City workers submit letter of grievances against mayor

GOODMAN -- A letter addressed to the council and mayor from city employees listing grievances against Mayor John Bunch was read by Bunch at the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 16, with him commenting on the accusations made against him.

The letter presented to the council and to Bunch wasn't attributed to any one worker but was, instead, said to be a collective statement from all city employees.

"We employees have been fearful of even mentioning our concerns due to the chance of retaliation," said the letter.

In the letter, city employees accused Bunch of intimidating workers by "yelling ... and advancing threateningly with finger pointing in employees' face."

The letter stated that employees were uncomfortable with the mayor's presence in the office because he allegedly asked them to perform duties contrary to city ordinances, thus creating a "hostile work environment."

The letter alleges an employee attempted to remind the mayor of the "mandates of a certain paper trail [and] he was indignant that she just follow his orders." It also accuses Bunch of sending employees home "when refus[ing] to do what was against city ordinances."

One allegation accuses the mayor of "transfer[ing] ARPA funds without council approval."

The letter also alleges the mayor "complains about not having enough money" [in the budget] but then tells employees to "write off" certain customers' water bills without council approval.

The letter adds, "We tried to explain why the customer had the bill, and he stated it was not right. The customer had requested water be turned off approximately 10-15 days after the meter was read, so she had a small bill the next month. But the bill was written off due to the mayor disagreeing."

Employees also alleged that one worker gave ample notice of requested time off and followed "the chain of command," but Bunch told her, "It would have been nice to know before the day of leave."

The letter also accuses Bunch of "discussing personnel issues with other employees, stating [he] can schedule a zero-work week for an employee instead of firing them."

"These incidents just keep happening, which has caused a hostile work environment," the letter stated. "We also feel the mayor is micromanaging. He needs to just let us do our jobs."

After reading the letter, Bunch commented on the allegations raised against him.

"I'm trying to look after people in town," said Bunch. "I'm not looking after our little clubhouse. That's something that bothers me. I got the best intentions for the city [and] I will do the best I can for the people in the city."

While Bunch was speaking, public works director Keith Estes walked up to the council bench, with keys in hand, ready to resign his post.

Some employees who attended the meeting said they took offense to Bunch's comments, saying they were "demeaning."

Alderman Clyde Davidson agreed and acknowledged the city employees' concerns.

"They just want to talk about what's their alternative because they feel uncomfortable," said Davidson. "So, let's see if we can correct it and get a relationship that we can work under. This is on the agenda to try and solve it in a civil and respectable way."

"If this is how things are going to be, I don't blame anybody from leaving," said Alderman Clay Sexson to Bunch. "You said the responsibility is to take care of the city's money. Well, it's also to the city's employees. We have to take care of them, as well, because they're the ones that take care of the town."

City attorney Duane Cooper recommended the discussion be moved into closed session.

"I don't think you need to make any arguments or any heated blood comments here that might result in litigation. Your budget called for reading an open letter; you're done. Let's move along," Cooper said.

The council went into a closed session at 7:49 p.m. and returned to public session at 8:58 p.m.

Present at the Jan. 16 meeting were Sexson, Alderman Rex Jordan, Bunch, Davidson, City Clerk Madisun Branstetter, Keith Estes, Assistant City Clerk C.J. Estes and Police Chief Samuel Townsend.

Alderman Calvin Wilson was absent.

Chief Townsend said the police department took no part in drafting the letter and was not a party to it.

In other action, the city paid the bills in the amount of $16,287.12.