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Cornelius council fires city manager

Split vote sends western suburb into political turmoil
by: Chase Allgood Dave Waffle leaves Monday's Cornelius City Council meeting to a standing ovation.

The Cornelius City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to fire

City Manager Dave Waffle, sending the city into political turmoil.

The vote followed a long council meeting packed with comments from audience members that urged the council to retain Waffle.

Calls of recall could be heard in the chambers as Waffle left the room, followed by a crowd.

Paul Rubenstein, who pleaded with the city council to retain Waffle, will act as interim city manager.

The latest effort to fire Waffle came about on June 2, after Mayor Neal Knight sent him an e-mail stating his refusal to remove the city's general services fee led him to seek Waffle's firing.

Waffle, however, was following the council's direction, which before Knight's latest effort to fire Waffle urged the city to explore reducing the service fee by 11 percent.

Knight, along with city councilors Mari Gottwald and Jamie Minshall voted for that cut in May and again Monday night.

Work is stopped, no goals in place

It's not clear what will happen next in the city.

The political turmoil the city is now in was clear after Waffle's supporters followed him outside the chambers.

Knight attempted to move on with the meeting, but was stopped by Rubenstein, who told him the council needed to appoint an interim city manager.

"Do we have to do that now?" Knight asked.

Knight said he'd been talking to Dennis Griffiths about taking the city manager job.

Rubenstein, along with City Council President Jef Dalin, who voted to retain Waffle, urged Knight to hear a motion to install an interim. Eventually, Rubenstein was chosen by the council.

Next Monday, the city council will take up the city's proposed budget. Other than that, it's unclear what will be on the council's agenda in the coming months, as the trio that ousted Waffle also voted out the council's goal calendar.

Without that, Waffle said, the city was without "a definitive near-to-short-term direction."

Rubenstein told the council he didn't see a way to retain the city library and current police staffing while eliminating the city's General Services Fee.

But Knight says he wants to cut the entire fee, blowing a $500,000 hole in the general fund.

The council will need to make changes to the city budget during next week's meeting, or risk deadlocking later in June, as Dalin will be travelling.

The city will also need to adopt a supplemental budget for this current fiscal year to find part of the money to pay Waffle's severance which, including health benefits, is worth more than $125,000.

Citizens call for keeping Waffle

Residents like Trudie Houser urged the council to adopt the budget with its 11 percent cut instead of eliminating the entire fee.

Houser, who lives in a mobile home, said her rent increased when the general services fee was installed by $10. That rent increase won't go away if the council eliminates the fee.

Instead, Houser said, the city will be forced to cut city services like police officers.

"What you're going to do is screw us," Houser said. "Screw us over. You're going to hurt this city. You're going to put this city back 20 years."

Dave Schamp, who filed a complaint in January the last time Knight led an effort to oust Waffle, said Knight hasn't identified a professional failure on Waffle's part because it doesn't exist.

"The statements by Mr. Knight make it clear this is a personal issue," Schamp said.

Ralph Brown, former mayor of Cornelius, urged calm. He said he understood Knight's concerns about the services fee, but said the council should focus on other issues.

"Firing the city manager, not passing a budget, that won't bring more jobs to this city," Brown said.

Tuesday morning, Waffle said he hoped the city would pass a budget before a July 1 deadline forces the city to shut down.

"That's the most important thing, my fate is immaterial, the city can't shut down," Waffle said.