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Is the Quincy City Manager’s job in jeopardy?

Payments made to a contractor may cost Quincy City Manager Jack McLean his job.

For months, Quincy’s Mayor Pro Tem Keith Dowdell has requested a copy of the city’s information technology consultant’s contract.

The commissioners were given a copy of James McKenzie’s consultant contract during a special meeting held on August 3.

However, the contract was not signed.

Human Resources Director Ann Sherman provided an overview of Mr. James McKenzie’s consultant contract.

Sherman said McKenzie began working as an independent contractor for the city in 2001, and she added that the contract was only verbal until 2020, when it was put in writing.

McLean said the contract replacing information technology administrator David Rittman, who resigned in February 2021, was drawn-up for McKenzie to assume the IT Administrator role but the contract was never presented to the commission.

The unsigned contract that was drafted for McKenzie, which is dated February 16, says the city would pay him $55,000 a year as systems analyst for information technology.

McLean said McKenzie previously declined a full-time position with the city, and instead preferred to continue working as an independent contractor.

McLean also said since then the information technology manager position has been advertised twice – first in April, and again in July.

The salary range listed in the job’s advertisement is $54,000 – $65,000 per year.

Commissioner Freida Bass-Prieto said she was concerned because a request for proposals should have gone out before McKenzie was offered a consultant contract.

“When I came to the city in 2001, I was asked to come because of the budget constraints that the city was under and they needed someone to help build an infrastructure or dial up services,” McKenzie said.

Although McKenzie was initially contracted to orchestrate the NetQuincy dial-up – and later the fiber engineering design and installation process – he more recently worked on the city’s Smart Grid Project, and he has also provided information technology services.

McLean said over the course of the past 20 years, Mr. McKenzie billed the city for $295,172.76; McKenzie has received $45,299.94 of that amount in the past six months according to the city’s vendor payment history.

Mayor Ronte Harris told McKenzie the issue at hand was with the city manager.

He said it isn’t as much so about the money, as it is about the process and procedure and the rules that the city manager is required to follow.

“It has nothing to do with your capabilities and the work that you’re doing, nor the value,” Harris told McKenzie.

The commissioners held off on voting on McKenzie’s contract, and discussed the issue again during the August 10 meeting.

During that meeting Dowdell asked McLean why it took so long for the commission to receive the contract.

“The contract itself exceeded the amount of funding, however, as it was pointed out at the last meeting, you have a draft of the contract, you have a date which was February 16, then my illness came up and I had a serious operation on March 19,” McLean said. “I began my leave of absence on March 8.”

Dowdell pointed out that McLean has had time to bring the contract before the commission since he’s been back.

McLean later admitted he violated section 2-472 of the city’s code of ordinances, which states: “The city manager shall not, without the approval of the city commission, make purchases or enter into contracts on behalf of the city when the amount involved or to be paid therefore or in connection therewith shall exceed $10,000, and such monetary limits shall apply. This section does not apply to purchases made from a cooperative purchasing agreement authorized by any state or local government, or governmental association, for any purchase made or contract entered into on behalf of the city for any single purchase item or multiple purchase of the same item in any one year period; provided, however, that the authority of the city manager shall be subject to all applicable provisions of the city’s charter, state law and other provisions of law pertaining to competitive bidding requirements and also subject to all exceptions thereto. The city manager may make purchases or enter into contracts which exceed such monetary limitations, but only when emergency circumstances are involved that require immediate action to protect the public health, safety, welfare or morals, and such purchases shall be reported to the city commission at its next regular meeting.”

Dowdell asked McLean how thought his violation of the city ordinance should be handled.

“People violate policies and rules and regulations, and all of us have been in a workplace where that’s happened,” McLean responded. “So, I think I’ve done a good job, if you weigh it in the balance.”

Commissioner Freida Bass-Prieto told McLean as a commissioner he sets an example.

Bass-Prieto also said she’s concerned the city is using contract labor to replace positions that the city has available.

“If we have a position for Mr. McKenzie, why are we not putting him in the position that was created by this commission?” Bass-Prieto asked McLean.

Bass-Prieto said any contracted labor more than $10,000 should come before the commission, even if it is consulting.

“Unless it is a consultant, I don’t see why we should be doing contract labor,” Bass-Prieto said, adding the commission sets the standard for employment, and she added that she thinks the city manager overstepped his boundaries.

“It makes no sense to me to write up this $55,000 contract when we already have the position available,” Bass-Prieto said.

She suggested hiring McKenzie for the full-time information technology position.

“Why are we contracting him for $45 an hour?” Bass-Prieto asked.

Dowdell asked city attorney Gary Roberts if McLean’s violation of the city ordinance was grounds for termination.

Roberts said there are a series of steps taken before termination.

“What’s happening now is akin to a public reprimand, and action, which is happening now, which is a form of punishment,” Roberts said.

Dowdell said not only did McLean violate a city ordinance, he said he also failed to fill several department leadership positions such as the police chief, fire chief and planning and building director, not to mention the information technology manager position, which sparked the discussion.

Dowdell expressed to McLean that he wanted to see progress towards filling all of the empty positions by the next meeting.

During the August 24 meeting McLean announced that McKenzie said he will accept the fulltime information technology position.

Commissioner Anessa Albritton-Canidate asked if McKenzie will be responsible for information technology and the Smart Grid.

McLean said McKenzie will only be paid for the information technology position.

He also said one of McKenzie’s key responsibilities is to hire a second information technology technician, so the city won’t be left vulnerable if McKenzie leaves.

As for the other job openings, McLean said he has received responses, and is screening applicants.

Towards the end of the meeting, during the portion when commissioners are given a chance to give additional comments, Dowdell said to the other commissioners, “We’ve got to take a look at the city manager and the things that he did that violated city policy, and it’s not right if employees do something wrong and they get punished, then the city manager does something, and nothing happens to him.”

Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service