, who supported Carter in getting Andrews' contract on the agenda for the Sept. 23 special session, said he wanted to have a vote before the contract officially renewed on Oct. 1.
"I felt that we needed to address it and vote on what our feelings were," Kunisch said.
The councilman wouldn't expand on what prompted the call for Andrews' resignation.
A council divided
As the debate over Andrews' future wore on Wednesday, council members began to hurl allegations at one another.
Gillaspie unambiguously suggested that the four members who voted to accept Andrews' resignation had ulterior motivations.
"I'm just going to call this a flat-out attempt to cover something up," Gillaspie said. "This isn't right."
In reaction to the disclosure that Loomis had requested Andrews resign earlier last week, Garner angrily lashed out at the mayor.
"What gives you the God-given right to go into a man's office and demand that he resign?" Garner said. Garner then went further, suggesting that the four who called for Andrews' job had broken the law.
"I'm concerned tonight about open meetings violations," Garner said.
The councilman later told The Explorer that he raised the possibility of meetings law violations because no issues regarding the manager's performance had been raised before the meeting.
"It's clearly, in my opinion, something that has been orchestrated in the background," Garner said.
Kunisch dismissed the allegation of behind-the-scenes collusion.
"He's just shooting his mouth off," Kunisch said about Garner.
Loomis also disavowed any improper conversations between himself and the council members who voted to oust Andrews.
"No, there was no counting votes and there was no polling," Loomis said. Rather, the mayor said it was clear after working with the other council members for several years how they felt about Andrews.
"There certainly was an intuitive sense as to where people stood on the issue," Loomis said.
Latas also implied that the four council members had planned their votes before the meeting.
Following a failed attempt to discuss Andrews' contract in closed session — with Abbott, Carter, Kunisch and Loomis opposed — Latas seized on a comment the town manager made. In response to questions from Garner, Andrews said he asked the mayor earlier in the week if the matter would be discussed in executive session. Loomis, Andrews said, responded that there would not be support for the executive session.
"That's just amazingly intuitive to me," Latas said.
Latas also lashed out in open session at Carter and Kunisch who, during a recess before the final vote that sealed Andrews' fate, answered questions The Explorer posed about the issue.
"I'm disgusted that I came out here and Councilman Carter and Councilman Kunisch are already running their mouths to the press," Latas said.
The councilwoman went beyond claims of collusion to suggest that at least some of the four who voted for Andrews' resignation had in the past pressured the manager to unjustly terminate the employment of town workers.
"They have asked him to fire town employees on retaliation for whistle blowing," Latas said.
Few reasons provided
Those council members who voted for Andrews' resignation provided scant details for why they decided he had to go.
Carter, who asked to have Andrews' contract placed on the agenda, said he had spent the past week reviewing the manager's performance and didn't like what he saw.
"I found a lot of things that I asked for that weren't produced," Carter said.
In a later interview, Carter declined to elaborate on what Andrews had failed to accomplish.
"I'm very disappointed in his performance on several items, and we've had a breakdown of communication," Carter said.
Sources in town hall said Carter was perturbed about a committee established to plan a Christmas event at Steam Pump Ranch.
When asked about the possible rift, Andrews said Carter called him Sept. 17, the day after the manager's review, angered that he wasn't told about the possible move of an annual tree-lighting ceremony from town hall to Steam Pump Ranch.
Andrews, however, said the issue had been discussed in public at past council meetings. Council members also were sent e-mail updates on the committee and event planning.
Kunisch also declined to offer specifics about his decision to participate in Andrews' dismissal.
"My decision was based on performance and communication," Kunisch said.
Loomis was similarly guarded in discussing his reasons for accepting Andrews' resignation.
"I don't think it's necessary to elaborate on it," Loomis said. "It doesn't do any of us any good to go back into the past, we need to move forward."
When asked if he thought residents deserved more explanation, the mayor was equally aloof.
"I don't think they're owed a larger explanation," Loomis said, reiterating the town manager works at the pleasure of the council and can be fired with or without cause.
At the Sept. 23 meeting, Abbott also offered no explanation why she supported the move to force Andrews' resignation.
"If I divulge all the issues, it will hurt him," Abbott said.
Abbott did not return phone calls or e-mails requesting comment on the issue.
