MOUNT VERNON — After an irregularity in voting procedure at Monday night’s council meeting, a number of Mount Vernon City Council members are calling for the resignation or dismissal of Safety-service Director Richard Dzik.
Although it is not a written policy, council members traditionally vote in the same order. The person voting last in one meeting moves to the front of the line at the next meeting, but the same order is maintained.
Following that precedence, Council member Tammy Woods would have voted first on Monday. However, the clerk of council called for the vote in a different order. When council members learned that the change was due to Dzik’s request, reaction was swift.
In an email to Mayor Matt Starr on Tuesday, Council member Samantha Scoles alleged that “there is only one reason to request the order be changed, and that was to manipulate the vote on not one, but two, critical pieces of legislation.”
She alleged that Dzik realized there was an expected split of council for both votes, and the easiest way to guarantee adoption was to make sure that a specific council member did not have the chance to follow too many “no” votes that could influence that council member’s decision.
Scoles wrote that she has “no confidence and no trust in the leadership abilities of your safety-service director. This is someone overseeing our department heads, administering discipline and being involved in the appeal of discipline, negotiating contracts within and outside the city — is this the role model/spokesperson for the city we really need or want?”
Starr learned of Dzik’s request to change the voting order on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he suspended Dzik for two weeks without pay. The suspension starts Thursday, May 13. Dzik will return to work on May 27.
“Looking at all of the facts, no law was broken,” Starr said. “It was very bad judgement; it damaged the relationship between council and administration.
“The punishment does sting, but I don’t believe this is a fireable offense.”
Starr said Dzik will apologize to city council.
“It’s an opportunity where he’s caused serious damage. I am giving him the opportunity to repair that damage,” Starr said. “He knows he did wrong, and he has expressed a great deal of remorse and regret.
“We have to find a way to move forward and repair the damage. I think it’s important that he takes an active role in repairing that damage.”
Scoles said a suspension is not enough. She said Starr should dismiss Dzik from his position as safety-service director.
“I don’t know how to overcome this,” she said. “Rick is the liaison we work through for all of the committees we have, for all of the legislation. I don’t know how we move forward.”
Councilman Mike Hillier believes Dzik should resign.
“When you lose the trust, you can’t go forward,” he said, adding that this is not the first time the issue of trust has arisen. “I have lost all faith, all trust. Going forward, I can’t believe a word of what he says.”
Woods, who knew going into Monday night’s meeting that based on past trends she would vote first, acknowledged that there is nothing legally as to the voting order, just past history.
“But if Mr. Dzik had been that confident that anything we were voting on was not in the best interest of the city, he would not have had to do anything like this to get it passed,” she said. “I am severely disappointed. We need to have a conversation as council and administration, and I am confident that will happen.
“I told the mayor the trust has been broken,” she continued. “I would completely support the acceptance of a resignation. Mayor Starr has told me of his plans to reprimand Mr. Dzik. I do not think that is enough. I would completely support his dismissal, I would completely support his resignation.”
Woods is also concerned the clerk made the change. Noting that people distrust all levels of government, she said her purpose in running for council was to build bridges and increase trust.
“In one fell swoop, that trust has been shot,” she said.
Council President Bruce Hawkins said Dzik’s request to change the voting order was inappropriate.
“There is no written policy, but it’s been tradition. The council is run by the council, not by administration, so it was not in administration’s purview to make that change,” he said.
Regarding the suspension and calls for Dzik’s dismissal or resignation, Hawkins said, “To me, the safety-service director works for the mayor, so that’s the mayor’s call. I understand where they are coming from.
“The problem is going to be the trust level between council and administration. If the trust level has been eroded by what happened, what can we do to move forward?”
Councilwoman Janis Seavolt said, “I don’t understand why [Dzik] did this. I have lost trust and confidence in him.”
Regarding changing the voting order, Seavolt said the clerk should have called the council president before making the change.
Of Dzik’s suspension, she said, “The mayor hired him and is the one who decides. But the trust right now is gone, and it’s going to be hard to build it back up again.”
Councilman Tanner Salyers said the suspension is appropriate as Dzik needs to understand the executive branch has its place and the administrative branch has its place, but he does not agree with dismissing Dzik.
“We have taken on massive infrastructure projects, internal restructuring, big bold things. Mr. Dzik has shepherded us through that process. He did that with the county, and that’s why Mr. Starr hired him to begin with,” he said. “He’s been disciplined.
“Weighing this small thing up to all of the other things he has done, it’s small potatoes, and I am willing for it to be water under the bridge.”
Salyers said the voting lineup is irrelevant and the current recycling method stupid. He also said it should be static.
“I am proposing an ordinance at our next meeting that will permanently change how we vote. We will vote in order of our ward, and at-large members will cast their votes according to their surnames alphabetically,” he said.
Council member Julia Warga said she is still gathering information.
“After talking with the mayor, until I know more, I think that the suspension is a reasonable first step,” she said.
“I think he needs to be discharged,” Councilman John Francis said. “He took that change upon himself, to request that. That’s a deceptive move, manipulating the roll call. To me, it’s an unethical thing.”
Francis said that while there is no written law about the voting order, there is an ethical law.
“Why would you want to do that?” he asked. “Whether it did or did not manipulate the vote, it’s still unethical. If I can’t trust him for council’s sake, how can I trust him for the departments? And that’s not good for the city.”
Several council members questioned whether the order change and allegation of potential manipulation will affect the outcome of council’s vote on any legislation adopted on Monday.
Law Director Broeren is researching the issue and hopes to have an answer for council and administration as soon as possible.