Updated: Rockland City Council hears concerns about employee payoutCouncilor Dickerson submits resolve seeking investigation
Rockland — Rockland City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson has formalized her request for an investigation into the departure of Community Development Director Audrey Lovering.
Lovering agreed to resign effective Oct. 10. As part of the deal, the city agrees to pay her a lump sum of $21,667 (equivalent to four months salary) to resolve a dispute, which has not been explained. The city also agrees to pay Lovering's attorneys Kelly and Collins $2,000 in fees and expenses.
"People are very upset about this," Dickerson said.
Following a public comment session at the City Council's agenda-setting meeting Nov. 5 in which several residents expressed concern about the issue, Dickerson submitted a resolve to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting seeking the investigation. The council holds agenda-setting meetings to discuss issues coming up the week before their regular meeting. The next meeting of the council will be Wednesday, Nov. 14 at city hall.
Mark Piscitelli told the council its actions need to be transparent because it is a corporation funded by taxpayers. He said the public needs to know why this money went to Lovering, noting it is a lot of money.
If it's a personal matter, the money should come out of personal pockets, he said.
Steve Carroll commended Dickerson for seeking an investigation into the matter and for being the sole vote against having the city borrow funds to purchase a camera system recently. He said she is the only fiscal conservative on the city council.
He said the city cannot lower taxes by spending more money in raises, on the camera system and in what he called "hush money" to Lovering.
Joe Steinberger said he too was concerned about Lovering's departure.
"We might want to fire somebody," he said, as a response to the way the issue was handled. "...We need some leadership from the city council."
He criticized City Manager James Smith.
"The city manager is not the king of Rockland," Steinberger said. "He works for us."
He said he did not see any evidence that the council has been telling the city manager what to do. Steinberger, a former city councilor, said the payout was as much as some people in Rockland earn in a year, and the city is spending it so Lovering won't tell what happened.
He said the city is paying her to "keep her mouth shut."
"The city manager can spend our money, and we have no right to know why," Steinberger said.
Councilor Will Clayton questioned the purpose of Dickerson's proposed investigation, pointing out the matter has been discussed by the city council already in a closed-door session that Dickerson did not attend at a previous meeting.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said there were three separate issues. One was the city's procedures for dealing with personnel issues.
Another was how the city manager recruits and maintains staff. "That's a job performance issue," he said.
The third would be to review personnel files and confidential documents, which he said was the only one of the three that would require Dickerson's proposed investigation.
Dickerson said the intent was to look at this specific incident involving Lovering.
Lovering's attorney, Kristin Collins said that Lovering, "doesn't want to be part of the drama" affiliated with the resignation, but conceded that attention "goes with the territory with a high-profile job."
Collins added that Lovering will not be speaking with the media about the issue because of her agreement with the city — in case something she says is misconstrued.
"She's focusing on her career moving forward," said Collins, and added that Lovering will cooperate with any action taken by the city council.
Correction: Councilor Larry Pritchett did not suggest hiring a new city staff member for human resources or as a personnel director, as previously reported in this story. He was talking about ways the city could look at the city manager's role as the personnel director. It was a reporting error.
Courier Publications News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com. Additional reporting was done by Juliette Laaka.