By Mark Vasto
One week after he asserted Parkville’s hire of a media relations consultant was not for the purpose of “damage control,” Mayor Gerry Richardson confirmed to The Luminary that there were human resource related issues currently occurring at City Hall.
Richardson confirmed to The Luminary, on Thursday, that City Manager Shannon Thompson had been placed on paid administrative leave for a period of three days – Monday, April 11 through Wednesday, April 13 – and that Lore Meyer, who served as the city’s accounts payable clerk, had submitted her resignation.
Richardson said he accepted Meyer’s resignation on Friday, April 8 and that he was responsible for the decision to place Thompson on leave, in accordance with the city charter and on the advice of counsel.
Richardson confirmed that the two incidents were related, but that he was unable to comment due to the settlement terms agreed upon between the City and Meyers.
Richardson stated unequivocally, however, that Thompson’s leave was not disciplinary in nature, but a move that he had been advised to make while the city conducted an internal review of the city’s administrative branch, which Thompson oversees.
Sources inside City Hall told The Luminary that Meyer had a contentious working relationship with Thompson and had questioned Thompson’s handling of expense reports and reimbursement requests. Sometime during the fall of 2010, Meyer is said to have presented a memorandum to the city expressing those concerns.
After an independent investigation that concluded at the end Thompson’s paid leave, Richardson said the Board of Aldermen found “inadequate substantiation” for the complaint, but asked for and received reimbursement from Thompson for meals where unspecified city business was discussed and included alcoholic beverages.
Missouri’s open meeting or “Sunshine Laws” mandate a 24-hour notice to media whenever a quorum – a majority of elected officials – take place. The documents show that no quorum was established. Until a revision of the city’s code of employee conduct – approved at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Alderman – the purchase of alcohol was not a forbidden practice at the time.
Also included were reimbursements for disputed mileage compensation.
Documents obtained by The Luminary showed that Thompson’s total reimbursement came to $859.
As The Luminary went to press, neither Thompson nor Meyer could be reached for comment.
This is not the first time Meyer has been involved in an internal skirmish at City Hall.
As reported by The Luminary at the time, Meyer had previously alleged that former Parkville Assistant City Clerk Deborah was falsifying time sheets and therefore receiving undue compensation.
Hammond vigorously denied the charges and eventually settled with the city for an unspecified amount. Officially, the city said that Hammond’s position was eliminated but The Luminary learned that an outside law firm was hired to investigate and settle the matter.
As reported in previous episodes of The Parkville Luminary, Richardson said he felt concerned about the city’s ability to handle public information requests from regional media.
In addition, Richardson said he felt the city needed help “effectively communicating” other civic related matters to the public, the recent detour at Hwy 9 in downtown Parkville being one example.
Richardson said he was surprised at the volume of complaints the city had received from merchants and residents during the closure – a project that has been in the works for several years and handled by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).
A retired engineer, Richardson said he often felt uncomfortable dealing with media as it was not an area of expertise, and that he was concerned he was not effectively conveying the city’s “message” at times.
In response, Richardson said he retained the services of freelance public relations consultant Heather Claybrooke. Claybrooke previously worked as a journalist for the local FOX broadcasting affiliate and currently works for the Independence School District’s public relations department. Terms of her deal have her receiving $25 per hour, not to exceed $2,500.
Richardson said that Claybrooke would not serve as the city’s spokesperson, but confirmed that the city had been the subject of several Sunshine requests by media other than The Parkville Luminary (which criticized the hiring in an editorial), leading him to seek the advice.
Richardson said that while he was concerned over the time spent fulfilling the requests and the associated costs of doing so, he was committed to making sure the city was as transparent as the law would allow given the potential for litigation regarding personnel issues.