What we know about the reasons the Meriden City Council fired City Manager Guy Scaife is not so much. The explanation for the 8-4 majority vote by Democrats was that it was intended to alleviate escalating discord at City Hall.
That might be the best explanation we’re likely to get, though it’s hardly satisfactory, as recent letters to the editor have helped illustrate. If Scaife was hired to clean up City Hall, why was he fired for doing so? And, how does the city move forward in hiring a new city manager when the one just terminated had been given positive reviews, and a raise, right up until he was let go?
These are puzzling questions, and in the absence of explanations we’re left with speculation. Speculation is not good in open government because it can lead to suspicion and distrust, and good government is one that has the trust of its citizenry. That doesn’t mean that people always have to agree, but it’s important that they trust government is being run with the best intentions. When you opt for secrecy that trust is eliminated.
Anyway, at least a couple of things happened in the two months or so between when Scaife was given a 2-percent raise and a vote of confidence and when he was fired. One was that he declared he could no longer work with Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn. This was shades of Oscar Wilde, who was reputed to have said on his death bed to the wallpaper in his room, “one of us has got to go.” So maybe it was as simple as that.
The other was the resignation of Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski. In her resignation email she said she’d been interviewed by the FBI about Scaife and, presumably spooked by the experience, said she could no longer work with him. Scaife told the Record-Journal he was confident the FBI would find no evidence of wrongdoing on his part, and noted that Burdelski’s behavior was “unprofessional, unacceptable, and will not be tolerated.” This was clearly a “my way or the highway” type message, and as it turned out it was Scaife who hit the road.
Her way thus cleared by Scaife’s firing, Burdelski decided to not resign after all, the rescinding of her resignation was accepted by acting City Manager Ken Morgan, and all’s right with the world, right?
Given all that’s going on in the city, keeping Burdelski on would seem a good idea. As Morgan said, “I didn’t want to lose traction on the projects that are going on that are vital to the city.”
But as the R-J’s Leigh Tauss recently reported, not everyone is seeing it that way. It’s been left to Meriden’s minority councilors to point out that even with Scaife’s departure, all might not be well at City Hall.
“I think we can do better with the position and I still think we need to explore and find a new director,” said Councilor Joseph Carabetta III, of We the People.
Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet was even stronger in his opposition: “my opinion ... her performance and attitude have been toxic and detrimental within City Hall and the city as a whole,” he said.
This does not sound like an end to escalating discord, and were it not for opposition parties there’d be scant indication of continued troubles. Then we’d really be speculating in the dark.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.