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Officials to study manager conflict

Five commissioners will conduct separate investigations into employees' complaints about the management style of new City Manager Jo Anne Townsend.

At a meeting Wednesday night, commissioners said they no longer can ignore complaints that Townsend has intimidated employees.

They agreed to talk to employees and Townsend, compile information and meet later to discuss their findings.

The decision to investigate the complaints individually came after commissioners rejected a request by Commissioner William Post to form an impartial citizens' committee to try to resolve problems between Townsend and a group of about 13 employees.

Post said that during a meeting last week at Crabby Bill's restaurant, employees told him that Townsend's management style intimidates them and causes them to fear for their jobs.

"After having spoken to the employees, it is my view we have a serious problem in this city .

.

. to the point it can no longer be ignored," Post said at a commission meeting.

"We have got to get to the bottom of these problems."

He suggested a "select committee of impartial citizens" that would meet with employees and Townsend to try to resolve some of the issues.

However, other commissioners said they doubted there is an impartial group in the city.

"We've had a lot of people make a lot of observations," said Commissioner Connie Allen. "I think it will be hard to pick an impartial committee. This could turn into a witch hunt."

Allen and Commissioner Kathy Harris suggested hiring an outside consultant or mediator. But not all commissioners were willing to pay for professional help now.

"I don't believe an outside consultant would know enough about the city to do us any good," Post said.

Townsend, 35, has been under fire since she arrived for work last fall. Her predecessor, Dorothy Cramer, was ousted by the commission last summer. Many residents remain loyal to Cramer and never have been pleased with Townsend's no-nonsense approach to city government.

After working with Townsend for two months, Police Chief Sam Heath decided to retire. Heath said Townsend was a significant factor in his decision to leave the city. Shortly after, Townsend fired the city's longtime building official.

Last month about a dozen employees contacted a union and are seeking membership.

Commissioners formally reviewed Townsend's job performance Wednesday night and gave her mostly high marks. Then they voted to extend her contract for six more months.

In the meantime, though, they said they will take a closer look at personnel problems. Driscoll invited employees to contact him anytime, day or night, if they have problems with Townsend.

The solution was not popular with the audience of about 50 residents.

Resident Carol McGlaughlin presented Driscoll with a petition, signed by 100 residents, asserting a lack of confidence in Townsend's ability to manage the city.

"I don't think you're any more objective than we are," said resident George Hause, who favored forming a citizens' committee. "As the people who hired her, you may have blinders on."

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