City Manager Smith receives standing ovation; keeps position

by Jordan Green

Blackwell City Manager Janet Smith received a standing ovation from community members and city employees during a special meeting of the Blackwell City Council on Friday in which Council members voted 3-2 to retain her as manager.

Last week, Mayor T.J. Greenfield called a special meeting of the Council to reevaluate during executive session Smith’s “continued employment” with the city, according to the meeting agenda. However, any attempts to potentially fire Smith, who had just completed her first month on the job, were shot down by a close vote of the Council during what was one of the shortest Council meetings in recent history.

The meeting was called to order at 9 a.m. The meeting hall was filled with supporters of Smith, and those who could not find a seat stood in the hallway. When Smith walked into the room, audience members stood up and applauded her.

The first and only item on the agenda was to convene in executive session to discuss her employment. The motion was made by Vice Mayor Jon Webb. But when Greenfield called for a second, he was met with silence.

After waiting a few moments, Greenfield himself seconded the motion. When it came to a vote, Greenfield and Webb voted for the executive session, while council members Tom Beliel, Richard Braden, and Steve Marquardt voted against it.

After the vote was taken, the audience gave another round of applause. And after the meeting was adjourned, there was another.

In total, the meeting lasted less than three minutes.

Once the meeting was over, Smith was greeted, hugged, and thanked by numerous citizens.

Smith said she was honored to see that the community supports her work as manager.

“I am elated,” she said. “I am so happy that so many of my staff showed up, members of the community showed up, and that I had three councilmen who also stood up for me. They understand that the job that I am doing is a good one, and that I am here for the people of Blackwell.”

Greenfield, however, had “no comment” about the outcome of the meeting. But he did acknowledge that the turnout at the meeting was larger than normal.

“There’s a lot of people here. We’re not used to seeing so many people here at the meetings,” he said.

When asked if he felt there was a large showing of support for Smith, Greenfield replied, “It appeared to be that way, yes.”

Greenfield declined to say why he called for the meeting.

Smith said she feels that the meeting may have been called, in part, because of her efforts to promote fiscal transparency at City Hall.

“I think that's probably part of it,” she said. “I am committed to being transparent, and what I have found in the weeks that I have been here is that there has not been fiscal transparency. There were bills that were never shown to the Council that were approved that just kind of went through without the proper approvals. Anything that is over my limit of $5,000 should always come to the Council, and those things have not been forthcoming.”

According to Smith, the Council has not approved any of the city’s payroll transactions or any of the city’s credit card statements for a certain period of time. She also said that the Council also has not approved any bills from the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, the city’s electrical provider. In addition, the Council had never approved statements from the city attorney or the city’s chief financial officer. Instead of being approved by the Council, the payments were allegedly signed by the city manager.

“Bills that are over my limit would be the city attorney's bill and also the CFO's monthly statement. Anything in excess of $5,000, those should have been a part of the consent agenda, and they never were part of that,” she said.

Smith did not know for how long the improper payment practices had been in place. However, she says she will work to correct the problems and prevent them from happening again.

“I don’t know [how long the problems have gone on]. It predates me, but part of the way I do my job is ensuring that we are complying with all of the laws. We have charter, and that is a law. We have municipal codes, and that is a law. But then we also have county, state, and federal laws. I am determined to uphold the law and recognize my limitations. When I am limited, it has to go to the Council for approval.”

When asked if she could comfortably say that the city of Blackwell has not been fiscally transparent in recent years, Smith said, “Yes, I would agree with that statement.”