Emphasizing what he called “legal common sense” Alderman Marvin Elder addressed the city’s department heads and the other elected officials on Monday night and with an affirmation from City Attorney Gary Austin he stated that work-related retaliation is illegal.
Although he failed to give specifics, he alluded to an incident of reprisal involving city personnel, elected officials and private citizens, and later established that it was an ongoing legal matter that he could not discuss.
In his opening statement, Elder said, “Department heads, run your department, we don’t have anybody here that can run it. Public works, police department, parks and recreation department and any other department, y’all need to run your department and if anybody sitting up here—elected official—come and ask you to do anything that you know is illegal, I pity you.”
Unrelenting, Elder continued, “I pity you that if you retaliate against individual because some elected official hounded you. And if you think that’s what it takes for you to hold your job, turn your resignation in tonight, cause I pity you.”
Elder strongly emphasized that each department head was hired to oversee his or her area. “Be mens and women, but we don’t retaliate against one another. The elected officials, we don’t retaliate against the public because they disagree.”
Elder said he would not attempt to play employees against one another and no one else should either.
He continued, “So, we got the elected officials running behind trucks and cars and hiding in these holes bringing something to you department heads. You need to bring it to the board, and I’m saying that on the record, because we don’t do that in the city of Indianola.”
At one point, he turned to Austin seeking confirmation that his statements were correct and Austin said, “Yes, retaliation is illegal.”
In his sustained monologue, Elder urged the city supervisors to stop being afraid, stand up for and work with their people. He then voiced a final admonition to the department heads, “If they don’t come out to your department with something positive, run them from out there.”
Mayor Steve Rosenthal then addressed Elder’s soliloquy, “I appreciate that comment. I have given out to the board, three times, that aldermen do not have the authority to direct any city employee.”
Alderman Darrell Simpson then asked if there was a specific reference regarding the aforementioned statements, because it wasn’t something he had experienced.
Rosenthal answered and said he didn’t have a specific reference but “I know some are, but I am not going to mention names,” he said.
He mentioned the state statute that speaks to that issue and then spoke directly to the aldermen.
“If we have elected officials telling city employees what to do that is illegal by state law. If you as an elected official need something done… that goes through me because the department heads work under my direction day-to-day.”
Again, he iterated his appreciation to Elder for mentioning the issue.
“Because it has clearly been a problem because department heads are torn because they are in fear that if they don’t do what an alderman says then they may risk their job.”
Rosenthal emphasized that if an alderman directs a department head to do a specific task the employee should come to him and they would work to resolve it. Rosenthal then made an attempt to move on to the next item.
However, Elder wanted to make another statement, but Rosenthal said no and rapped the gavel.
"Wait a minute Mayor, on retaliation, what we're saying on retaliation is, we're talking about retaliation for things—some actions—that was taken and was not taken so if some action was taken…"
Rosenthal interrupted and rapped the gavel to tell Elder that he was out of order; nonetheless, Elder said he wanted an opportunity to clear up the retaliation that he was talking about.
Rosenthal responded, "If you have that, bring it in executive session at our next meeting because you're just rambling off in the middle of nothing."
Elder then rejoined, "You think that's what it is, Mayor?"
Rosenthal then said, "Well, if you wanted to try something—tell something—bring it up in executive session. We are going to move forward. Point well taken—if you made one—not sure," Rosenthal added.