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Emmetsburg City Administrator Resigns

Cooke Resigns Following Recommendation To City Council

May 15, 2018
By Darren Fraser and Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

The City of Emmetsburg is without a city administrator following the resignation of Travic Cooke at a special city council meeting Wednesday, May 9. The resignation followed a meeting of the council's Finance, Ordinances and Personnel Committee on Monday, May 7.

All council members were in attendance at the special meeting Wednesady night at 6 p.m., along with City Attorney Brian Thul. The only agenda item was the report of the Standing Committee and to consider the committee's recommendation.

The Finance, Ordinances and Personnel Committee held a meeting to discuss Cooke's 90-Day job performance review of his employment. According to the meeting's agenda, the committee had the option to meet in closed session pursuant to Iowa Code Section 21.5(1)(i), which reads "A governmental body may hold a closed sessionTo evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance, or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury that individual's reputation and that individual requests a closed session." Cooke requested the meeting remain open.

Following a discussion concerning the committee's issues with Cooke's job performance, Cooke requested a closed session with the committee, but reversed his request when he learned that only he and City Attorney Brian Thul would participate in the closed session.

Councilmembers Brian Campbell, who is committee chairman, along with councilmemebers Bill Burdick, Jr., Brian Malm and Mike Hermansen comprise the Finance, Ordinances and Personnel Committee. According to Council regulations, the committee must consist of the two at-large councilmembers and the two most tenured councilmembers.

After discussion was concluded, Burdick moved to recommend Cooke's termination to the full council. Hermansen seconded the motion and the vote of the committee was unanimous.

Campbell reported the recommendation of the committee to the full council, at which time, Mayor Myrna Heddinger asked Cooke, who was in attendance in the gallery, if he requested a Closed Session in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 21.5(1)(i).

"No,"?Cooke answered.

"Do you have something you;d like to say?" the Mayor asked, and turned the floor over to Cooke.

"Nothing I can say here, or stated in my letter is going to change the fact that my employnent with the city is going to end this evening,"?Cooke began. "I do want to make a few statements regarding my employment here."

Cooke paused for a moment. "I was never offered, or asked for an employment agreement. The only document I received prior to starting with the city was a pay scale, vacation schedule and benefit information. I was never made aware of any requirments, probationary period, or expections. I was never given a copy of the employee manual. I was never informed of the review process. I was not given a document outlining your review process or disciplinary procedures. I wasn't told who would be conducting reviews, I wasn't told how the reviews would be used to determine my future with the city. I wasn't provided with documentation of the results of my first review, when the next review would take place, or actual performance measures and goals that I?could work towards."

Cooke continued, "I cannot know what you do not tell me. Emmetsburg is a great community, I?can honestly say that I had nothing but pleasant daily interactions with Emmetsburg residents. I was excited to be offerend the position and see how I?could help you make Emmetsburg even better. Unfortunatley, that's not going to happen. Unfortunatley I?wasn't given an opportunity to make that happen. You have great people working here, take care of them."

Cooke then wrapped up his remarks. "In closing, at Monday's personnel committee meeting, I was given the false choice to resign or have my position be terminated - to resign my position or be terminated. You're here this evening to consider the recommendation of the personnel committee to terminate my employment. Is is with regret that I?have no other option but to offer you my resignation at this time. Thank you for your time."

Following Cooke's statement, Heddinger asked the council's wishes.

"He's offered his resignation,"?City Attorney Brian Thul noted. "so now would be a motion to accept his resigntation."

"I move we accept the resignation,"?said Coucil member Brian Campbell said. Council member Ryan Berkland offered a second and Heddinger asked for a roll-call vote. All six council members voted aye to accept the resignation and Heddinger declared the motion carried and resignation accepted.

Cooke, who was hired on January 29, of this year, replacing long-time City Administrator John Bird, was earning$76,500 for the dual post of city administrator and Administrator of the Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities.

Cooke did not respond to requests for comments. Mayor Myrna Heddinger and councilmembers would not comment on the reasons leading up to Cooke's resignation. The mayor and the council members said all inquiries should go through Thul.

In an email, Thul disputed Cooke's claim he never received the employee handbook. Thul also wrote that because Cooke's employment is personal to him, the city not violate his privacy by disclosing its contents.



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