On July 11, 2023 Topeka’s governing body voted 10-0 to terminate city manager Stephen Wade’s contract for cause. Wade was the fourth city manager of Topeka among an additional five interim managers since the city adopted a council-city manager form of government in 2005.
WHY DO WE HAVE A CITY MANAGER?
Topeka operates within a council-manager form of government. This system aims to combine political leadership of elected officials in the form of a council, with the managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The plan establishes a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected council as a whole and where the council hires a professionally trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services.
Topeka has operated under four varied government systems:
- Strong mayor-city council-chief administrative officer
- Council-city manager
The current system was adopted in 2005 after a referendum vote appeared on the previous general election ballot; 65.53% voted in favor of a council-manager system.
WHO – PAST CITY MANAGERS
|NAME||STATUS||START||END||REASON FOR DEPARTURE|
|Norton Bonaparte||hired||3/2006||7/2011||Agreed termination with severance pay|
|Jim Colson||hired||8/2012||10/2016||Resigned and returned to Arizona|
|Brent Trout||hired||10/2017||12/2021||Resigned and went to North Carolina|
|Stephen Wade||hired||9/2022||6/2023||Termination without severance pay|
Wade is the second city manager whose contract was terminated. This first was Norton Bonaparte who was hired in 2006 with a non-expiring contract.
In March of 2011, the city council voted 6-3 not to take the first of two steps needed to fire Bonaparte. The vote stemmed from allegations that Bonaparte allowed a city employee to retire after it had been discovered the employee used city equipment to host a pornographic chat line while on duty. Three council members supported termination with cause: Bob Archer, Sylvia Ortiz and, perhaps the most vocal, John Alcala.
“I submit that a situation of a city employee regularly accessing (and hosting) a pornographic chat line, using city equipment, while on duty and being compensated while doing so for a period stretching over several months is absolutely a situation begging for the public’s right to know. I submit that a city manager who allows a city employee who has committed this outrageous conduct to go undisciplined and allowed to retire, with benefits, is not a city manager who should serve a single day longer as the city manager of Topeka.”“Alcala: Porn chat situation was kept secret” Tim Hrenchir, The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 28, 2011
Additional criticism surrounded Bonaparte’s handling of four water division city employees who sold scrap metal for profit in September of 2011.
A deal between Bonaparte and the Topeka City Council was approved in April of 2011 to terminate Bonaparte’s contract within 90 days and included a severance payment of $100,000.
Wade did not receive severance pay.
Topeka city manager contract states severance pay is allowed for termination for any reason other than:
- the manager’s death or inability to fulfill the essential functions associated with the duties of being the manager, with or without reasonable accommodation; or
- the manager’s failure to comply with applicable laws, rules, regulations and policies; or
- the manager’s having been charged with any felony, any misdemeanor involving malfeasance, or any crime of moral turpitude; or
- the manager’s intentional misrepresentation of material facts to the governing body or other city officials in the conduct of the city’s business, including the knowing falsification of records or documents; provided, however. that there is sufficient evidence, as determined by the governing body, of said misrepresentation or falsification following a full investigation of the facts and circumstances involved; or
- the manager’s insubordination through his failure to comply with any lawful directive submitted by a majority of the governing body; or
- the manager’s incompetency or inefficiency in the performance of his duties, as documented by a lower than “meets expectations” performance rating … provided, however, that the manager is given a reasonable opportunity to remedy any such incompetency or inefficiency; or
- the manager’s failure to uphold the tenets of the International city-County Management Association (“ICMA”) code of ethics, which require the manager to represent the city in a professional manner throughout his tenure
Chris McHugh, a civil litigation attorney and investigator with the Kansas City-based law firm Joseph, Hollander & Craft, LLC delivered an investigative report to council during a closed meeting. The city hired the law firm to “investigate a complaint,” said Amanda Stanley, city attorney. “Other than that, we don’t comment on personnel matters.”
Reporters asked Stanley if Wade had retained legal counsel; Stanley declined to comment. Reporters asked if the city anticipated Wade to file a lawsuit; Stanley declined to comment. When asked about rumors surrounding Wade’s leave of absence, she directed reporters to examine the city’s personnel policy.
We note that Jacque Russell was employed by the city in the human resources department during the time of Bonaparte and Wade’s termination. A difference, however, is the City of Topeka initiated the investigation of Wade.
Stanley said the report would not be made public.
WE ASK “WHY?”
McHugh’s investigative report regarding St. Francis Ministries in 2020 was made public. https://kansasreflector.com/2020/12/20/kansas-foster-care-leader-charged-469k-to-credit-cards-hid-financial-losses/
Edward Collazo, former City of Topeka independent police auditor, reports are public.
Federal and state laws, including personnel and privacy laws, prevent Topeka city officials from revealing details about why city manager Stephen Wade was fired, Councilman Spencer Duncan said Thursday.“Topeka city manager’s firing ‘not a crisis,’ councilman says” Tim Hrenchir, Topeka Capital-Journal, July 13, 2023
Both McHugh and Collazo’s reports are public interest and did not interfere with prospective criminal investigation or prosecution. Names and personal information were hidden to protect identity and safeguard whistleblowers. What makes the investigation of Wade different?
Is withholding the document and silencing city council members in the best interest of all parties and citizens or will the truth eventually come out? If or when it does, will today’s actions further fragment the trust between Topekans and their elected officials?
It’s no secret, I vote for transparency.