[Courtesy photo]

Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson was placed on paid administrative leave this week, after the city council determined that outside legal counsel needs to evaluate “internal issues” involving the city’s top administrator.

In Davidson’s absence, Moab City Recorder Rachel Stenta is serving as acting city manager.

Contrary to posts on social media sites, the city council did not vote during closed session this week to put Davidson on leave, according to Stenta. Mayor Dave Sakrison has the sole authority to act in this case, and he informed the city manager of his decision on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 13, Stenta said.

Stenta said that the decision to place Davidson on paid leave – as opposed to unpaid leave – is in line with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and she emphasized that the action should not be viewed as a punitive one.

“It’s not disciplinary and it’s not negative,” Stenta said. “Administrative leave is neutral.”

Sakrison could not be reached for comment.

Moab City Council member Kalen Jones confirmed that Davidson is now on administrative leave, but he said that he cannot comment any further on the matter.

Stenta said the council made the determination that the city should retain outside legal counsel to evaluate unspecified “internal issues,” so it hired the Salt Lake City firm of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless to review the matter.

“I am not aware of what the internal issues (are),” she said.

No timeline for the evaluation is in place, but Stenta said that council members are hoping that the findings will be available in the near future.

“The direction from council was that this evaluation should be as expedient as possible, without compromising the process, so they would like it to be completed soon,” Stenta said.

The former city council voted 4-0 in March 2015 to hire Davidson, who previously served as city administrator in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

She was among more than 50 people who applied for the position to replace former Moab City Manager Donna Metzler.

At the time, Sakrison said her qualifications for the job set her apart from other candidates.

“She’s had a broad range of municipal experiences dealing with large capital improvement projects, along with human resources,” he told the Moab Sun News in March 2015. “She covers the bases pretty well.”

Earlier this year, he hailed Davidson’s work to build a new regional wastewater treatment plant, improve maintenance programs for city infrastructure and to develop “essential” workforce housing for city, school district and hospital employees.

In an opinion column that he submitted to the Moab Sun News, Sakrison said that Davidson took on the tasks that the city gave her with enthusiasm and hard work over many long hours.

“In the short time that she has been here, she has been able to start and begin to complete many projects that have been needed for years,” the mayor wrote.

But Davidson’s time with the city has been marked by controversy on occasion, perhaps starting with the high-profile dismissals of two longtime city employees, former Moab City Economic Development Specialist Ken Davey and former Moab City Community Development Director David Olsen.

Davidson said that Davey’s and Olsen’s positions were eliminated as part of a reorganization to address the wants and needs that local residents brought to the city’s attention, although many of the two men’s friends and supporters have disputed that statement.

The action to dismiss Olsen and Davey set off a wave of online criticism about Davidson’s management style, and that criticism intensified in the weeks and months that followed, amid allegations that the city improperly hired a computer technology and consulting contractor that has ties to Davidson. A third-party accountant subsequently reported that his firm found no evidence of procedural wrongdoing in that case.

The criticism continued after former Moab City Public Works Director Jeff Foster announced his resignation earlier this year, telling the Moab Sun News that he felt he could no longer work under the conditions that “management” created.

It wasn’t the first time that Davidson has faced such criticism.

The City of Kemmerer experienced even higher employee turnover under Davidson’s management, and the Kemmerer Gazette reported that she was “unpopular” among some residents in that community.

Before she went to work for Kemmerer, Davidson served as town manager and town engineer of Timnath, Colorado, which placed her on paid leave in the wake of a protracted legal battle that pitted the town against a Colorado contractor.

The town eventually settled that lawsuit, which came after contract workers accidentally struck a gas line and blew up the Timnath Presbyterian Church in 2009.

However, the town and Davidson signed a “nondisparagement” clause that prevented them from speaking publicly about her departure, the Coloradoan newspaper of Fort Collins reported.

Former Moab City Council member Doug McElhaney was not present for the vote to hire Davidson, but he said at the time that he supported the council’s decision.

He served on a city committee that included Sakrison and Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre, which conducted a thorough review of the dispute in Timnath. McElhaney said that he and other city officials were reassured by their findings.

“They brought up the concerns we had, and everyone felt comfortable with how it had been handled,” McElhaney said in March 2015.

McElhaney declined to comment about the mayor’s decision to place Davidson on leave.

Council hires outside legal firm to review “internal issues” involving Davidson

It’s not disciplinary and it’s not negative … Administrative leave is neutral.