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Granite Shoals city manager feud could result in disciplinary action

Granite Shoals Mayor Will Skinner 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. Another, similar session was held at the May 10 meeting. A disciplinary committee was formed to discuss Looney’s actions. Staff photo

Granite Shoals City Manager Jeff Looney might face disciplinary action, which could include termination. After a two-hour executive session at the Granite Shoals City Council meeting Tuesday, May 10, the council voted to form a disciplinary committee of four to attempt a reconciliation between Looney and Councilor Samantha Ortis. The issue will be revisited as an agenda item at the May 24 council meeting. 

On the committee are Ortis, Looney, Mayor Will Skinner, and Councilor Eddie McCoy.  

Bad blood has been building between Ortis and Looney over time. A special meeting of the council held Feb. 1 involved an almost two-hour executive session that ended with Looney reading a two-page statement in open session. No formal action was taken at the time. 

In his statement, he called Ortis’ behavior “slanderous and unprofessional.” 

The tables turned with the most recent flareup, which involved Looney calling Ortis’ boss. 

“My livelihood was, in my opinion, put at jeopardy because the city manager didn’t like my First Amendment right to freedom of speech and what I posted on social media,” Ortis said in the meeting. “So he called my boss. To me, to sit in (executive session) and listen to all of you, well, not all of you, several of you, make excuses for his actions, (to say), ‘It’s OK. We all make mistakes,’ in my opinion, that’s not OK.”

Councilor Phil Ort made a statement in open meeting supporting Ortis. 

“In my opinion, the city manager crossed a line that you just do not cross,” he said. “I can’t agree with this course action.” 

He was referring to the motion to meet in an attempt at reconciliation. The motion was made by Councilor Ron Munos and seconded by Councilor Steve Hougen. 

“I believe a motion is a course of action to see if reconciliation can be made,” Hougen said in response. “We are all on this team. We all need improvement.”

After some quiet back-and-forth talking between Mayor Skinner and Ortis, who sit next to each other at the dais, Ortis made a final statement. 

“I like your plan, Eddie, of just getting a group of people together to discuss the situation and see where we can go with that,” she said, referring to Councilor Eddie McCoy. “I also feel like, as the only female council member in the group here, and seeing the way that some of our other female park committee members are treated and some of our administration are treated, we are not spoken to the same way you guys are. We are not spoken about the same way you guys are.”

Her remarks received a round of applause from audience members who hung around for the unusually long executive session and late meeting. 

Several members of the audience, including those on Zoom, spoke. One questioned whether anything would really be done. 

“Disciplinary action can be up to termination,” Skinner answered. “We are not going to just give him a slap on the wrist.” 

Ortis appeared to be a hard sell on forming a committee, though she acquiesced. She left the executive session at the halfway point and spent the last 45 minutes at the council dais texting and playing games on her phone with one of Skinner’s children.

After reconvening, council members seemed reluctant to openly discuss the issue until City Attorney Josh Katz said that, although he did not recommend talking about what was said in closed session, it was within their First Amendment right to freedom of speech to do so. 

The motion to form a disciplinary committee was approved 7-0 with Councilor Bruce Jones voting via Zoom. He did not attend in person. The May 10 meeting will be Jones’ last regular meeting as he was defeated in the May 7 election by challenger Aaron Garcia. Along with Hougen and Ort, who were re-elected, Garcia will be sworn in at the May 24 regular meeting. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com