The Marion City Council met on Friday, Dec. 23 (after the Free Press had already gone to press due to the holiday early deadline), for a special meeting they previously planned for Monday, Dec. 19. That meeting had been postponed due to Marion Mayor David Mayfield being hospitalized due to illness. Mayfield was out of the hospital and was present for the meeting on Friday.
After meeting in two executive sessions, one without Marion City Administrator Mark Skiles, followed by one with Skiles, the meeting resumed in open session, where it was announced that Skiles was fired.
Council Member Zach Collett said, “On Friday evening formal action was taken with a 3-2 vote in open session to terminate employment of Mr. Skiles. I don’t discuss executive session personnel issues so as to protect the privacy interest of city employees.”
The Marion County Record first broke the story, which included comments by Council Member Ruth Herbel, who shared that there were allegations of sexual harassment and racist comments from Skiles that led to the council discussing and voting on Skiles’s employment.
Herbel told the Free Press, “I was concerned about releasing information from executive session, but it has been verified by an attorney with the Kansas Sunshine Coalition that we could do it. I hope they understand when I reported this to the press, it’s because I am open, transparent and honest. I ran my campaign on that, and I have held to the word. I know I’m gonna be in the hot seat, but it goes with the job. I had to stand up for what’s right.”
Herbel’s frustrations with the termination are mainly with how the meeting was handled.
According to Herbel’s written notes from the meeting, Collett moved to terminate Skiles immediately. She said that Mayfield then asked if there was a second and asked Council Member Chris Costello to second the motion. Costello said no and commented on wanting to consult an attorney. Mayfield then seconded the motion and said he would poll the council.
“He started with Jerry Kline, and Jerry kind of hesitated, and Mayfield said, ‘yes or no?’ Jerry said no, so then he [Mayfield] asked Chris Costello, who said yes, but he hesitated. Then he came to me and I said no. Collett said yes before he was even asked,” said Herbel.
She also is concerned about the recording of the meeting once the group returned to open session.
“The funny thing is we always video all the meetings, but in this meeting, the video cut the motion off. Isn’t that interesting?” said Herbel.
Herbel had many issues with happenings in both the executive sessions and the rest of the meeting and said she keeps asking for more answers. For example, she is concerned that the written statement of the victim claiming sexual harassment was never shown to the council members, even after Herbel asked for it multiple times.
“As a city councilman, I have to stand up for what is right, and this man has totally been wronged,” said Herbel. “I wasn’t happy about it [the termination], because I don’t think there was due process, because we had no discussion, the people didn’t know why we were firing him and the motion was made without cause—it didn’t tell us why we were firing him. I’m upset, because in executive session, the whole conversation was dominated by Mayfield. The council had very little input.”
Herbel explained that she wasn’t afraid to push back and speak up in the meeting, even when it seemed to upset others.
“Zach Collett looked at me after I told him this wouldn’t have happened if proper procedure had been followed, we wouldn’t have lost three employees, and Collett said, ‘Well, if Roger Holter [former city administrator] was sitting over there where Mark is, you God damn well wouldn’t be sitting in that seat,’” she said. “There is nothing they can do to remove me. The people can but not them.”
When asked about the executive sessions in the meeting, Mayfield stated that he wouldn’t “comment on any of it, because the whole purpose of executive session is to protect the employees and other parties involved. Even though there is no punishment for a council person revealing what occurred in executive session, it is unethical.”
Mayfield did say that Skiles was fired without cause because of the wording in his contract.
When told that Mayfield had reported to the Free Press that Skiles had been fired without cause because of the wording of his contract, Herbel said, “Well, that surprises me, because he hasn’t even told the council that. All I know is that the motion was made wrong. There was no discussion after the motion was made. The mayor simply polled the council for their vote. We never got to talk about it.”
The termination of Skiles came a week after three city employees, City Clerk Tiffany Jeffrey and her husband Marion Police Chief Clinton Jeffrey, along with Assistant Police Chief Steven Janzen all resigned from their positions. Tiffany finishes out her role next week, and the two officers had their last day on Dec. 27; their exit eliminated half of the Marion Police Department.
“Mine and Clinton’s last days were yesterday; equipment has been turned in. There was never a conversation about us staying in any capacity,” said Steven Janzen on Dec. 28.
Tiffany and Clinton both said they had no comments at this time.
When asked if the three employees would return now that Skiles has been fired, Mayfield said, “The resignations are what they are. It makes no difference if the council accepts or rejects them. You should contact these employees for an answer, as I have heard nothing otherwise from them.”
It is unclear at this time what the next steps will be for the city.
“As far as an administrator, it’s too soon to comment on how we are going to move forward on that. It takes a vote of the council to make that decision anyway,” said Mayfield.
Costello and Kline had not responded to requests for comments at press time.