Mayor, council member exchange barbs over secrecy
Mayor David Mayfield, his wife, and council member Ruth Herbel traded barbs Monday about a recent executive session that resulted in the city firing administrator Mark Skiles.
Mayfield and his wife, Jami, accused Herbel of exposing the city to lawsuits when she disclosed information from the closed-door meeting Dec. 23.
“It’s my duty as mayor to report serious misconduct with Ruth Herbel revealing sensitive information to Eric Meyer,” David Mayfield said, referencing the publisher and editor of the Record.
He said the city was at risk “of being named in multiple lawsuits.”
The mayor warned other city council members to keep in mind that “anything they say could be released to the press” by Herbel.
He referenced a handout from the Kansas League of Municipalities that said the subject matter of executive sessions shouldn’t be discussed outside of a closed session. However, doing so does not violate any state law.
The mayor noted that the council couldn’t exclude Herbel from executive meetings.
Herbel attempted to respond to him, but he shut her down, saying she could speak at the end of the meeting.
Herbel told the Record that city treasurer Becky Makovec had complained that Skiles showed her a photo of a lingerie model using the stage name Blair Daniels, whom Skiles identified to Makovec as downtown Marion merchant Chelsea Mackey. Mackey owns Dawn’s Day Spa on Main St.
The photo was not shown to the council, but Herbel later obtained a copy from another source and said she had “seen worse at the pool.”
The photo was one of the tamer items from a risqué “Blair Daniels” website that includes more revealing photos, including nudity.
Skiles also faced written allegations, Herbel said, from two other city employees, including an allegation that he three times had used the so-called “n-word” — once, as a figure of speech, as in the title of a 1904 movie, “N–––––– in the Woodpile,” referring to something somehow being “off”; once in reference to Arabs being “sand n–––––s”; and once using just the “n”-word.
Other allegations, according to Herbel, included that he once lost his temper with a city employee in front of a customer; that he inquired of community enrichment director Margo Yates as to her age, retirement plans, and disability; that he asked city employees probing questions without consulting their supervisors; that he was trying to “break down city employees to see what they were capable of”; and that he was more likely to “ask forgiveness than permission.”
Herbel said David Mayfield read to council members from statements supplied by three city employees but did not allow council members to see the statements themselves.
In all, nine allegations reportedly were presented.
Herbel stressed that she was not bound to “maintain sileny.”
“You can’t be punished for it, but there is no justification for what you did,” the mayor said, alleging that she had “defamed some of our employees and a business person in this town.”
“This is my time to respond to you,” Herbel retorted, asking him to allow her to finish her comments.
“My actions were meant to be transparent,” she said.
Makovec said she was hurt by Herbel revealing information about her complaint.
“You have not talked to me,” she said. “You’ve never asked me what happened. What he (Skiles) did was not OK. It is in our policy that what he did was wrong.”
Makovec said Skiles had apologized to her, her husband, and her co-workers. Her husband is Tim Makovec, director of public works for the city.
Skiles confirmed Tuesday that he had apologized to Becky and Tim Makovec.
“I’m very disgusted,” Makovec told Herbel at Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m disappointed, too,” Herbel said.
People in the audience booed Herbel several times.
Jami Mayfield spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, after Herbel spoke.
“Despite what most of you may believe, I am not interested in city politics,” she said. “The actions of last two weeks have put all of us in a situation where we can’t ignore it.”
Herbel “hurt innocent people,” Jami Mayfield said, “and the sharing of that information was inappropriate and unethical. It may not be illegal, but it’s unethical. It’s a concept that eludes you, Ruth, and the Marion County Record.”
Herbel “single-handedly destroyed faith” in the city, she continued.
“I would love to have nothing more than to have a war of words with Eric Meyer, but you don’t go into a battle of wits with an unarmed man.”
Herbel said Tuesday that if “proper procedures” had been followed during the executive session, much of the angst expressed Monday would be moot.
She said the city attorney, Brian Bina, should have attended the closed-door meetings.
“I thought he needed to advise the council,” she said, to ensure that the city would not be liable for wrong termination.
She also said that employee complaints about Skiles should have been shared with all council members. She said she had formally requested to receive copies of the complaints or be able to view them.
“It is what it is,” Herbel said. “I’ll still continue to go to city council meetings, and I will hold my head up high.”