Transparency and openness in Danville city government

This week Danville’s city commission voted 3-2 to fire City Manager Paul Stansbury. This comes after several weeks of speculation as to the commission’s intentions regarding the city manager.

On one hand, there’s nothing technically wrong with a city council dismissing a city manager, who serve at the pleasure of the city council. This is a check in reformed council-manager city government systems designed to ensure that the city manager is held accountable for the performance of his or her duties through the elected representatives of the city residents (i.e. the city council). The city council of my previous community, Iowa City, fired the city manager in 2008 and gave no public explanation or advance notice, to either the public or the manager. This is not an inappropriate course of action for a city council to take.

On the other hand, many of Danville’s current city commissioners, including Mayor Hunstad, were elected to office in 2010 on a platform of transparency and openness. While it’s been rumored for several weeks that the city commission was considering taking action against Stansbury, there were no official public announcements or explanations (to my knowledge) until the vote was taken earlier this week. The commission created suspicion by going into numerous closed-door executive sessions over the last few months. And the commission decided to hold the vote this week during a meeting with few community attendees, rather than at the April 25th meeting where public interest in the matter was high and attendance was greater. Further, the City Commission approved a document outlining their justifications for firing Stansbury; this document contained some specific grievances, but also some more vague complaints about “failing to provide strong, pr0active leadership” and even a complaint about how Stansbury sometimes doesn’t return phone calls.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I very likely do not know the entire story behind this issue. My familiarity with the situation is limited to what I read in the newspaper, like the majority of Danville citizens. But based on the information that has been made public, my impression is that the City Commission is looking for an excuse to fire Stansbury and is carrying out the process in a semi-secretive, non-transparent manner. If the Commission feels that it has a strong case to fire Stansbury, I would like to see them make the case more publicly (i.e. to the people, outside of a resolution document available online that likely only less than 1% of Danville’s population will actually read), and explain why Stansbury’s transgressions are serious enough to warrant the termination of his employment. In general, I would like to see the city commission be much more transparent and open about this particular decision.

Again. I don’t necessarily disagree with this decision on the part of the city commission. I simply do not have enough information to fully assess the situation, and I feel that the commission should address this by being more forthcoming and transparent on this issue. Questions that I still have include:

  • Are the grievances against Stansbury “substantial”, or would they be considered relatively minor in the eyes of peer city council bodies? (To me, they seemed relatively minor, but I’m not an “insider” in Danville’s city government so I could be wrong.)
  • Were the grievances against Stansbury made known to him in advance? Was he given a chance to correct or address the issues that the Commission laid against him before firing him?
  • Given the sensitive nature of this issue, is the Commission planning on making a more public case to Danville residents as to why we need a new city manager?
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