The City of Springfield on Thursday released taped conversations that reveal tensions between aldermen and the city’s attorney during a closed-door meeting last fall. The tapes were released to the public after a resident last month asked the City Council to seek criminal theft charges for three public utility employees.
Eric Reiss of Springfield contacted City Water Light and Power in spring 2012 after witnessing – and photographing – a group of CWLP employees using city equipment to remove a tree from his neighbor’s back yard. Reiss told the city in March of last year that at least one of the workers approached him at his home and attempted to intimidate him after seeing him with a camera.
City Water Light and Power investigated the matter and went into arbitration hearings in November. The arbitrator finally ruled that the CWLP employees – Matt Winters, William Lewis and James Martin – be given unpaid suspensions and then return to work.
Winters, whom the city wanted to fire for trying to cover up the incident by “engaging the complaining customer and leveraging political influence”, was re-hired on a last chance basis, according to the State Journal-Register. The city did not appeal the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of more lenient discipline.
To date, no action has been taken by the city to charge Winters, nor or the other two CWLP employees, for what Reiss calls a theft of city time and resources.
Tapes released to the public this week reveal a disconnect between statements made by the city’s attorney, Mark Cullen, and the eyewitness, Mr Reiss.
LISTEN: Oct. 30 2012 Exec. Session download .mp3
LISTEN: Nov. 6 2012 Exec. Session Audio download .mp3
Here’s Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen on October 30:
CULLEN: “…[Eric Reiss] is refusing our subpoena for the hearing, the arbitration… that means that… we are likely not to have a very favorable witness… the sole reason we have for termination is intimidation… this gentleman went on in the public… he was very visible… we responded to that complaint… and now we have a resident who is not gonna help.”
Mr. Reiss sought to set the record straight on March 26th:
REISS: “My credibility has been questioned… that I was not here, available and willing to testify at the arbitration hearing… I don’t know who felt that I wasn’t willing to participate… I sat and waited eight hours and was not allowed to speak… I’m the only witness to the crime, City Counsel revealed she really didn’t have a case… I waited for eight hours to testify, they let an ex-CWLP employee testify for three hours, who wasn’t on scene…” download .mp3
In the November 6 Executive Session recording, Mr. Cullen clarifies this issue.
The city attorney is questioned at length by alderman and says that Mr. Reiss was not refusing to participate, he had simply been difficult to get in contact with over the phone.
Aldermen stressed the need for clear communication from Corporation Counsel and an accurate representation of all the facts as they become available in this case.
This story will be updated.