Whatever you think about the firing of former City Manager Guy Scaife it’s clear that his temporary replacement, Ken Morgan, has lent a much-needed sense of stability at City Hall. So much so that a good argument could be made that the city has already found a new city manager.
Whether Morgan, who is also the city’s fire chief, will choose to stay on is at the moment unclear. The city has extended his 90-day term as acting manager for an additional 90 days, adding $3,300 a month to his salary as fire chief. While the City Charter says the council can appoint a city manager for as long as 90 days, there’s apparently nothing that says the council can’t do it again. It makes you wonder whether the council can just keep doing this indefinitely, but it’s worth hoping that it will become a moot point after another three months.
City Hall needed stabilizing. Whatever it was that was the last straw when it came to Scaife – and we still don’t know whether there even was one or if it was an accumulation of straws – letting him go was not pretty. It hardly ever goes well when people are fired from high-profile positions, but in the case of Scaife it was particularly unsettling. The firing was a muscle move by the council’s Democratic majority. The expressed intent was to alleviate what Council Majority Leader David Lowell called escalating “discord.” Scaife was not getting along with others, and while the council may have had shaking things up in mind when Scaife was hired it became clear, at least among those in control, that what was happening was more trouble than it was worth.
Morgan talked about it in recent comments to the Record-Journal: “Things have settled down in City Hall,” he said. “Everybody was so on edge with the things that were going on and the unknowns that it became counterproductive. That has gone away.”
The observation was supported by the mayor, who at the time of Scaife’s firing was wondering whether he had veto power over the decision. “He (Morgan) took over in a pretty controversial time and I think he’s done his best to try and calm the waters a bit,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
Morgan has yet to decide whether he will apply to run Meriden as city manager on a more permanent basis. He says plenty of people have encouraged him to do so. “I get lobbied quite a bit, actually,” he said. “I was kind of shocked.”
City Hall’s gain would be the fire department’s loss, and Morgan says his heart is still with the fire department “and that’s a big factor in it.”
It’s always worth paying attention when the best candidate may already be on the job, and the council might decide to persuade Morgan to stay on. Now the council has given itself another 90 days to weigh the options.
In the meantime, Scaife is not going away. At the beginning of the month he filed an intent to sue the city, saying he was wrongfully terminated. The suit also alleges that city officials wrongfully retaliated against Scaife for uncovering wrongdoing by Finance Director Michael Lupkas, and includes accusations against city councilors Miguel Castro and Sonja Jelks, and Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn. Those named have denied wrongdoing.
Lupkas told the Record-Journal he was looking forward “to the conclusion of this chapter of Meriden history and look to continue to move the city forward.”
It’s understandable that the city would want to move forward, but also worth noting that as unpleasant as it can be, examining the mistakes of the past has value in preventing them in the future.
In any case, at this point the city can at least be grateful to Morgan for his continuing service.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or email@example.com.