DAYTON — Tension remains high between the Dayton Town Council, Mayor Norm Anderson and Dayton citizens after a council meeting Tuesday, which caused a packed room of citizens to ask, “What is happening?”
A motion to hold a second meeting in December failed, supported by Councilors Laurie Walters-Clark and Dennis Wagner, opposed by Councilor Ward Cotton and Anderson. Councilor Cliff Reed was absent.
Cotton said he hadn’t planned for an additional December meeting in the midst of family gatherings and a busy holiday season. Wagner said Anderson’s opposition to holding another December meeting to discuss timely and important town issues indicated a lack of dedication to his role as mayor.
At a council meeting Nov. 20, several Dayton citizens called for Anderson’s resignation after contentious issues came before the council regarding building permits and the mayor’s autonomy in hiring practices.
Walters-Clark made a motion, which passed, to establish an interview committee to review job applications for town positions and allow the council’s recommendation to be discussed with the mayor in executive session.
Employment has been a frequent topic of discussion among community members and the council. Many are concerned that a burden of work falls too heavily on individual employees.
Former assistant clerk Charitina Fritzler has taken steps recently to highlight what she claims are problems with the current system, which allows the mayor to make employment decisions without oversight.
Anderson said when city clerk Linda Lofgren left her position after 25 years, there was a substantial hole in daily operations that has been difficult to fill.
Wagner received criticism from several community members after suggesting the main town office be divided in a manner that would prevent the work environment from becoming a “social hour” and encourage more productivity for the two office employees.
Some said social interaction with citizens is a critical part of the job and Wagner was taking frustrations with the mayor out on others.
Dayton Town Clerk Vicki Cotton said she hesitates to support bringing in a part-time employee to assist in the office because of the difficulty of training a new person — she said they are going to try a new office system first.
The council approved a probationary period of two months to try the new system before determining if additional staff is necessary.
Fritzler was employed with the town of Dayton for about one year — an experience she does not recall fondly.
Fritzler holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration, served as the executive director of the First People’s Center for Education for more than 10 years and has held several other administrative, public relations and grant positions from 1989 onward, according to her resume.
Fritzler, 62, said she expected to retire at the town of Dayton when she accepted the assistant position in August 2018. Fritzler trained under Lofgren for about six months before Lofgren retired.
During the first phase of her employment under Lofgren, Fritzler said it was clear to see why it would take up to three years to truly learn the ropes of Lofgren’s job with all of its complex nuances.
While Lofgren was an efficient teacher, Fritzler didn’t always have the opportunity to follow through with tasks independently to learn, she said.
“She was such a doer…such a good person,” Fritzler said.
Sometimes Lofgren would take over tasks because of her depth of experience. Still, during the first few months in the job, Fritzler said her self-assessment for progress was positive.
“No, my speed wasn’t anything like Linda’s, but she had 25 years of experience compared to less than one year at this point in my employment,” she said.
Per the employee handbook, employees are supposed to undergo a performance evaluation with the mayor after 90 days, Fritzler said.
The only performance review Fritzler obtained was about one year after she began her employment, the same day as her termination.
The review, dated Aug. 21, shows Anderson evaluated her performance as “below expectations” — failing to meet job requirements on a frequent basis — for about half of evaluation criteria.
The three general performance areas to improve Anderson listed were not addressed with Fritzler by her supervisor before her termination, Fritzler said.
Fritzler said the suggestions didn’t make sense in the context of losing her job the same day. Anderson was attempting to make the termination process appear more legitimate, but critiques of her work weren’t wholly justified or raised in a time when a positive change could have been made, she said.
Fritzler said she wasn’t afforded any warning or indication termination was under consideration. Cotton, her direct supervisor, was not present during her performance review.
On Sept. 16, Fritzler sent a 10-page letter to Anderson, the council and attorney Brendon Kerns detailing her strong background of employment and skills, examples of successful leadership and the challenges she faced in a year of employment with the town. As of Dec. 4, she has not received a response to the letter.
Fritzler said the method of handling her termination was different from other former employees who were offered the chance to resign in a case when their termination was warranted.
“As a member of this community for over twenty years, it is easy for me to tell you these are not the values or principles I want our community’s administrators to demonstrate,” she said in the letter.
Fritzler said a negative change in workplace culture in the spring caused her “deep distress.” While not attempting a personal attack at individuals, Fritzler said it’s important to hold people accountable for their actions that have significant influence on other’s lives.
Fritzler said she had requested an evaluation in the spring to better understand her own strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of her supervisor.
“The atmosphere shifted from being cordial and collaborative to negative and oppressive…My supervisor became so critical at times that it made me fearful of making any mistakes, thus slowing my productivity and increasing fear.”
Despite efforts to address the workplace culture professionally and openly, Fritzler said the resulting treatment toward her was “demeaning, disrespectful” and caused her to be physically ill.
She did not receive feedback as to how to improve beyond general comments on productivity, she said. In July, Fritzler had received a 25-cent per hour raise. Fritzler said that because no evaluation or concerns were raised at the time, she continued with the assumption that a raise was appropriate given her performance.
A week prior to her performance evaluation, Fritzler said she spoke to Anderson about her discomfort at witnessing Anderson and Cotton whispering to each other around Fritzler.
Fritzler said Anderson apologized for whispering initially but the behavior continued with no explanation. Wagner said the council was not privy to Fritzler’s hiring or firing process — they received a request to consider a suspension when she was suddenly fired.
The mayor holds complete power over hiring and firing decisions regarding town employees, though Kerns said the council controls the budget and could deny funding for any position.
Anderson said conversations with the council during the executive session after the Dec. 3 meeting may have improved relations between them slightly, but not much.
Other topics discussed during the meeting included potential action regarding a citizen whose home was lost to a lightning strike eight years ago and who is living part-time in a camper on her property.
Some opposed the extended allowance of a temporary home and onsite portable toilet — which contradicts city ordinances for long-term occupancy — while others defended the tenant, saying she has experienced a nightmare of complications with insurance and that the town appears to be erupting from small issues.
The council discussed contracting with a water and wastewater company to relieve the burden on one city employee who is on call to operate the treatment facility 24/7.
Ward said if Dayton doesn’t bring in additional help to manage water and wastewater, potential problems with the safety and hygiene of the town could arise if the single employee currently managing the facility becomes sick or injured.
The council supported the idea of contracting with Santec, which operates the Powder Horn Wastewater Treatment Plant, until more locals can become trained and certified to operate a facility independently.
“I don’t look for this to be the last contentious meeting,” Anderson said. “But I’m going to try a different route to try to curtail some of those comments.”
Anderson said he is keeping his new plan to himself for now. He was pleased that some citizens attended the meeting to voice their support for him, Anderson said. For the time being, Anderson plans to take one day at a time as each new town priority arises, he said.
“I’ve been around contentious issues before,” Anderson said. “But this one just kind of far exceeds anything I’ve ever experienced before. I really don’t think it’s me. I think it’s just some things have been building for some employees and council.”
Anderson said organization within the town office doesn’t need to change and operations are under control. Anderson declined to comment on Fritzler’s termination.
At the next meeting, scheduled topics include upcoming town projects, accounting, employee insurance, staffing, water and wastewater licenses and management of the town of Dayton website.