City manager faces review

Mary Atkinson/Jacob Lane · Wednesday, October 16, 2013
NOTE: The Council voted to terminate Chris Wards contract two days after the events described in this article, full story at

It was a tense city council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1, as City Manager Chris Ward faced a review of his position from the West Liberty City Council.

A lack of transparency between Ward and the council regarding recycling was the leading issue of the review for many of the council members, as well as Ward's response to the discovery that tin and plastic are not often recycled.

As city manager, Ward is employed to act on decisions made by the council. He works as a middle man between the council and West Liberty's department heads, including the recycling department.

However, questions concerning how long tin and plastic have been rejected and why nothing has ever been done under Ward remain in a state of confusion.

Mayor Thomas voiced his frustration, claiming both he and the council were not aware that West Liberty's drop off plan wasn't working.

"We rely on you for that information and you're not providing that. They [council] are direct in saying 'We want to know what our options are' and that information isn't being gathered," he told Ward. "To me that's a performance issue and that's been one of my frustrations over the last few weeks - the lack of urgency or priority on your part to tackle what our options are and to fully explain to the council what those options are so those policies can get set."

It's unclear exactly how long tin and plastic have continued to be rejected in Muscatine, and continues to remain unclear during the meeting.

"I was not notified of this until August this year," said Ward. He maintained he was unaware of the dumping until he was contacted by Muscatine's Solid Waste Manager Laura Liegois.

Ward asked Liegois how long, approximately, had this been going on, but said he didn't get a definite answer.

"For awhile - 'a long time' is what I could get out of her when I asked," Ward said.

Mayor Thomas asked Ward to give his best estimate how long the plastic rejection had been occurring using what information he had. 

"The best information today - I would say, best information - I'm still trying to find out for sure, but two years for plastic," he said.

Ward not only opted for the review to be held publicly, but sat across from the council during the discussion. Mayor Thomas gave the public a chance to voice its opinion, but no one responded. Thomas also made it clear a vote over keeping Ward on as City Manager was not on the agenda for that night.

"So who is responsible for this program not taking place for so many years?" asked council member Jose Zacarias, among a series of other questions during the review.

"I'm not quite sure on that question, council member Zacarias," Ward responded. He did not say who, but that someone under his supervision made decisions concerning recycling without his knowledge and that a member of the city's public works was aware of the situation.

"Unfortunately, that person is no longer with us," Ward added.

Ward later told the Index that, ever since the recycle center was built in 2006, he was only informed of the recycling program's success through a yearly award from City Carton Recycling.

The award tells the total tonnage of recycling from West Liberty to Muscatine during the year, but doesn't reveal if anything was rejected.

Council member Bill Cline told Ward he thought he has been doing a good job, even though this issue came up. "It's not a million dollar deal," Cline said.

However, council member Ethan Anderson said he expects a type of leadership from the city manager that would move the city forward.

"In contrast to that attitude, we have gotten 100 percent defensiveness," said Anderson.

Council member Robert Hartman agreed with Cline that Ward has done some great things for the city, but felt that Ward needed to accept responsibility and be more proactive.

"What I'm looking for is just some kind of ownership - 'I'm the city manager. It's my fault,'" Hartman said. "'Let's move forward. I've taken ownership in doing that'. Lots of people lose their jobs because it's not their fault, but somebody underneath them. So I was just kind of hoping for embracement of 'Yes , I apologize. Something happened and we’re going to take care of it.' That's where I was at."

"I will take ownership," Ward responded. "I apologize that this whole situation happened. I apologize that my staff underneath me - that the idea of throwing the recycling away - where it should not have been. That's my responsibility as city manager and that was entirely on me."

Mayor Thomas said that the council would continue to discuss the issue and stay current with information as it is being gathered.

"We need to be sure that we fix the recycling and get back on the right track," he said.

Currently the council is discussing recycling alternatives in light of recent events, including curbside recycling. However, no final decisions have been made as of yet.
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