Stiles forced out as Mitchell's city attorney
City Attorney Randy Stiles and another city department head are losing their jobs as the result of a decision by new Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy.
Thursday afternoon, The Daily Republic received a tip that two city department heads were dismissed earlier in the day. The newspaper contacted Tracy, who confirmed that two of the nine department heads will not be reappointed to their positions at the next Mitchell City Council meeting July 16. Tracy said both employees were informed Thursday morning.
Because both employees were given the opportunity to resign or retire before the next council meeting, Tracy declined to release their names. " Out of respect to them, I would first give them that choice," said Tracy, who was elected June 5 and sworn in Monday.
The Daily Republic next attempted to contact all nine department heads and reached four, all of whom declined to comment. The newspaper left messages for the other five.
Later Thursday evening, City Attorney Randy Stiles emailed The Daily Republic a copy of a resignation letter addressed to Tracy. The letter says Stiles' resignation is effective today.
"I realize that the City Attorney has an almost impossible job in interpreting the law as it applies to the public, the City, the Mayor and the Council, " reads part of Stiles' letter.
"It will seem odd not having to attend council meetings, the research of legal issues, additional meetings, daily questions from department heads and employees, over the fence conversations and oh yes the on going battles with the Daily Republic," the letter continues. "The private practice of law never presents the attorney with this plethora of issue and complications. I am looking forward to some additional leisure time plus having time to work with additional clients."
The Daily Republic and Stiles have a contentious relationship. Stiles rarely returns phone calls from the newspaper and has hung up on some reporters immediately after learning who was calling.
Two notable incidents seemed to especially sour Stiles ' opinion of the newspaper.
In 2006, the newspaper reported that the Mitchell City Council, acting under Stiles' legal guidance, accidentally repealed the city ordinance that required sidewalks along curbed streets at newly constructed homes and businesses. Apparently, the wrong code reference had been mistakenly included in an unrelated ordinance, resulting in the repeal, but Stiles never offered a full public explanation. The law was immediately reinstated by the council.
In 2008, the newspaper filed a complaint about a Mitchell City Council executive session. Stiles had requested the closed-door meeting, and two council members - including then-Councilman Tracy - later told The Daily Republic the topic of the meeting was a proposed repeal of the park designation on a tract of land just south of Mitchell Middle School.
Stiles, according to Tracy and another councilman, had discovered that a park designation cannot be repealed without a vote of the people. Rather than inform the council of that finding during open session, he did it during executive session and claimed it fit the executive session justification in state law for "consulting with legal counsel or reviewing communications from legal counsel about proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters."
The newspaper's complaint alleged the executive session was illegal, because it had nothing to do with proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters. The state Open Meetings Commission, a panel consisting entirely of lawyers, found for Stiles. The Daily Republic took the issue to civil court, where the matter is still pending and had recently been scheduled for trial until it was postponed at the last minute.
The other eight city department heads are Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson; Public Works Director Tim McGannon; Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg; Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling; Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Dusty Rodiek; Senior Services Executive Director Brenda Paradis; Golf and Cemetery Director Kevin Thurman; and Human Resources Director Billie Kelly.
If the remaining ousted department head chooses not to resign or retire, Tracy said that department head's termination will be announced at the next council meeting.
"Their employment would terminate no later than July 16," he said.
If the department head decides to resign or retire, Tracy said that information will be released immediately.
State law gives the mayor the authority to fire department heads but requires him to report his reasons to the council.
"The mayor shall have power except as otherwise provided to remove from office any officer appointed by him, whenever he shall be of the opinion that the interests of the municipality demand such removal, but he shall report the reasons for his removal to the council at its next regular meeting, " says South Dakota Codified Law 9-14-13.
The Daily Republic contacted Overweg, Schilling, Rodiek and Thurman on Thursday evening, but all declined to comment. Calls made to the remaining department heads were not answered or immediately returned, other than Stiles' emailed letter.
Tracy made public the possibility that some of the jobs of the city ' s top officials could be in jeopardy following Monday ' s council meeting at which Tracy and five council members were sworn in. At that meeting, a private session was conducted to discuss the department heads.