Tuesday, Aug. 28 the Potterville City Council moved to remove the city manager, Wanda Darrow, with cause, despite her submission of resignation. The move by the council followed a lengthy meeting, during which the council publically reviewed a 15-page document from the law firm Foster Swift, which represents the City of Potterville, that listed the findings of a month long investigation into the city manager’s conduct within her role with the city.
The findings of the investigation included mismanagement, and theft of city funds, theft of city property, mismanagement of city employees, and inappropriate handling of public records. The thefts pertained specifically to the former city manager’s son, Eddie Darrow. For more in depth coverage of the investigation’s findings, readers can read the article titled “Potterville city council moves to remove city manager with cause” from the September 1, 2018 issue of the County Journal. The document from Foster Swift can also be found online.
After hearing a dozen or so letters from community members defending Darrow’s character, and before the meeting closed, city council members weighed in briefly with their thoughts on the investigation and appropriate action moving forward. While the vote to remove Darrow from the position of city manager was unanimous, there was some debate as to whether or not she should be removed with cause. Councilman Duston Twichell was the first to weigh in.
“Although there was about 30 pages of letters in support of the city manager, almost none of them have anything to do with what’s going on here,” said Twichell.
Twichell recounted how financial auditors over roughly the last 10 years have recommended that “internal controls be put on the finances and that checks and balances be put in place because we (the city) were open to fraud.” He also noted how other city officials, like the city clerk and other council members, had inquired about some of the inconsistencies found in the investigation, but were kept in the dark.
“She knew, well ahead of this, what was going on. She’s continually hidden information from council members,” said Twichell. “Any information that we’ve tried to ascertain from her has been skewed, not conveyed, or just erroneous information. It’s disgusting to me that this could’ve happened… she refused to acknowledge that these things were going on.”
Councilwoman Schmidt followed with her own take on the findings, and was hesitant to approve the motion to remove Darrow with cause.
“Regarding the motion on the table, I have mixed feelings about various things. I would agree there has been some element of neglect, negligence, mismanagement, misappropriation, etc., but the point where the wording, ‘intent to fraud,’ or, ‘intent to conceal the theft of property,’ those particular points I’m not sure that I agree with substantial proof verifying her intent…” said Schmidt. “That’s a grey area at best.”
Schmidt also expressed concern over “…potential reactionary litigation, financial restraints, and consequences that (removal with cause) could bring to the city.”
“I’m not sure that’s the safest option to achieve the same result,” said Schmidt.
Councilwoman Jennifer Lenneman followed Schmidt’s concerns with her own rebuttal.
“I feel that none of this, the deposits wouldn’t have been made and the emails, wouldn’t have been done if she wouldn’t have known that she was going to be (removed), or that we already had the resolution in place and that we were going to be removing her on the 19th,” said Lenneman.
Lenneman then referred to Darrow’s actions preceeding her initial suspension from office, implying that Darrow was indeed intent on concealing information from the council.
“The stuff that her son did… she tried to cover it up. It’s plain and simple,” said Lenneman. “She had an obligation to the city and she let that obligation go.”
“This has been a crappy day,” said councilman Bussard. “I feel I’ve worked with her through far more contentious situations than this check situation, to be honest. I’m bewildered on why I didn’t know about it.”
Bussard went on to note how he and the city clerk went to Darrow about the inconsistencies in bank reconciliations, but were told by Darrow that they were “bank errors.”
“Considering everything that’s happened in the last 10 years, this is actually not that big of a deal considering other things that have happened,” said Bussard.
Councilwoman Rebecka Jo Lewis then put forth her thoughts on the investigation.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Wanda has done some nice things for this city, some I’ve witnessed, some I haven’t witnessed… but since I’ve been on council, multiple times things have come up and Wanda has lied to us, and it’s always come out. We tried to work with Wanda, we’ve tried to do everything we could with Wanda, and we always got the same thing over and over again,” said Lewis. “She chose to lie to us again, and again, and again.”
Lewis then expressed her interest in keeping the motion on the table to remove with cause.
“I agree with just about every statement every council member has made,” said Potterville mayor Bruce Kring. “I agree with a lot of statements about Ms. Darrow and the good things she has done around the community. But all the good things do not excuse what’s taken place in the last few months. The people in the city have basically been lied to.”
Kring, and Lewis, spoke to the rumors that members of the sitting council had an agenda to remove Darrow as city manager, and both denied the rumors.
The council then voted on the resolution to remove Darrow with cause. As mentioned, the vote was unanimously in favor of the resolution.