Council takes no action; city manager retains job
The City Council returned from a lengthy executive session with City Manager Jerry Ihler Tuesday, but took no action on Ihler or his contract.
The discussion, permitted behind closed doors under the state's Open Meetings Act provisions on personnel issues, came two weeks after a discussion about bond issue disclosure requirements erupted into a heated argument about Ihler and the fact he had lost the confidence of two council members. Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner, who made a motion Feb. 27 to terminate Ihler after a public discussion on the council floor, set the review for Tuesday's executive session agenda, initiating the item the morning after the Feb. 27 council meeting.
About 40 people including citizens, city staff members, six former council members and community leaders waited through the council's executive session to hear the outcome. While discussions are permitted behind closed doors, any action (including a motion to terminate) would have had to take place in open session, which is reconvened after the council returns from executive session. After announcing the item, Mayor Fred Fitch merely said that no action would be taken and adjourned the meeting.
Afterward, several city officials indicated the issue appears to be over.
Tanner had said at the Feb. 27 meeting that he had lost confidence in Ihler and Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, who seconded the motion, said he, too, shared Tanner's "reasonable doubt." Both men were critical of problems that have occurred in recent months and what they said is the fact that Ihler has not held city staff accountable for those problems.
The men said those problems include a recently-concluded case before the Securities and Exchange Commission because of failure to fulfill all proper disclosure responsibilities (something the city successfully defended), Capital Improvement Program funding that was unaccounted for, and IRS questions about overtime payments made to city employees.
Fitch and Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk (who was absent Tuesday) said Ihler is being held accountable for things that happened before he was city manager, and that council action to fire Ihler would have a detrimental effect on Lawton, while harming its efforts to recruit job applicants.
After the Feb. 27 meeting, the city attorney's office said the council could not have taken action to fire Ihler because neither his contract nor action to terminate him was listed on the agenda.
Tuesday, the only references to the Feb. 27 argument came from Tanner and Davis, who spoke at the end of the regular meeting during the reports session, held before the council went into executive session.
Tanner offered an apology for losing his temper during the meeting. At one point in the Feb. 27 meeting, Tanner told Fitch that if he (Tanner) had taken the same actions that Ihler had while he was an employee of the mayor, he (Tanner) would have been fired.