Jim Stiles

Moab’s weekly newspapers recently reported Jeff Foster’s resignation as public works director. Foster explained to the Moab Sun News, “(Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson) just changed things enough and made things difficult enough that I felt I couldn’t do my job anymore” (“Public works director resigns,” March 3-9, 2016 Moab Sun News).

Regarding recent staff dismissals, Foster told the T-I, “I don’t think that the city needed this type of shakeup… I don’t understand why they had to come in and do what they did — rip things apart just to put them back together again, that’s how it felt…”

Mayor Sakrison and Davidson claimed “surprise” and shrugged that Foster was “overworked.” Davidson said she, “felt sorry for him.” By completely ignoring Foster’s concerns, they disrespected him even more.

In a companion editorial, Sakrison said attempts to “discredit (Davidson’s) integrity” were based on “rumors and false statements” and dismissed recent criticisms as “social media crap.”

I take exception to the mayor’s grossly inaccurate characterizations. What he calls “social media crap” is an exhaustive, thoroughly researched investigation. The 14,000-word story, “What’s Past Is Prologue – Three Small Towns & Their Common Bond – City Manager Rebecca Davidson,” appears in the current issue of The Zephyr.

Meanwhile, Davidson claims she is hamstrung by “confidentiality” issues; yet Moab City’s heavy-handed “non-disclosure agreements” effectively crush any chance for open discussion. For Davidson, this is an indispensable aspect of her work history.

Here are some facts…

Rebecca Davidson previously served as city manager in two other communities – Timnath, Colorado, and Kemmerer, Wyoming. Both experiences were marred by heated controversy, angry public debate, and litigation.

In Timnath, she also ran an engineering firm, IB Engineering. A 9News/ NBC report by Trevor Hughes explained, “Separately, (Timnath) has also been paying IB hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

In 2010, as litigation threats spiraled, the Timnath Council suspended Davidson. In January 2011, amid multiple suits and countersuits, Davidson resigned. She negotiated a $120,000 severance deal, which included “a non-disparagement clause.” Subsequently, the city “agreed to keep confidential a report about Davidson written by an outside investigator,” and was restricted from commenting on Davidson’s job performance.

Hughes later reported, “…court records show that the town was preparing to sue Davidson over design flaws and errors…,” stating, “Davidson’s actions as the town engineer ‘fell below’ the standards expected of a professional engineer.”

The new mayor, Jill Grossman-Belisle, could only say, “I’m going to let the past speak for the past … We’re trying to use this as an opportunity to learn.”

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In 2012, Davidson became Kemmerer, Wyoming’s city manager and quickly moved to “re-structure” staff. Critics claim that more than 20 employees left their jobs during Davidson’s three years, including its building inspector, public works director, police chief, events center director, and the parks/recreation director.

Two employees also endured criminal allegations. In 2013, Events Center Director Jennifer Lasik resigned and left Kemmerer. But five months later, based on Davidson’s allegations, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) informed Lasik she was being investigated for possible theft and misuse of government funds and property.

Davidson provided a laundry list of accusations, including “unusual credit card charges” and travel expense “irregularities.” Davidson even claimed she’d personally “conducted an internet search of (Lasik) and discovered she had worked for a church…and possibly left that job due to irregularities with church funds.” (Lasik had been a geography teacher at a church school. Her grandfather was the church founder and co-pastor.)

Lasik was absolved of any wrong doing and the Lincoln County Attorney refused to file charges.

Another Kemmerer contract employee, Darwin Parker – an IT tech for county government – also faced Davidson accusations. DCI’s report states that Parker was suspected of, “unauthorized access to Kemmerer computer systems in January 2015.” Oddly, Kemmerer did have a computer systems meltdown – in November – and yet the only criminal accusations ever made were against Parker. (Later, Davidson blamed China.) In February 2015, DCI completed its report and again, the county attorney declined to file charges.

In March, Davidson accepted the position in Moab. Before signing the contract, she fired yet another city worker. Consequently, the Kemmerer Council restricted Davidson’s hiring/firing authority, fearing even more staff shake-ups before she left town.

A year later, Davidson’s Kemmerer job is still open. Its mayor recently explained changes in the job description, “to ensure the parameters are where they should be before they hire someone. That way, the city doesn’t risk having the administrator change too many things once hired.”

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And now, Moab is watching history repeat itself. Again. David Olsen. Ken Davey. Jeff Foster. Who’s next? If Mayor Sakrison and the city council are comfortable with Davidson’s aggressive management style, so be it. But if they believe efficiency always trumps humanity, at least be honest about it. Facts cannot be dismissed as “rumors and false statements,” just because the truth doesn’t fit an agenda.

Yes, government efficiency is important. But citizens should also hope for other qualities in their representatives, like honor and compassion and integrity. They should hope in short for “the better angels of their nature.”

Are Moab’s citizens being represented in a way that reflects the community’s “better angels?” Because, in the end, what else matters?

Jim Stiles is publisher of The Canyon Country Zephyr. The full account of this story can be found at: www.canyoncountryzephyr.com.