Iola City Administrator Judy Brigham breathed a sigh of relief while about two dozen citizens applauded as city commissioner Bill Shirley seconded — then voted in favor of — a motion by Iola Mayor Bill Maness to retain Brigham through Sept. 18, her effective date of retirement with full benefits, at a special city commission meeting Monday night.
It didn’t come easy.
Earlier in the meeting, Shirley had refused to second the motion. Commissioner Craig Abbott was absent.
In the deadlock, Shirley asked whether a letter by City Attorney Chuck Apt might influence the decision.
When Apt mentioned the letter would be discussed only in executive session, which is closed to the public, Maness asked if the session would be under “non-elected personnel” or “attorney/client privilege” rules.
Maness mused that if Brigham — the subject of the letter — would have no objections, perhaps they could discuss the letter in open session. Apt replied, “It’s attorney/client privilege. I’m not going to discuss it in public.” Because the client in this case was the city, not Brigham, executive session was called.
For 36 minutes, people waited.
At one point, Brigham entered the room to thank the public for their support. A few mentioned they, too, had recently lost jobs. Others applauded her.
OUTSPOKEN IOLAN Donna Houser began public comments at the start of the night by asking how someone could work for the city for 31 years and suddenly not be good enough to keep on.
“With a new council coming in — a virgin council — they need guidance,” Houser said.
Getting rid of Brigham at this point “is wrong on so many levels,” she added. “It’s going to hurt our city.”
Houser mentioned the negative publicity alone — that a municipality would treat a worker in such a manner — was damaging to a city trying to recruit employers.
Iolan Linda Garrett agreed. “I would think twice before coming to that town if I were an outsider,” she said.
Retired County Clerk Jean Barber spoke in favor of keeping Brigham on, as well. “I worked with her when I was county clerk and she was very professional,” Barber said.
Those in attendance, as well as Brigham, were baffled as to the reason for the whole debate.
“I don’t have an idea” what prompted the turn to discontinue her service, Brigham said. “I was never given a reason.”
Mayoral candidate John Smith noted, “I come from private sector, and in the private sector, if you’re going to fire someone, you do it.”
Cathy Lynch, a former human relations director for Haldex, said, “I think we have the obligation to give this new council all the support it can get. If Judy is good enough to gave been here this long, I think she should stay.”
Others, including Sharon Thyer, agreed.
City council candidate Richard Gilliland added, “I’m here to support Judy whole-heartedly.” A number of other candidates also were in the room. Those who spoke did so in favor of Brigham’s continuance.
Maness, before leaving for executive session, said, “I think Judy’s done an outstanding job. I don’t understand, like some of you, that if she isn’t doing an adequate job, why it’s gone on so long.”
THE MEETING adjourned promptly after the vote.
“I feel very good,” Brigham said. “And I’m anxious to keep the city moving forward, finish a number of projects and to work with the new, nine-person council.”
Maness added he intends to go on record at the next meeting that a search be started for Brigham’s replacement, so that that person may “work with Judy and be prepared when the time comes.”
The commission meets again at 6 p.m. Feb. 7.
“See you tomorrow,” Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock said to Brigham as she left.
“And beyond,” she replied. “Won’t that be nice?”