No goals, no budget, no direction following the firing of popular city manager
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 who urged councilors to retain Waffle.
Shouts of 'recall!' could be heard in the chambers as Waffle left the room, followed by a crowd.
Police Chief Paul Rubenstein, who pleaded with councilors 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 directions from council members, including Knight, who previously asked him to to explore reducing the service fee by 11 percent.
Knight, along with councilors Mari Gottwald and Jamie Minshall voted for that cut in May and again Monday night.
No clear agenda
It's not clear what will happen next in the city, though the political uncertainty was evident after Waffle's supporters followed him outside.
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 Hillsboro lawyer 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, no one is sure what will be on the council's agenda in the coming months, as the trio that ousted Waffle also voted to scrap the council's goal calendar.
Without that, Waffle said, the city was without 'a definitive near-to-short-term direction.'
Knight says he wants to cut the entire general services fee, blowing a $500,000 hole in the general fund.
Rubenstein told the council he didn't see a way to do that and retain the city library and current police staffing.
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 want 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 $10 when the general services fee was installed. That rent hike, she predicted, 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,' Waffle said. 'The city can't shut down.'