Budget battles linger
The budget discussions that wrapped up in May were by most accounts the most contentious in town history and may have factored into Andrews' ouster.
Spending cuts and the threat of layoffs reverberated through the town, with police leading the charge against the proposed downsizing, and against Andrews.
In April, each town department submitted a list of positions that could be eliminated. Police Chief Danny Sharp included six officers in his submittal. All told, the layoff plan included more than 30 positions, at an estimated savings to the town of $2 million.
At a March council meeting, town employees, including scores of police, showed up in force to rally against the layoffs.
"That recommendation to lay off people was the toughest recommendation I've had to make in my 27-year career," Andrews said.
The council ultimately rejected that plan and a subsequent one. Later, a plan was approved to offer voluntary severance packages to town employees. About 20 accepted the offer, saving the town more than $1 million in the process.
Still, animosities lingered over the failed layoff plan and an ongoing hiring freeze that left police with one less officer and an open position in dispatch.
In August, Andrews began meeting individually with town departments to discuss the financial situation and other issues. An Aug. 13 meeting scheduled with police officials, however, turned into an impromptu union negotiation, with numerous officers questioning Andrews over staffing levels and filling the open positions in the department.
Representatives from the Oro Valley Police Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police later sent e-mails to the mayor and council suggesting that Andrews' comments at the meeting had violated open meeting laws, and telling of their plans to hold a no-confidence vote on Andrews. The groups also requested that they be allowed to participate in negotiations over Andrews' severance package.
At the time, however, Andrews' contract was not at issue before the council.
Support among the public for Andrews was strong at last week's meeting, where 10 residents spoke out against his resignation. No members of the public spoke in favor of Andrews' dismissal.
"I don't see this as being part of the 'Community of Excellence,' which you're shoving down everyone's throats," said Chris DiSimone, referencing to the town's slogan. DiSimone, an Oro Valley resident, also hosts a local radio talk show.
Former council member Conny Culver also spoke in support of the town manager.
"I ask you to put principles above personalities," Culver said.
Resident and former planning and zoning commissioner Bill Adler implored the council to reconcile any differences or problems and allow Andrews' to remain with the town.
"My concern is that the way this is being handled creates a new divisiveness in the town," Adler said.
Adler also admonished the council for perceived secretiveness in the way the manager's resignation had been handled, saying it appeared "surreptitious and mysterious."
The most heated comments came from Oro Valley resident Art Segal, who told the four council members who voted in favor of resignation that he would support any efforts to recall them.
"He's a hell of a better asset than you or you or you," Segal said, pointing to Carter, Loomis and Kunisch.
Andrews too, had a moment of public anger.
After thanking the audience for their support, Andrews approached Carter and spoke something in his ear. Then, pointing an angry finger at the councilman, Andrews said, "You stay off my property!"
Magnanimous in the end
Despite the emotional outburst, Andrews had little bad to say about his years with the town.
"I honestly think that Oro Valley is a beautiful community, it has a lot of potential," Andrews said Friday.
The now former-town manager complimented town employees and elected officials.
"Regardless, those seven elected people really have a tough job," Andrews said.
He pointed to the difficult budget debate earlier in the year as the likely source of discontent at town hall. Departmental budgets throughout the town were slashed this year to make up projected shortfalls in sales taxes and state-shared revenue.
"When people start fighting over money, that scarce resource, it creates a really difficult situation," Andrews said.
As for the future, Andrews said he looked forward to taking some time off and possibly visiting family.
"I definitely need to recharge my battery a bit," he said.
After that, he said, he would try to get back into the workforce, possibly in the public sector again.
"I'm going to be open to anything," Andrews said. "I love local government and really have a passion for it."
Andrews' severance package
$76,484 six-months salary
$51,794 accrued leave
$6,000 deferred compensation
The next manager
After former Town Manager David Andrews' abrupt resignation Sept. 23, the town is left with a void at the top management spot.
Some sources have said Assistant Town Manager Jerene Watson would accept appointment to serve as interim manager. The council has yet to make any decisions.
Another possibility is that the town would hire a retired manager through the Arizona City/County Management Association. The association's Range Rider Program places retired city managers and county administrators in temporary positions in local governments without head bureaucrats.
A nationwide search for a replacement likely will take place.