McCleary Public Works Director Nick Bird resigned his post on Dec. 31 rather than face potential termination.
Public records turned over to The Vidette show that Bird had an unblemished record with accolades from the community in his personnel file and a history of training certificates and awards. Since being appointed in February of 2010, Bird had no discipline issues, the records show.
However, he was abruptly placed on leave by McCleary Mayor Gary Dent on Nov. 20. A month later, Dent wrote a letter to Bird questioning his “loyalty.”
In early November, Bird had written a memo questioning the way the city was spending its budget and allocating costs from other funds. Bird is in charge of the city’s public works funds, including water, sewer and power and had a legal obligation to speak out if the city was using funds inappropriately.
Details of the memo have not yet been released and Dent has said he doesn’t want to talk about “inter-department battles.”
The Vidette has another public records request into the city to get more details.
“During the 2013 budget process, you failed to follow my directions regarding the preparation of the mayor’s budget,” Dent wrote to Bird on Dec. 16. “The utility department is under my direction and the preparation of the initial budget is delegated to me as mayor.”
For the 2013 budget, Dent was forced to rely less on transfers from the city’s power utility fund paid by ratepayers to its general fund. He still laid off a police officer and police clerk — which are set to take effect in the coming days — and proposed a series of draconian cuts for the potential 2014 budget, which could include outsourcing the city’s police force entirely if residents don’t approve a property tax hike this fall. Dent issued most of the cuts from his home, since he announced he has been battling cancer.
The separation agreement between Bird and the city calls for Bird to be paid one month’s worth of wages and to reimburse Bird for up to six months of health, dental, vision and life insurance premiums paid under COBRA at the current rate. Bird made about $89,000 per year. One month’s worth of wages works out to $7,447, according to the separation agreement and $1,829 per month for health insurance. The health insurance reimbursement discontinues when Bird gets a job with insurance. The agreement also calls for Bird to receive copies of his public records, personnel file and emails by Jan. 24.
In return, Bird promises not to sue the city and the city promises not to appeal his claim for unemployment with the state.
Bird had been with the city since February of 2010.
Bird was placed on leave on Nov. 20 without any written explanation, according to the records. On Dec. 5, the mayor sent his first memo to Bird telling him “not to return … until you hear otherwise from me.”
On Dec. 13, Bird was sent his first letter by the mayor calling for Bird to return for a “meeting to discuss your future employment with the city.”
Dent reminds Bird that he’s an “at-will employee,” but Dent still wanted to provide him “an opportunity to meet with me and respond to my concerns regarding your job performance.”
“As I enter my new term as mayor, it is imperative that I be able to rely heavily on my administrative staff and I am reviewing both the key administrative personnel on my staff and its structure.”
Dent told Bird he was concerned with “your loyalty and ability to reflect and adhere to my management directives.”
Dent never goes into details.
“As a department head, you work for me as mayor and owe me a duty of loyalty,” Dent wrote. “Your job description is clear that you perform your duties subject to my direction and under my supervision.”
Dent also questions Bird’s ability to “coordinate activities with other city departments,” but provides no details. And the mayor mentions an action that took place in 2010 — months after Bird had started the job and nowhere in his personnel file — regarding “police department directions to an employee under your supervision.”
“Given the additional pressure, which my illness places on me, my staff and the city, it is essential that I have the loyalty and respect of my key administrative staff and have the ability to place my trust in them,” Dent said. “It is also essential that my key staff have a solid working relationship.”
A couple weeks after meeting with Bird, the separation agreement was signed. Bird was also offered a reference letter from the mayor, although he declined the letter. Dent’s letter states that Bird “resigned at my request so that I could make changes going into my next term as mayor of the city. Mr. Bird was an intelligent and energetic employee and I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Bird’s personnel record includes eight certifications of training completion and awards from a variety of public works agencies and organizations, a January 2012 letter from Dent praising Dent for “the wonderful job you did during the recent snow storm and events that followed,” along with a letter from Our Community Credit Union President Joe Robertson. Robertson praises the work of Bird for recent work done on new curbs and sidewalks outside their branch office in McCleary.
“Nick is a wonderful person to work with and very professional,” Robertson wrote. “He always had time for us when we had questions and he found ways to accommodate our needs and wishes.”
Bird declined to comment for this story, but thanked the city council, employees and residents for their support over the past few years.