Conflict continues to swirl around the actions of Parker Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer, with some in the council supporting her and others wanting her out. A dustup involving a recent employee resignation and, now, Wedemeyer’s contract, continue to divide the council.
Parker Town Hall is a peaceful place most of the time. As you would expect in a small town of around 3,000 people contained mostly within a single square mile, the atmosphere is relaxed; people call each other by their first names, know each other’s kids, run into each other at the grocery store.
But the alleged ‘involuntary’ ‘retirement’ in April of a prominent town employee has exposed some frictions at Town Hall. Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer, who has always been friendly and responsive toward Parker Live when we’ve asked her questions, has her critics within the Town itself. Councilman Randy Hartless may be chief among them. He contends that Wedemeyer is running the Town without effective accountability from his fellow members of council, who he says seem to have “boundless loyalty” to her and gave her a salary of over $160,000 a year.
A prominent example arose in 2018, when Wedemeyer’s dispersement of over $40,000 in taxpayer-funded gift cards attracted press scrutiny across the state (the Town acknowledged wrongdoing but said they were “honest mistakes”). More recently, Hartless has been critical of the way Wedemeyer handled the aforementioned prominent employee, Darla Tilley, who was for many years the person who ran Parker Senior Center and its programs which feed the area’s elderly. The way she was treated by Wedemeyer became the focus of at least one especially fiery public meeting of the Council, with residents showing up to let the council hear their strong feelings about it.
As a result of Tilley’s resignation, a consultant was asked to conduct an investigation of the way the town handles Human Resources issues. The outcome was a report by Lori Lindseth of Revolutionary HR Consulting, which was just released.
The report largely exonerates Wedemeyer of wrongdoing with respect to Tilley. “The allegation that Darla Tilley was forced to resign from her position with the Town of Parker under duress […] and that she has been subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation by Lori Wedemeyer is not substantiated,” Lindseth writes, noting among other things that Tilley was not actually asked to leave her job.
With regard to the charge of a hostile work environment, the report notes that while Wedemeyer’s interactions were “at times abrupt or reactionary”, they did not amount to bullying. At the same time, Tilley’s behavior was described by some of the employees interviewed for the report as “frequently yelling at, demeaning, and berating others and using profanity profusely,” as well as being short and snide with others and sometimes smelling of alcohol at council meetings. Lindseth said that Wedemeyer acted appropriately in addressing Tilley’s conduct, but that Wedemeyer did not follow the Town’s own policies and procedures with regard to Human Resources.
With Wedemeyer operating as both Town Manager and Human Resources Manager, the Town does not have a “clear separation of duties”, the report found, which “does a disservice to both Town employees and the Manager.”
Lindseth also noted issues with communication at Town Hall, saying, “Specifically, yelling, screaming and the use of profanity was described regularly as a typical or routine form of communication within the Town. This style of communication has reportedly led to distrust and morale issues among Town employees and Town Council members.”
Although it’s hard to keep score of all this, one thing remains certain: Wedemeyer remains divisive as Town Manager. Hartless moved to fire her at a council meeting in May, saying that he didn’t trust her instincts or the way she had been running the Town. The motion died for lack of a second, but then, unexpectedly, councilman Jerry Hooper spoke up.
“I make a motion to extend the Town Manager’s contract for a five-year term,” he said, provoking laughter from Hartless and confusion in the room.
“She doesn’t have a contract,” Hartless replied.
“Oh yes she does,” Hooper responded, confidently.
Three of the seven council members supported Hooper’s motion, and the other four, including Hartless, opposed it. The matter was tabled until after Lindseth’s report could be seen by council.
So, does Wedemeyer have a contract or not? Hartless says he asked Mayor Karen Bonds after the meeting, who couldn’t remember the council approving one either. But, after some inquiries, one turned up, dated September 11th, 2019. It confirmed Wedemeyer’s salary of $161,000 and stated that the contract would be effective for three years. It was signed by former Mayor Dan Beaver and Town Attorney Justin Pierce, as well as Wedemeyer.
“Council had an executive session on September 10th, 2019 to discuss her performance,” Hartless told Parker Live. “The minutes from the regular session that was held after the executive session shows no action taken. So how did Lori get a three-year contract the next day? So many questions, but at this point it’s looking like somebody cooked up a contract without council approval.”
Sure enough, the minutes of the meeting of September 10th, 2019 contain no record of a council decision to approve a three-year contract for Wedemeyer.
Parker Live contacted Pierce back in May to ask him about the matter.
“To be clear, the minutes do not show that the Council decided to take no action,” Pierce replied. “The action minutes say, ‘Action,’ which demonstrates that an action was taken. The complete minutes are then supposed to describe the action. That is likely where the confusion arises in this case. The complete minutes are blank at that section, which understandably would make someone wonder why the action minutes reflect an action, but the full minutes don’t explain what it was. However, it appears based on my review that the description was inadvertently included in the confidential e-session minutes (which cannot be disclosed) instead of in the open meeting minutes where they were supposed to be included. We are currently evaluating the proper method to transfer those minutes to the open meeting minutes so that the open meeting minutes (instead of the confidential e-session minutes) describe the ‘action’ from the action minutes. In any event, once the transposition of those minutes is fixed, it will become clear that the contract was, in fact, adopted at the open session of the September 10, 2019 council meeting.”
Since then, as of July 12th, the minutes of the meeting available on the Town of Parker’s website haven’t changed, and continue to lack any record of a council action approving a contract for Wedemeyer. But during a recent council meeting, the council was asked to approve an amendment to the minutes for that meeting which does state that the council approved a contract and, moreover, that Hartless himself made the motion to approve it!
“Imagine my surprise when they found the ‘transposed minutes’ that revealed not only was the motion made to give Lori a lucrative contract, but that I made the motion!” Hartless said. “It’s absurd. I’ve worked with some outstanding administrators over the years and I would never consider giving a contract like that to any of them. It’s just not good business practice.”
The motion to approve the amendment to the minutes was approved, by every member of council other than Hartless.
In the end, there are always more generous and less generous interpretations of the statements and actions of public officials. The Town of Parker has had its share of internal friction and conflict lately, though nothing approaching the level of the Town of Quartzsite over the years. In small towns, the fact that people know each other so well can be a blessing and a curse simultaneously: loyalties can be utilized to brush away things that are undesired, but also, everybody gets a shot at contributing to their community and relationships can be created and maintained based on personal warmth.
Here’s to more warmth at Parker Town Hall.
Read the HR report in full HERE.