Mayor Sam Kooiker's rebuke of a former alderman last week has drawn pointed criticism from at least one current aldermen.
Kooiker chastised former alderman Dave Davis at last week's city council meeting for raising the issue of a mayoral grievance policy that slipped through the cracks this summer.
At the meeting, Kooiker called the way Davis raised the issue "quite unfortunate" and said it had been brought up to "cast aspersions." Later that week in an interview with the Journal, he labeled it as a "personal or political attack."
At least one alderman classified Kooiker's methods as "bullying."
"So I ask you, is this type of behavior encouraging people to become more involved with their government or less?" Ward 1 Alderwoman Charity Doyle asked in a blog post last week. "Is it encouraging city employees to help keep their bosses honest? It doesn’t look that way to me."
"This bullying ... has got to stop," Doyle blogged, referencing Kooiker's rebuke of Davis and his treatment of an employee whose redacted grievance ruling he released to the media last week. "In my opinion, it isn’t public service anymore when that line is crossed; it’s intimidation."
Doyle stood by her comments in an interview Tuesday.
In response to Doyle's post, Kooiker said Tuesday that he "responded with some humor" when Davis brought up the grievance policy last week. He added that the way Davis brought up the grievance policy back in June and then again last week was "unusual."
The discussion of the grievance policy will return at today's Legal & Finance Committee meeting.
Davis, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he will not run for mayor. His role in this particular issue is over, he said, even though Kooiker personally invited him to testify at the Legal & Finance meeting. He said his job was to ask the council why it had not addressed a policy it said it would address, not debate the policy itself.
"For me to get in there and debate with these guys about the merits of this policy, that's not my fight," Davis said Tuesday. "They're the elected officials now."
In June, the council had asked city staffers to come up with a policy for forwarding grievances against the mayor to a third party. The policy was supposed to come back to the council in July but never did.
City Attorney Joel Landeen in a memo took responsibility for "letting (the policy) get lost in the shuffle" and said he intends to discourage the council from adopting any new policy today.
He has "grave concerns" about referring grievances to a third party, he said, because it isn't clear who the third party would be. Landeen said no city employee, not even the city attorney, could serve as the third party, because every city employee — except independent internal-auditing staffers — works for the mayor.
Landeen does not support making the council the third party because that action could inject politics into staffing matters.
"In a highly charged political environment, it would be unfortunate if employee issues were politicized," Landeen said in the memo. "Doing so would make it very difficult for management to do its job and make tough decisions that are sometimes necessary to keep the city functioning."
Any other third party would still impede the mayor's ability to function as the chief executive officer of the city, according to Landeen.
Current policy adopted in 2011 says the city council must be informed whenever an employee makes a step II grievance, a grievance that is appealed to the mayor. An employee can also appeal the grievance to the South Dakota Department of Labor, making it a step III grievance.
The April grievance that prompted the policy discussion was filed by an employee against both the the employee's department director and Kooiker. Since it was a step II grievance, the council was notified, but the employee chose not to make it a step III grievance.
The grievance was denied by Kooiker, who, as mayor, oversaw the hearing. Davis thought it was unfair that Kooiker presided over the hearing about a grievance against him and thus brought up the question of the grievance policy in June.