City Manager Bob Francis resigned Monday night, referring to “difficulty” with Mayor Arthur Babitz.
The mayor and council members present all stated they were surprised by the announcement, which came near the end of the regular City Council meeting.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Francis said he has had enough of what he calls repeated “micromanaging” by Babitz.
Babitz said Francis’ announcement was the first he had heard of his intention to resign.
Francis also cited a June 7 meeting with council member Laurent Picard in which Picard recommended strongly that Francis look for other work and resign. (Look for Picard’s response at the end of this article.)
Council President Ed Weathers said “I’m stunned.”
Babitz said Tuesday he will call a special meeting of City Council for next week, to determine the city’s next steps; look for details online and in the June 29 edition of Hood River News.
Francis used his standing report segment of Monday’s meeting to announce he will resign effective July 8.
He said Tuesday that Babitz’s lack of adherence to process in communicating with department heads and city rank and file is one thing that served as a “catalyst” to his resignation.
He referred in Monday’s meeting to a development over Memorial Day weekend. On Tuesday he explained that he learned while he was out of town on Memorial Day that Babitz had contacted fire department personnel without notifying either himself or Fire Chief Devon Wells.
“He did not follow the correct process that we have in the city, and that’s wrong. The result was the mayor got mad at me when I told him he was wrong,” Francis said.
Babitz would not comment on Francis’ assertion, and said he would not make general comments, stating that it is a personnel matter.
“A lot of this is people operating on rumors and innuendo,” Babitz said Monday.
Picard said in the meeting that there is a “growing consensus” of concern about Francis’ status as city manager. Interviewed after the meeting, Picard and Babitz declined further comment, citing it as a personnel matter.
“It is very difficult to work under these conditions,” Francis told City Council. “I’ve been upset by it, the staff has been upset, and the inner office has been upset,” Francis said. “Because of that, the best alternative is for me to resign ... so I can seek employment where I am appreciated and my potential is recognized.”
Asked about Francis “micromanagement” charge, Babitz said, “That’s not an issue I’m going to discuss.”
Francis said Babitz has not spoken with him in the past month, bypassing this office when he comes to City Hall and speaking with other city staff but not Francis.
Babitz disputed that, saying “We talk about business, we were on the radio together yesterday,” he said of an interview Monday on radio KIHR.
“We have communicated in both written and verbal form on normal business since Memorial Day, as far as I can tell, in the regular course of doing business,” Babitz said.
Asked if he was surprised by Francis’ announcement he said, “I really was. I had no knowledge.”
Planning Director Cindy Walbridge presented a letter of support for Francis signed by herself and Wells, Public Works Director Mark Lago and Police Chief Neal Holste.
“Bob is the best city manager any of us has had the pleasure to work with in our careers, and his interest and commitment for the city of Hood River is without question,” the letter stated.
Francis was hired in January 2004 and has served as Rotary president and on the boards of United Way and Tsuruta Sister City Program, and is a board member of Oregon City Managers Association.
Francis points out that he has not had a formal job evaluation in five years. Babitz said he is not sure why that is the case.
Wells called Francis “an amazing mentor to me,” in an emotional statement to the council, adding that “no public employee should be treated the way Bob Francis has been treated.”
On his meeting with Picard, Francis told council, “Laurent was very honest. His concern was that they wanted to terminate me and that I should find work very quickly.” He said others with the city also suggested he seek other employment. “I appreciate their honesty, but I also heard from others that the mayor was inclined and supportive of the idea that it is time to terminate me.”
Council Member Mark Zanmiller and others stated that the city should offer to mediate with Francis and avoid resignation, an option Babitz said he is open to.
Zanmiller stated Tuesday that he is willing to facilitate the mediation, calling the current discord “an energy funk” in the city.
“We certainly have differing personalities involved,” he said.
Picard said in the meeting: “Let me clarify exactly what I said in the meeting (with Francis). I said that there was a growing consensus on council that he wasn’t the right man for the job anymore. I did not say it was spearheaded by the mayor and I did not say he ought to find a job quickly.
“I said he ought to start looking for another job. I did this because of conversations I had that substantiated my concerns in what I said in that meeting. I didn’t have to say this. Bob wanted to talk to me about some issues he’d been having as city manager and I could have gotten up from the table and said thank you for talking t me and called it a day.
“But I didn’t think I could morally or ethically do that knowing some of the concerns of the growing consensus the council has had. I had to speak the truth as I saw it.”
On next week’s special meeting, Babitz said it will be the opportunity for council to talk about hiring an interim or other next step.
“It will be our opportunity to figure out if there is anything we want to do other than planning a transition.
“If anyone wants to propose or discus anything else we’ll have that opportunity,” Babitz said.