City administrator grilled over comments regarding departure of parks director

Comments were sometimes accusatory and occasionally heated during the late stages of Monday night's meeting of the Enumclaw City Council.

At issue was the forced resignation of Larry Fetter, who for five years served as director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. His tenure came to an end June 9 when presented with a resign-or-be-fired option. The ultimatum was delivered by City Administrator Mike Thomas on behalf of Mayor Liz Reynolds. No one has disputed the administration's authority when it comes to personnel matters, as all employees work at the discretion of the mayor.

Monday's conversation turned interesting when it was pointed out the true story behind Fetter's removal is different that the account offered in the June 23 edition of The Courier-Herald.

The June 23 story included a claim by Thomas that Fetter did not resign due to administrative pressure. In the article, Thomas added that he was "surprised" by Fetter's resignation, which was effective immediately.

Councilman Jeff Beckwith kicked off Monday night's discussion by asking which version of the story was correct.

Thomas said the newspaper account did not match the message he attempted to deliver. Thomas said he was directly involved in Fetter's departure, so there's no way he could have been surprised.

"It's unfortunate that the intent of the comments I made to the Courier-Herald do not reflect that which I was attempting to convey to them," he said.

The Courier-Herald has stood behind its original story.

Councilman Mike Ennis asked Reynolds is she believes Thomas was quoted accurately in the June 23 story. The mayor said she wasn't privy to the telephone interview so it was impossible for her to know exactly what was said.

"It's a no-win situation," Reynolds said, adding that she's ready to move forward, learn from the situation and make sure such misunderstandings do not happen again. Because there is no recording of the conversation between Thomas and the newspaper, she said, "we are all just running on assumptions."

Beckwith and Ennis weren't ready to drop the issue.

Beckwith noted his belief that Fetter had done "a darned good job" of running the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. He allowed for some wiggle room, stating he has always found The Courier-Herald to be factual, "but you never know..." Finally, he blasted Thomas, claiming the city administrator showed "very poor judgement" in even discussing a personnel matter with the press.

Beckwith said Thomas should have responded to the newspaper's inquiries with "no comment, it's a personnel issue, it's confidential, end of story."

Ennis turned the heat up a notch, insinuating that Thomas had lied to the newspaper and was looking to cover his tracks.

Ennis added to the fire by claiming there have been several instances in recent months where Thomas has been "less than honest."

"Now you're trying to spin it and effectively blame The Courier-Herald for a mistake that you made," he said.

That lit a fire under Councilman Rich Elfers. "You're basically accusing our city administrator of being a liar," Elfers said. "That really troubles me."

City Attorney Mike Reynolds interrupted the debate, pointing out that if councilmen were heading in the direction of reviewing the city administrator's job performance, it would best be done in executive session, out of public view.

No one expressed an interest in going that route and Councilman Kevin Mahelona quickly offered a successful motion that the discussion be terminated.

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