A newly-hired Leadington city clerk lost her job less than 24 hours after a strained conversation took place between the employee and an alderman at the October board of aldermen meeting held Tuesday night at city hall.
Mayor Dustin Winick confirmed that City Clerk Denise Johnson was fired Wednesday but did not offer any details as to why she was let go. Johnson was recently hired to take over for City Clerk Debbie Eggers who will be leaving the job at the end of October. Eggers had already turned over many of her duties to Johnson, so she could provide her training for the position.
While the mayor did not state a specific reason for Johnson’s removal as city clerk, she and Alderman Cassie Schrum had a point of disagreement during Tuesday’s meeting over the wordage and form used in minutes from an earlier board meeting.
During the approval of minutes, Schrum questioned City Attorney Mark Bishop about the way in which Johnson had revised the minutes from the board’s July 31 meeting.
“When minutes are revised, are they supposed to leave the other previous minutes in, mark through them and just put what the revised is?”
Bishop replied, “No, the one you want to adopt, or if they are making revisions to make a clean copy ... because I have a marked-up version — I call ‘redlined’ I guess — with changes from the previous version. What should be reported are the minutes or the actual minutes that you are adopting without those revisions.”
Schrum asked Johnson if she was going to change the revised minutes or leave them as they were. Johnson turned to Bishop and asked, “What is your advice, attorney?”
Bishop explained that the minutes shouldn’t show any revisions from the prior version.
“If there is a previous version that’s been amended, it should just reflect the current amended version — the final version that’s adopted,” he said. “If there are other versions or changes that are not what’s adopted, it’s irrelevant. It’s not your minutes. Your minutes are what you’re approving.”
Schrum asked Bishop if she needed to make a motion to adopt the minutes as they were or approve them at next month’s meeting after they’ve been rewritten. The attorney replied that it could be handled in one of two ways — vote on a clean copy at another meeting or adopt the changes only as presented that evening.
“I would prefer that you have a clean copy,” he said. “I can print out — I don’t know if this was done redlined — but I can print out a clean version without any difficulty, like in a second. So, if that can be done very quickly, we can just print one out, so we can have a clean document.”
City Clerk Johnson asked to point out information she had found regarding the revision of minutes from the Missouri Municipal League and in the Finance Officers Association Manual.
“They recommend that you don’t do that,” she said. “They recommend that you line through. That’s why I did that because it was their recommendation.”
Bishop replied that this was different because the aldermen had disagreed with the draft from the beginning.
Johnson replied, “Oh, OK, then don’t go by the manual.”
Bishop said, “What I’m saying is that they are adopting their minutes. They’re not changing minutes, they’re not revising minutes. They’re adopting the minutes. If someone else had some other draft, those aren’t the minutes. The minutes are whatever they adopt.
“Now, if you go back and revise them later, you’re going to either have the revisions shown on there or some sort of changes that it’s clear that you’re changing the minutes that you’ve adopted. You’re not changing minutes you’ve adopted. Several of you disagreed with the version that was presented at the last meeting I was at.”
Schrum noted that Johnson had stated at the bottom of the minutes that the alderman had made a change.
“Changes with a line through it and in italic bold font were submitted by Alderman Schrum on Sept. 10, 2018,” Schrum said. “I don’t see any reason for that.”
Johnson replied, “Is that not factual? That is truly the day I got the date of the revision. I don’t know what’s wrong with that.”
Attorney Bishop said, “If we’re going to include that, it’s not minutes of the meeting. The purpose of having minutes are to accurately reflect what happened at that meeting. So, you’re not going to include in there information about what happened subsequent to the meeting.
Alderman Gary McKinney interjected, “Or prior to the meeting.
Bishop continued, “Right. It’s just going to be what happened at the meeting.”
Johnson said she didn’t see anything in the minutes regarding anything that appeared prior to the meeting. McKinney told her to read the first line.
Schrum said, “I’m not so sure that Denise doesn’t understand the difference in who is the aldermen and who the person is taking minutes of the meeting.”
McKinney asked if it would be OK for him to make a motion to table approval of the minutes until next month. Mayor Winick replied that if the minutes weren’t fixed that evening, the board would be dealing with the same issue next month.
“Well, she understands what needs to be done,” McKinney said. “She’s just got to rewrite the minutes the way they actually happened without the…"
Alderman Casie Braddy interjected, “But I think she did though. She wrote them correctly. She also went online to find out that was the way she needed to do it, so she did her research.”
Winick replied, “If we’re doing it with no changes, correct? It wasn’t that we changed it. The way it happened was incorrect, I suppose, so that’s why the difference in the rules.”
Schrum said that she didn’t recall any of the aldermen agreeing to leave the minutes as they were.
“If I recall correctly, everybody agreed that it needed to be changed,” Schrum said. “And I believe that Denise has taken it upon herself to change it but to leave it also, and with me that is a problem.”
Winick replied, “Now wait a minute … she did what she read what she understood from the municipal league was to leave it in. So, that’s what she understood and our attorney has a different understanding of it and has corrected that. So, the way to correct it now is just to go back and go without the line because of the difference in it.
“What [Johnson] did in my eyes is not incorrect because she did the research of what the municipal league says. We follow the municipal league. It was just her understanding of why that change needed to be made was different than what our attorney’s understanding is.”
Schrum replied, “At that meeting we asked the attorney if it could be changed and you said, ‘Yes.’”
Bishop said, “Yes, you weren’t going to adopt the minutes as presented and so you were going to get together and draft minutes that actually reflect what happened at the meeting.”
With a motion to table approval of the minutes until the next meeting, Winick called for a vote. Schrum and McKinney voted ‘yes’ and Braddy voted ‘no.’ Alderman Debbi Matthews was absent from the meeting and so the motion to table the issue passed with a vote of two to one.