By CHRISTIN COYNE
Actions by current Annetta council members created a threatening work environment and were one of the factors leading to her recent resignation, outgoing Annetta City Secretary Daina Lawler reported to the city’s mayor last month.
According to information released by the city this week in response to an open records request, Lawler attributed her decision primarily to personal family obligations but also said she had issues with her work environment.
As the city attempts to fill the position, the city’s mayor, Bruce Pinckard, said he is concerned about the issues raised by Lawler concerning the environment at city hall, though the city’s mayor pro-tem, Larry Wood, does not share those concerns.
Lawler, who has worked for Annetta for five years and with Annetta South for seven, resigned hours before an Annetta council meeting with an agenda listing “city secretary” discussion in executive session, as well as public discussion and action regarding the ordinance creating the position.
Wood said his recent actions in a public meeting regarding the city secretary position were intended to address a legal issue, as well as confidential information standards.
After executive session, the council voted to amend the ordinance to state that the city secretary may not be employed by another city.
Both the ordinance governing the city secretary position and the ordinance governing the mayor position were amended to require office holders for both positions treat all information from the mayor or council as confidential unless it is specifically stated that the information is non-confidential or the information is subject to Texas law making it public.
The actions came on the heels of recent controversial council actions, including the decision to decline to schedule public hearings on the annexation of Deer Creek water system residents despite a petition signed by more than 500 affected residents and the dismissal of two water advisory board members who led annexation efforts.
“Increasingly over the past two years, I have felt an implied threat to my employment,” Lawler wrote in her letter of resignation. “I have been told repeatedly by citizens and elected officials that certain council members would rather I did not work here.”
“I have experienced hostility from councilmen when I have failed to comply with their personal demands at the direction of the mayor, who has always been my direct supervisor.”
Since May there has been an increasing pattern of requests from the council directed to the city secretary that conflict with normal city policies, typically regarding control of the agenda, Mayor Bruce Pinckard said Wednesday when asked about the conflicts.
Lawler also said one council member’s actions, which she perceived as tactics implying “some measure of power” over her, caused her the greatest concern.
The council member “continuously relays to me ‘confidential’ information without telling me that it is confidential,” Lawler wrote. “Then he becomes angry at the break of unknown (to me) confidence.”
The councilman told her that two other council members planned to pursue her dismissal based on the fact that she is the assistant to the Mayor of Annetta South, she wrote.
Nearly every time she would leave city hall to run an errand or go to lunch, the council member would call her on her cell phone, Lawler wrote, adding that he would remind her that he lived across the street and was aware of her coming and going.
“I sincerely hope that conditions improve with the next election and that the citizens of this area are fairly represented in the future,” Lawler wrote, adding that “anything less should be considered offensive to all of us as American citizens.”
Wood, who said he was sad to see Lawler go, said he placed the items involving the city secretary on the council agenda in response to a couple of issues.
Wood said it is illegal for a city secretary to work for two cities, something he said he has been aware of since July.
“Everbody knows about it,” Wood said. “Nobody’s done anything.”
However, Wood said he was told at the time that the issue was being addressed in a proposed ethics policy, a document he doesn’t believe the town council is any closer to adopting.
They currently have rules and regulations regarding how the town is being run that are not being followed, Wood said, adding that “we need to first follow the rules we have.”
Pinckard said that Lawler is not the city secretary for Annetta; rather, her title is special assistant to the mayor of Annetta South.
“This was fully disclosed at her hiring by the Town of Annetta and reviewed by the attorney for Annetta as well as Annetta South,” Pinckard said, adding that certain efficiencies were achieved and the two towns have not had disputes since Lawler was hired.
“Mr. Wood, as well as other council members, only recently voiced concerns when they found Mrs. Lawler unagreeable to some of their requests as they conflicted with her role as city secretary and her responsibility to answer to her supervisor, which is defined to be the mayor and not individual councilmen,” Pinckard said, noting that the legality issue was not brought up during the Jan. 17 meeting but that any ethical issues should be addressed with an ethics policy.
After recent incidents involving information he believed should have been kept confidential, Wood said he decided to add both issues to the council’s agenda.
Wood said he was concerned that a councilman couldn’t ask a question and get an answer without it being widespread.
“I felt like the mayor was beating me up for calling the attorney [with questions],” Wood said, adding that he began calling the city secretary and asking about questions he had that might have already been addressed by the city attorney.
He was concerned that his questions regarding certain people were repeated to those individuals, Wood said. “It’s none of their concern at this point. They’ve called and harrassed me about it.”
Wood said he’s not concerned that the council’s actions have created a difficult environment for the person working in the city secretary position.
“I just think that if people will do their job, I don’t that will be an issue,” Wood said, adding that the position was set up by the council and the city secretary is an at-will employee of the council.
Pinckard, who conducted an exit interview with Lawler Tuesday, said he does not believe the issues leading to Lawler’s resignation have been fully addressed, and he is concerned about the work environment and being able to hire and retain someone with experience in the position.
He does not believe any laws have been broken, Pinckard said, adding that addressing the city hall environment is a political process and emphasizing the need for voters to be educated about candidates.
His proposed rules of procedure and ethics policy has been before the council for months but has been consistently tabled and deemed not important enough to act on, Pinckard said.
Pinckard said Lawler has done a “spectacular job,” from transitioning with the city’s takeover of water system billing responsibilities to being a cornerstone of the city as faces on the council have changed.
Citizens have called him to communicate that they are sorry to see her go and wish she would stay, Pinckard said.
Lawler’s last day was Jan. 31. Pinckard said he hopes the council will approve hiring the city’s current part-time employees, who been cross-trained in the day-to-day operations of the city secretary position, as a temporary full-time employee.