Members of the York City Council reacted with confusion and concern to former business administrator Michael O'Rourke's explanation of his departure, which contradicts Mayor Kim Bracey's original account.
This week, O'Rourke said he did not resign voluntarily. Bracey went to his house April 13 and asked him to resign, O'Rourke said.
Councilman David Satterlee said O'Rourke's abrupt dismissal "seems so disrespectful."
"It makes everybody feel like they can never count on their job. That's really not a good way to run a large organization. That kind of fear and unsettledness is not how you get great employees to really invest and work hard for a common goal. They need to feel like an employer's loyal to them," Satterlee said. "If you're not loyal, I don't know how you can expect loyalty."
Pay raise, vacation time: Councilman Michael Helfrich said he's confused.
In December, Bracey lobbied the council to give two department directors, including O'Rourke, significant pay increases.
"I'm at a loss as to what happened in the last (few) months ... that he went from being essential to city administration to detrimental, to the point of being shut out of the government without any apparent plan for succession," Helfrich said.
Helfrich said he supported the hiring of an assistant business administrator last year as a way of planning for transition if and when O'Rourke retired or resigned.
"Assuming that Mr. O'Rourke's version of what happened is accurate, I think shutting out the person who holds the entirety of the knowledge of the business and financial system of the city is a poor plan for transition," he said.
Helfrich said he is also concerned about the financial impact of O'Rourke's separation agreement with the city.
Between April 14 and Aug. 31, O'Rourke will remain on the city payroll, collecting a paycheck for his accrued but unused vacation time.
Then, when O'Rourke's retirement goes into effect Sept. 1, the city will pay O'Rourke for his remaining vacation time of 1,060 hours, according to the agreement.
That amounts to more than 46 weekly paychecks. O'Rourke's annual salary is $110,250 — which means the city will pay him more than $97,000 in vacation time.
"Now we're in a situation where he's going to be getting paid for nine months and we get zero benefits, and on top of it we have to pay a new interim business administrator," Helfrich said. "I hope there was a darn good reason to cost us this much money. But I haven't been provided with it."
'Deserves better': Satterlee said he was "shocked" by the number of vacation hours O'Rourke had accrued. That's evidence of O'Rourke's loyalty and hard work, he said.
"He's worked diligently for the city, and I hate that his time with the city is ending this way because I think he deserves better," Satterlee said. "I think this kind of ending for a long-term loyal employee hurts the city's reputation."
York City is in a better financial situation than many other third-class cities largely because of O'Rourke, Satterlee said.
"We owe him a lot," he said.
Bracey declined to comment Thursday, saying the situation is a personnel matter.
Impact on city: Council President Carol Hill-Evans said she is concerned about the impact of the mayor's decision on other city employees and the city's finances.
Hill-Evans said she understands the mayor has a right to dismiss a director, "but it just doesn't seem that it makes logical sense to do something so disruptive without a definitive plan moving forward."
"If it was just based on the fact that she wanted to make a change, I respect the fact that she wants to make a change," Hill-Evans said. "But isn't there some way of doing it without the possibility of disrupting the entire city?"
The situation "makes me wonder if there's something more," she said.
Councilman Henry Nixon said he considers the situation a personnel matter.
"I wasn't there. I have no first-hand knowledge of any of this," Nixon said. "For me to comment on it would be sort of, probably inappropriate."
Nixon called O'Rourke "a brilliant man."
"He's done a lot of good for the city. No question about it." he said.
As for the impact of O'Rourke's departure on the city, Satterlee said he believes Bracey is "sharp, and she will work through it well."
"It's going to be challenging for a while," he said.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.