Meriden’s City Council took an extraordinary step Monday in removing City Manager Guy Scaife. While discord at City Hall was growing under Scaife’s leadership, and while his contract stipulated that he could be removed without cause, that the council chose to do so as swiftly as it did was surprising.
There are also those who consider Scaife’s termination outrageous, and there’s evidence to support that contention. Scaife had as recently as Oct. 30 received a 2-percent raise and positive performance reviews. To have removed him so suddenly with no more compelling reason than relieving “escalating discord” raises many questions that deserve answers. Unfortunately, it may be some time before those questions are answered adequately.
The political nature of the decision cannot be avoided, despite Majority Leader David Lowell’s assurance that it was not political. Scaife was terminated by an 8-to-4 party-line vote, which means he was fired by the Democrats on the council. After the vote to fire him, Scaife left Council Chambers followed by Minority Leader Republican Dan Brunet and We the People Councilors Bob Williams, Walter Shamock and Joseph Carabetta III, all of whom had just voted against his termination.
Also peculiar was the lack of a role for the mayor, the unaffiliated Kevin Scarpati, who told the Record-Journal he had asked for an opinion from Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn about whether he could veto the council’s vote to terminate Scaife. The role of mayor in city government gives him little power in such circumstances.
It was thanks to Scaife’s request that his firing Monday was held in the open, and more than a dozen residents attended to show their support for him. Scaife told the Record-Journal Tuesday he thought he had done what the council expected of him. “I did what I believe the council, when they hired me, asked me to do,” he said. “I have been truthful every step of the way. My decisions have always been factual. No one has ever challenged a single factual issue I brought forward.”
Scaife was hired in August 2016. In the months that followed key city personnel left, including long-time Parks and Recreation Director Mark Zebora and Personnel Director Carolyn Beitman. By July of this year there were complaints of low morale and increased workload. But in October, when Scaife received his 2-percent raise, an anonymous survey of department heads showed seven giving mostly positive feedback (four others were negative, and another four essentially neutral).
“Some people are going to be uncomfortable with change,” Scaife had told a reporter, “some aren’t.”
Then last month Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski announced she was leaving, and Scaife told the council that he could no longer work with Quinn, the corporation counsel.
Those were the highlights of the escalating discord that led to the council majority’s firing of the city manager. But city residents still deserve a more comprehensive answer to the question Scaife asked Monday night: “Please tell me why you are terminating me this evening? What reason do you have to take away my financial livelihood and do irreversible harm to my professional career? Surely I have a right to know, the citizens have a right to know why you are taking this action.”
Yes, residents deserve to know. Why had the point of no return been reached.
It’s also worth pointing out that while the intent may have been to end escalating discord, Scaife’s firing has revealed a rift in the operation of city government that is potentially more serious than a disagreement among political parties. A more full accounting of why the Democratic majority saw no other way than to fire the city manager is one way to begin to bridge those divides.