DAYTON — In a special meeting Thursday, the Dayton Town Council voted 4-1 to relieve Mayor Norm Anderson of many responsibilities, essentially reducing him to figurehead status.
Although the move seemed sudden to many in the audience, Town Councilor Clifford Reed said the decision was a culmination of nearly two years of communication difficulties between the mayor and the council. Those difficulties had recently been exacerbated by some employee issues involving Anderson.
“This is something that’s been brewing for about two years just due to a lack of communication,” Reed said. “... We’re now looking at two cases with (the mayor) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding some employees. I feel that it’s time we look at this emergency ordinance…For right now, I feel it is necessary to maintain the town’s integrity.”
Councilor Lisa Hanson called the decision “heart-wrenching,” but said it was necessary.
“I’ve not experienced a lot of the issues that previous council has experienced,” Hanson said. “I’ve always had a good working relationship with the mayor, and I do believe he’s been through a lot of turmoil in the last two years (in the form of) health issues and changes of personnel in the office…I believe, though, that we have reached an untenable position. I don’t know how to go forward working the way we are today.”
Specific details of the incidents leading to the removal of the mayor’s power could not be discussed without entering into executive session, according to councilors.
The changes were implemented by emergency ordinance Thursday. Typically, an ordinance is approved on three separate readings over several weeks, but by declaring a state of emergency, the council was able to make the ordinance limiting Anderson’s powers effective immediately.
The ordinance strips Anderson of all but a few of his powers. While he will still preside over council meetings and execute contracts, his other duties — from budgeting to employee oversight to setting agendas for meetings — will be split between the town council, the town’s Clerk/Treasurer/HR Director Hanle Visser and a newly created two-person administrative oversight committee, which will be filled by town councilors who will serve six-month rotations on the committee.
Reed and Councilor Dennis Wagner are the first appointees to the new committee, which will serve as a bridge between the town employees, the community and the council.
Anderson was elected as the town’s mayor in 2014. Prior to being elected mayor, he served on town council for 14 years and on the town’s planning committee for two decades. He was the only member of town council to vote against the emergency ordinance.
Anderson spoke briefly during the meeting and admitted the last two-and-a-half years of his mayoral term had been “a rough go.” However, he said town councilors deserved at least part of the blame for a breakdown in communication. He also accused several councilors of being “micromanagers” who made it difficult to do his job.
“Three of the four council people have never come into my office, sat down in front of me and said ‘This is what we need to do,’” Anderson said. “That’s kind of disturbing that nobody is willing to come in and sit down and say ‘This is what we want to do.’…Every step of the way I’ve had a lot of opposition… and it made it real tough. It’s hard to make decisions when you’ve got micromanagers all the way around.”
Anderson said he will not run for the mayoral seat again after finishing his current term in late 2022. At that time, the emergency ordinance will sunset, restoring the typical powers to the mayor’s office, according to councilors.
During the two-hour meeting Thursday, numerous community members spoke in support of Anderson.
“The process you’re looking at is taking my vote and throwing it in the trash,” Dayton resident Pete Hager said. “If I vote for a mayor, I want that guy to be the mayor.”
One particular sticking point with many community members was a section of the ordinance moving Anderson’s mayoral office from town hall to the town’s shop. Reed said this section was put in place to address concerns of town employees.
“We feel as a council we’ve got to remove him from some staff,” Reed said. “There’s a lot of stress involved when somebody stands around and looks at you and doesn’t really have anything to contribute…It is a distraction. We just feel like it causes undue stress in the office, and there are things that need to be remedied.”
While community members said they understood the reasoning for this section, they still believed Anderson deserved to be at city hall.
“The mayor needs to be in the building,” Dayton resident Billie Kwallek said. “He needs to be in the town hall representing us… We have to be respectful as we accept change… and I think that would be so disrespectful, it would make us all look bad.”
After hearing from Kwallek and others, the council agreed in a 3-2 vote to allow Anderson to remain in his town hall office. Wagner and Town Councilor Chris Bernard voted against the motion.
Hanson said the newly created administrative committee could keep lines of communication open with the mayor and with town employees, which should prevent any issues from arising. If issues do arise, Reed said he would not hesitate to amend the ordinance and move Anderson’s office.
“I can tell you that… if this does not work out well, I will be the first one to try to get this changed,” Reed said. “I understand where (the public) is coming from, but if this does not work out, it’s going to get changed real fast.”
While the audience was split on the council’s decision, several individuals voiced support for the emergency ordinance as an important step for the town.
“My heart goes out to everyone at that table,” Dayton citizen Robin Ruff said. “This is not a flash-in-the-pan decision….It didn’t just happen over the past couple months. These people did not come to this decision lightly… We will never know all the details, and we don’t need to know all the details. But, if everybody can’t work together, that speaks volumes.”
“When four people on the council all think it’s bad enough that they want to do an emergency resolution to change the form of government, that says something, and it’s not good,” Dayton citizen Paul McDowell said. “…When four out of five say ‘We need to change things now,’ I tend to think that where there’s that much smoke, there’s a fire.”
Bernard expressed hope the emergency ordinance, no matter how painful it was right now, would pave the way for a bright future.
“I take no pleasure in this today,” Bernard said. “I hope you know we’re doing it in the town’s best interest, and we’ll be working hard to get us through to the next election.”