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Coleman fired as city manager

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By Jim Clark

About 15 minutes after Tuesday's City Council meeting started, City Manager Jim Coleman picked up his notebook and his dark glasses and walked out of the community center.

He had just been fired by the Williston council.

Later in the meeting finance director Mark Schiefer was named interim city manager. Final terms of his new position will be discussed at a special meeting and workshop next Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. The council will also discuss how they want to proceed to fill the permanent position.

The action came on an item concerning Coleman's contract which had been placed on the agenda by Councilman Cal Byrd. When he got the floor, Byrd quickly moved to terminate Coleman.

Councilman Michael Shoemaker, who cast the only dissenting vote, defended Coleman. In a prepared statement, he said that the council should "Let him do his job, and quit nagging him."

Earlier Shoemaker had said, "By consistently nagging Mr. Coleman to change his contract, the City Council of Williston is probably guilty of harassment in the workplace. In the hands of a good lawyer, we could be liable for far more than his severance package..."

He also said that the city could be responsible for Coleman's attorney fees, but when Council President Debra Jones started to ask City Attorney Norm Fugate about that, Coleman interjected, "I'm not seeking attorney fees."

Jones criticized Shoemaker's statement, saying, "There's an awful lot I don't agree with ... it's not good in the city's behalf what he said."

Before the vote, Coleman commented that he had received no notice about the ouster attempt, but that he "will abide by the decision."

The city then went through the entire agenda before the matter came up again near the end of the meeting.

Fugate made the first comment, noting "It was a pleasure to deal with a professional. I'm really sad to see him go."

Jones defended the move, saying, "When employees come to me and are telling me it's time ... it's time."

She recommended Schiefer for the interim post saying he was the "man who has essentially been running our city."

Jones also criticized Coleman's handling of City Clerk Barbara Henson, saying to her, "We have our right arm back, and it's you."

The council briefly discussed the process of selecting a new manager, something that will be worked out next week.

However, Police Chief Dan Davis urged the council to look at the overall operation and see if changes needed to be made. "Let's not do this all over and just change the name and the face."

He urged care in the choice, and noted that he and other department heads had to "deal every day" with the manager while "You have to deal with him every two weeks."

He also urged the council to look at the compensation. "For a little town you're paying a heck of a salary." Coleman's contract called for a base salary of $66,600 a year.

Mayor Gerald Hethcoat commented, "We need to do it correctly. The point is, have we learned anything."