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West Jordan • After an emergency meeting this week that one elected leader compared to a "public shaming," West Jordan heads into a third week without a city attorney and approaches its 10th month without a permanent city manager to steer what has become a drifting ship.
In its fractious snipe-fest Wednesday night, the City Council gave a vote of confidence to acting City Manager Bryce Haderlie, essentially reaffirming his authority to undo Mayor Kim Rolfe's action last week in suspending City Attorney Jeff Robinson and ejecting him from his office.
"I find it embarrassing and frustrating that we have something like this on the agenda," said Councilman Chris McConnehey. "This almost feels like a public shaming. … I'm frustrated, I'm disappointed, I'm embarrassed, and this is absurd."
At one point, Councilman Jeff Haaga, backed by the mayor, attempted to relieve Haderlie of his duties and appoint city Fire Chief Marc McElreath to assume them temporarily. That was countered by a motion from newly appointed Councilwoman Sophie Rice to rehire Rick Davis, the city manager who abruptly resigned without explanation last August.
"What happened to him is wrong," she snapped, slapping a pen on the dais.
Rice soon withdrew her motion and Haaga's was soundly defeated.
Councilman Ben Southworth said after the meeting that the motion to remove Haderlie "came not out of left field; it came out of the hot-dog stand. I don't know where that came from, and it caught everybody by surprise."
The only item approved during the nearly hourlong meeting was the one affirming Haderlie's role as essentially the CEO in the manager-council form of government.
Southworth pushed the vote-of-confidence resolution after calling the mayor's ouster of Robinson an "abuse of power."
The vote means, Southworth said, that Haderlie "has my support to reach out to Jeff Robinson, if he so feels in executing those duties, that he is qualified and should be returned to work."
Haderlie, though, wouldn't comment on whether he plans to reinstate Robinson. He said he still wants to "work with the council on a clear direction."
Rolfe said he was given clear direction from a majority of the council in a closed-door meeting April 17 to put Robinson on leave for undisclosed reasons that the mayor added have to do with an outside investigation of the city.
Rice interrupted, charging the claim of majority support for the ouster was "untrue."
McConnehey says the dissension and infighting on the council is beginning to take its toll.
"It feels like the discontent that's existed among council has started to spill out to city staff," he said, "and staff have been somewhat victimized because of our inability to get along and move forward."
As McConnehey sees it, the mayor believes he needs to step up to set direction for the city of 110,000, while some council members have made it their mission to see he doesn't overstep his bounds.
"Between those two [camps], I think, we are overlooking what needs to be done for the residents, and we're looking too much at each other, that the residents are now getting overlooked. It's causing commotion."
Meantime, the city is limping along without clear leadership because of the decision last August to let an acting city manager run things for a year as a cost-savings measure.
"As a council, we've made the mistake of waiting to fill that vacancy. At the time it was probably seen as a fiscally responsible move so that we're not paying double," McConnehey said, referring to a $200,000 severance package that essentially paid Davis for a year after his departure. However, the councilman said, the unintended consequences of leaving that vacuum at the top have done nothing but aggravate council division.