Listen: Starke takes step to hold leaders accountable


Telegraph Editor

STARKE— As Starke commissioners prepared to approve a resolution on ethics and civility, Mayor Janice Mortimer asked Commissioner Danny Nugent to control himself going forward and better understand his role as a city commissioner.

Last year, Starke employees and contract workers complained that Nugent had interfered with their work, screamed obscenities at them and threatened their employment while they were trimming trees on his street. An investigation was launched but ended when Nugent’s attorney pointed out the city had no process in place to investigate or take punitive action.

That process remains a work in progress, but Starke commissioners did approve a Code of Core Values for Civility and Ethics Tuesday night. 

Before that, Mortimer addressed why it was necessary. 

“We’ve got to leave our employees alone and let the people do the job that we’re paying them to do. We’ve got some darn good employees and we’ve got to support them and not make them feel like their back is against the wall,” she said. If a commissioner is upset about a situation, they need to address that with the appropriate person — the city manager, clerk or police chief, each of whom is responsible for separate group of employees.

“As a board, we have got to — and there’s no way around this — we have got to stop attacking our employees, either in public or in private, because it makes for a hostile work environment,” Mortimer said. If it had been her on the receiving end, she said she would have filed an ethics complaint. The employees, however, don’t want to appear angry, but they are hurt, she said.

Commissioner Wilbur Waters said he appreciated her remarks but not the way there were generalized to include the entire board.

“Whoever you’re talking about you need to speak it, and their butts need to be put down the road because I am tired of this. The employees is tired of it. They’re scared to death. A commissioner has no right to talk to employees that way,” he said.

Mortimer agreed and apologized, addressing Nugent from that point forward. 

“My comments are intended to be directed to Mr. Nugent, because we all know what has happened. And I would like to say to Mr. Nugent that, please sir, control yourself when you’re talking to employees. Please understand what our role is,” she said.

Nugent said he was trying to protect one of the individuals involved because he didn’t understand why he was there and thought he might be making a mistake. It came off the wrong way.

Mortimer said any perceived mistake should have been taken to the city manager.

“Stop attacking and threatening employees,” she said.

“I did not threaten him,” Nugent said, maintaining it was a misunderstanding.

Following the exchange, Commissioner Scott Roberts said he understood Mortimer’s previous remarks and her attempt to be diplomatic. 

The resolution on the code was approved unanimously. It sets city policy to require its officials, elected or appointed, to “maintain the utmost standards of personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty, civility and fairness in carrying out their public duties.” They should avoid impropriety and never use their position for personal gain.

“A member shall endeavor to help create an atmosphere of respect and civility,” according to the code. They will also respect the commissioner-manager form of government as well as the elected positions of clerk and police chief.

The code calls for equitable treatment and respect for diversity. Everyone should strive for teamwork. Members should lead by example, strive for excellence to make positive contributions, and do so efficiently by optimizing the use of time, energy and resources. 

And, of course, “A member shall support the maintenance of a positive and constructive workplace environment for city employees and for citizens and businesses dealing with the city. Officials shall recognize their roles in dealings with city employees and refrain from creating the perception of inappropriate direction to staff.”