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Granite Shoals city manager decries ‘witch hunt’ after meeting on conduct

Granite Shoals Mayor Will Skinner (left) and Councilor Samantha Ortis

Granite Shoals Mayor Will Skinner and Councilor Samantha Ortis during a special meeting of the City Council on Feb. 1 that included an executive session to evaluate City Manager Jeff Looney's conduct. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

A special meeting of the Granite Shoals City Council to evaluate the conduct and performance of City Manager Jeff Looney ended with harsh words but did not come to a conclusion on how to solve disagreements between Looney and Councilor Samantha Ortis, who called for the Tuesday, Feb. 1 meeting. 

Six of the council’s seven members attended the special meeting. Councilor Steve Hougen was out of town. 

The council went into executive session immediately after being called to order. The session lasted one hour and 42 minutes. Upon returning to open session, Mayor Will Skinner said no formal action would be taken.

Looney then read a two-page statement in open session. He said he was speaking out because he was “standing up for myself, the council, my management staff, and our citizens.” 

“The underhandedness, witch hunting, and outright unprofessional behavior needs to stop, and my staff and I should not have to suffer at the hands of a lone council person taking matters into her hands and causing such strife and discord. My staff and I do not like the drama and the unfounded accusations.”

He then said that he feels “Mrs. Ortis’ behavior has been slanderous and unprofessional of a council person.”

He said he offered to sit down to talk with her but that she refused.

“She has called me on a Saturday and screamed and yelled at me,” he said in his written statement. “This past Thursday (Jan. 27), she came to Clear Cove Park while we we were working on an emergency repair to a bulkhead andcalled me over and began to scream and yell at me again. Five crew members and two supervisors were present to see this behavior. She has made unfounded claims against local business and property owners and the work they do with City Hall. Her level of interference has gotten to the level where she has tried to tell me who I can ride around with and inspect projects.”

Ortis confirmed the incident, noting she asked to speak with Looney on site and invited Assistant City Manager Peggy Smith to listen to the exchange. 

“He started to shake his finger in my face and told me that I never know what I’m talking about,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ll prove you wrong, like I have in the past.’ I said, ‘Maybe I should resign.’ He said, ‘Maybe you should.’”

Ortis admitted yelling at Looney at that time but said she did not speed off in her truck as he claimed.  

“I did let him get to me,” she told DailyTrib.com after the meeting. “I’ll never let him get to me again.”

During the special meeting, Looney presented a list of seven requests. Here are several of them:

  • require a meeting with proper people present to resolve issues before an item is placed on an agenda
  • expect a level of professional courtesy and demeanor from council members
  • consider changes to the council meeting’s decorum ordinance to require two council members’ signatures to request an item be on the agenda and have it received in City Hall on the Wednesday of the week before the council meeting
  • ensure that agenda items related to personnel matters be placed in writing and the employee be given appropriate time to respond to an item
  • clarify who has the determination of placement of items on the agenda and the flow of the process for agendas

“I don’t think we are going to adopt those,” Mayor Skinner told DailyTrib.com the day after the special meeting. “I don’t want any of the City Council’s authority to be taken out of their hands. Our charter says if a City Council member wants something on an agenda, they can put it there.” 

Ortis also spoke to DailyTrib.com the day after the meeting.

“Mr. Looney’s goal coming into that meeting was to read his statement to embarrass me and get me to resign,” she said, adding that residents and business owners have complained to her about the city manager. “He went up there and said those things. That shows his moral character in my opinion.”

She said she asked for the special meeting and the executive session because it was not put on the Jan. 22 agenda. 

“Mr. Looney didn’t get made aware of it until (Jan. 21) and told his employees to remove my agenda item,” she said.

The next day, she asked for an addendum to the agenda, “but the wording wasn’t correct. (City Attorney Joshua Katz) said it wasn’t worded properly,” she said.

She also noted that she and Skinner have worked over two months on holding an evaluation of the city manager in executive session. 

“The meeting we called was necessary,” she said. “The mayor and I were the ones who suggested to City Council members (to meet).” 

Ortis said other members of the council were involved in the special meeting but did not name them. She said several city employees have gone to council members to complain about Looney’s treatment of them.

“But they’re afraid to file formal grievances because of the threat from Mr. Looney of retaliation,” she said. “These employees are fearful of their jobs and are upset.”

As for the offer to sit down and discuss their disagreements, Ortis said that Looney was not telling the truth and that she has met with him several times before asking for the special meeting and evaluation in executive session. 

“Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Ortis said when asked about the next steps the council might take. “I don’t think the full council is on board. I think we go back to business as usual at this time.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

2 thoughts on “Granite Shoals city manager decries ‘witch hunt’ after meeting on conduct

  1. Wow! Both need to tone it down. No one should be yelling at another person, PERIOD! If they do, it’s a good indicator of who they really are. This has clearly gotten personal and things like this only escalate to the point where the tax payers end up having to pay legal bills and settlements. Get rid of them both and start over!

  2. Doesn’t sound like he’s got another BIG raise coming???

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