By Kay Thompson
The Okemah City Council voted to terminate City Manager Bert Robison in a special meeting on Monday, September 17, 2018. Robison’s contract had just been extended for two years at the June 11 meeting with the praise of the council. Robison was hired on January 9, 2017. In June 2017, Robison was confirmed for another year and given a slight cost-of-living raise.
Robison had requested Mayor Mike Fuller call for a special meeting to purchase computer servers as the ones currently at the City Hall were in dire need of replacing and the cost to replace was more than Robison could approve. According to Oklahoma State Statutes, the Mayor or any three council members are the only ones that can call a special meeting.
However, once the agenda was posted a “surprise” item was on the agenda. There were several items pertaining to entering into executive session to discuss the evaluation and employment of the city manager. Item number eight was the discussion and to take possible action on the employment of the city manager.
All members of the council, Fuller, Vice Mayor Wayne Bacon, Loren Aldridge, Anthony Landers and Ronnie Lucas, were present, however, noticeably absent was City Attorney Jack Cadenhead.
Cadenhead was reached by phone before the meeting and told ONL that he was out of town and had informed the mayor that he could not be present at the meeting and they chose to proceed without him.
The council approved purchasing new servers in the amount of $9,160.50. Fuller asked Robison about the grants that Dell offers to cities and Robison stated they were looking into that to help reimburse some of the funds used to purchase the servers. Robison stated the money would come out of the Capital Improvement fund.
After the vote was made, the council voted to enter into executive session at 6:03 p.m. to discuss the city manager’s employment. Landers made the motion to enter and Aldridge seconded the motion. The members voted unanimously.
Everyone other than council members present at the meeting exited the council room to allow for the executive session to proceed. As the time ticked on, Aldridge and Fuller both took a break from the session but went back in to finish the discussion. Finally at 7:21 p.m. the Mayor informed those still waiting they were ready to enter back into open meeting.
Landers made the motion to enter back into open meeting and Fuller seconded the motion which passed unanimously. Fuller made the normal statement about the executive session, that the council did not talk about anything other than discussing the city manager’s employment.
They then moved to agenda item number eight. After a long pause, Aldridge made the motion to terminate Robison’s contract with the City of Okemah as City Manager. Landers seconded the motion. Fuller did not allow for anymore discussion; “I don’t feel like there’s anymore discussion to be done other than what’s already taken place.” With that, Fuller called for a vote. The motion passed 4-1 with Bacon voting no.
Next item was the city manager’s comments. Fuller stated that the agenda item was irrelevant to a slight scoff of a council member and they immediately adjourned at 7:23 p.m.
The following morning, Fuller and Lucas met with city department heads to inform them of the decision made the night before. Fuller told the employees that after arduous and careful deliberations, the council chose to terminate the contract with Robison with a 4-1 vote. He said that they would not get into why other than he was no longer a good fit and was not progressing as hoped and they didn’t see any chance for improvement in the near future.
He went on to inform the department heads, that they knew how to do their jobs and knew what need to be done. He also informed those in attendance, that City Clerk/Treasurer Relena Haddox would be the point of contact until an interim city manager could be put into place.
After the meeting, Fuller told ONL that he couldn’t go into specifics as to why they terminated the contract, just that Robison was no longer a good fit. Fuller did confirm that there was no illegal or inappropriate behavior displayed from Robison. When asked about the two year contract extension in June, he said that some things had “come to light” that made Robison no longer a good fit.
During the last regular city council meeting, the council had entered into executive session to discuss an on-going investigation. Fuller stated that the investigation had nothing to do with Robison’s termination.
Robison stopped by ONL for a brief interview on Tuesday afternoon. Robison disclosed that the council gave him no reasons at all to why he was terminated. He said that the council met in executive session to discuss his employment, did not call him in to discuss those concerns during the session, came back out into opening meeting and immediately voted 4-1 to terminate him with no statement made.
Robison said that on a personal level he is very proud of what he accomplished for the town. He felt he was not a detriment to the town and did everything in his power to make it a better place. Robison went on to say that God has a plan for him and that he is going to move forward. He still loves this town, “this is home, and I will always be here. I will continue to help the town as a citizen.”
Robison holds no ill feelings toward the council. He knows they did what they felt they needed to do. He wished them the best of luck in their search for a new city manager and asserted, “with the current situation at City Hall, it is going to be difficult for anyone who sits in that chair (city manager position).”
Fuller confirmed that they would begin the search for a new city manager immediately.