OURAY – Longtime public works employee Ed Witherspoon received word from Mayor Pam Larson on Friday morning, Feb. 7 that he has been terminated from his position with the City of Ouray.
Witherspoon has worked for the city for over 15 years. He has been fighting for his job since early December when he was placed on leave with pay by his supervisor, Public Works Director Dennis Erickson.
At Thursday, Jan. 30 hearing, Witherspoon appealed directly to Mayor Larson to overturn both Erickson’s and City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli’s recommendations to terminate his position.
Larson presided over the hearing, which was held in open session at Witherspoon’s request. Rondinelli, Erickson and City Attorney Kathryn Sellars were also in attendance.
The immediate cause of Witherspoon’s termination appears to have been that he conducted explosives work for the City of Ouray on an expired license in January 2013. However, through the course of the hearing, it also became evident that there was an underlying issue of alleged insubordination, between Witherspoon and Erickson, who took over as Public Works Director in October 2012.
The hearing revealed a serious rift between the two men; Witherspoon had strong ideas based on years of experience about how his job should be executed – particularly in regard to the city’s water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant, where he has accrued considerable expertise.
Testimony showed that at times he openly defied orders from his new supervisor to do things differently. The two were often “at loggerheads,” Witherspoon told Larson. “There has been a lot of dissent between us. This has led to a continuous problem of us working together.”
Larson spent the past week considered the testimony from the appeal hearing, along with reams of internally generated documentation in Witherspoon’s personnel file, and on Friday upheld Erickson’s and Rondinelli’s recommendation for termination.
Reached for comment on Friday morning, Larson declined to comment. “It’s his to tell,” she said. “It’s a personnel piece. These are really tough ones when they land in your lap.”
According to Larson, the City of Ouray has a very strict procedure it must follow in cases of employee termination.
This procedure, according to the City’s personnel manual, is a three-step process that begins with an investigation conducted by the director or department head. The employee can appeal that to the city administrator, who in turn conducts a hearing to determine whether or not the recommendation to fire the employee is warranted. The employee can then appeal the city administrator’s decision to the mayor. It is up to the mayor whether or not to involve other council members in deliberations.
After that, “An employee’s next course of action would be to take us to court,” Larson said.
Witherspoon told The Watch this week that he has not decided yet whether he will pursue legal action.
email@example.com or Tweet @iamsamwright