Councilor Wants City CAO Placed on Leave
Democratic City Councilor Ed Adrian is calling on Mayor Bob Kiss to place his top administrator on unpaid leave while a full investigation is conducted into how the city loaned $17 million to Burlington Telecom.
Kiss yesterday said he would support an independent audit of Burlington Telecom's finances. The city council meets tonight in a special session to discuss the recent spate of news related to BT.
Adrian informed Kiss' office this afternoon about his request, and had a half-hour talk with the mayor's assistant, Joe Reinert.
In his letter, Adrian said BT is at a critical turning point and making the wrong decision could spell doom for the fledgling telecom venture.
"BT may still be a viable venture for Burlington, but it has become clear to me over the last month that it has been mismanaged and that the CAO is responsible for this mismanagement," wrote Adrian. "For the people of Burlington, the City, and BT, I would encourage you to move forward and support a leave of absence for the CAO and an independent investigation that will determine the mistakes that were made and keep BT from making similar errors in the future."
Adrian told Seven Days the leave of absence should last as long as it takes to conduct a review of Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold's actions.
Adrian noted that the city has placed employees on extended leave while investigating alleged misdoings.
Case in point: former Waterfront Manager Adam Cate. Cate was placed on paid administrative leave for nearly six months while he was investigated for breaking into employee email accounts, and other allegations.
"While the allegations against Adam Cate were serious, and are not to be taken lightly," said Adrian, "the allegations and money at stake in regards to Burlington Telecom [make Cate] pale in comparison."
Adrian said he takes issue with Leopold not telling the council, or the city's board of finance, that he was moving money from the city checkbook to Burlington Telecom.
"If that doesn't warrant investigation, then I don't know what does," said Adrian. "If we don't take this step, I don't see how we can take seriously our fiduciary responsibilities."
There was no immediate response from the mayor's office.
Full Text of Adrian's letter
Mayor Bob Kiss
Room 34, City Hall
Burlington, Vermont 05401
RE: Administrative Leave for CAO Jonathan Leopold
Based on his public statements about the actions he has taken since bringing the management of Burlington Telecom (BT) into the CAO’s office in November 2007, I am respectfully asking you to initiate a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the management of BT and to place CAO Jonathan Leopold on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
I do not take my responsibility in writing this letter lightly and I do so only after having consulted with many attorneys and dozens of thoughtful members of the community. I also understand that, because I am the messenger, you may see this letter as “political maneuvering.” While partisan politics is not at all my motivation in writing this letter, the process in and of itself makes this a political situation. I have consulted with Ken Schatz and asked him what it would take to initiate proceedings against a department head.
Attorney Schatz has advised me that disciplinary proceedings with respect to department heads are controlled by City Charter Section 129, which essentially provides that only the City Council and/or the Mayor may initiate disciplinary proceedings against a department head. Thus, unlike “at will” or union employees, disciplinary action against department heads are “politicized” by the plain language of the City Charter, which only allows elected officials to take such action.
With that being said, I wish that this letter were coming from someone other than me. I hope you understand that whatever I do and however I do it, it is because I think it is in the best interests of my constituents and the City as a whole. It is thus after weeks of careful thought and consideration that I am respectfully requesting that you place CAO Jonathan Leopold on unpaid administrative leave pending a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the handling of Burlington Telecom.
The CAO’s own public admissions in respect to BT clearly establish the following facts: 1) he deceived the Council (the corporate board for BT) by omission; 2) for a period of at least six (6) months; 3) that he purposefully and willfully violated BT’s certificate of public good; 4) by moving millions of dollars from the City’s cash pool. Again, all of this was done without approval (i.e., a vote) by the Council. Please note that when I indicate that CAO Leopold acted illegally, I am not alleging that he has engaged in any criminal
wrongdoing; however, it is entirely clear that he intentionally violated the CPG, thus breaking the law and thereby acting illegally.
The CAO’ s own statements conclusively establish that he misappropriated millions of taxpayer dollars and misled the Council and the public for an extended period of time about this illegal diversion of city funds. If these admissions do not by themselves demonstrate dereliction of the CAO’s official duties, meriting an imposed absence pending the outcome of an investigation, than it is difficult to imagine what does.
Certainly your own precedent in suspending a City employee pending the investigation of issues involving far less money and infinitely less jeopardy to taxpayers demands this action at the very least.
Bob, we are at a crucial turning point in Burlington’s history. BT may still be a viable venture for Burlington, but it has become clear to me over the last month that it has been mismanaged and that the CAO is responsible for this mismanagement. Success can never be claimed if it is founded on illegality. For the people of Burlington, the City, and BT, I would encourage you to move forward and support a leave of absence for the CAO and an independent investigation that will determine the mistakes that were made and keep BT from making similar errors in the future.
Please do not hesitate to give me a call at 233-2131 if you have any questions or concerns. I hope that you, I, and the rest of the Council will be able to work together to continue to move BT and the City forward.
For now, I remain,
Very truly yours,
/s/ Ed Adrian
Ward 1 City Councilor
Cc: City Councilors