Ousted City Administrator Ryan Hunt requested and received a public hearing to share his version of the events leading to his termination in October. In the 10 minutes granted for his remarks, Hunt detailed accomplishments during his 10 years of service with the City, his perspective of the events that led to his termination, and detailed the three causes listed in his termination letter that led to the City terminating his employment.
As previously reported, Hunt was terminated during a closed special meeting on October 24th. Hunt’s last day was October 25th. Former Deputy Administrator Ken Murphy was announced as Acting City Administrator during the City’s Community Campus meeting on October 29th.
After detailing his length of employment with the City, including his tenure as City Administrator since 2014, an employment record during that time with no written or verbal reprimands, and his accomplishments and growth of the city during his tenure, Hunt claimed discrimination due to a disability and retaliation on the part of the Mayor and City due to investigations he pursued in summer 2019.
“The City’s termination of my employment was reckless as a steward of the public trust and wrongful for a myriad of reasons,” Hunt said.
“Suffice to say, there are causes of actions being considered against the City.”
Hunt claimed discrimination due to a disability and claimed City staff and elected officials discussed the disability internally and with the public. Hunt did not disclose the nature of his disability in his remarks.
“I am a person with a disability. Notwithstanding my disability, I gave my exceptional performance to the City. The board, Mayor, police officers, and City employees have discussed my disability with each other and members of the public. In 2019, a City police officer that is married to a member of the board began making negative and disparaging statements about me, including statements about my disability. This officer represented that he had the influence over the board to have me terminated. An internal affairs investigation intended to examine the officer’s conduct appears to have placed me somehow at the center of the investigation. Numerous statements were made about my disability including speculation,” Hunt said.
“Based on the information and the discrepancies that were presented to both the Mayor and I, this influenced the nature of the investigation and I suggested to the Mayor that a neutral third party come in and reexamine the internal affairs investigation.”
Hunt also claimed he became aware of conduct by City staff that violated the law and claimed he reported the conduct to the Mayor. Hunt indicated he requested an opportunity to present findings to the Board of Aldermen, and a special session was scheduled for August 1, 2019.
“Approximately two hours before that meeting Mayor Todd contacted me and told me I had been barred from the meeting. Rather he was going to handle it. That was retaliatory. On September 24, 2019, I was issued a written disciplinary letter for breaching the confidentiality of the City. While simply trying to perform my duties.”
Hunt also stated the disciplinary letter accused him of “playing unprofessional games”.
Hunt requested a 30-day paid administrative leave on September 29th, which was authorized on September 30th.
“On October 3rd, the City held an additional executive session and voted to revoke my previous authorization of leave and place me on a four week leave of absence without pay. Additionally, I was revoked all physical and electronic access to the City. My city credit card was canceled, and I was deprived of rights related to my contractual employment by the city attorney. This too was retaliatory,” Hunt said.
“I submitted a written complaint to the mayor on October 16, 2019. Wherein I set forth about the disability and discrimination and being barred from board meetings and how the city’s actions during my leave were retaliatory in nature. To which he never acknowledged. I was scheduled to return to work on October 28, 2019.”
According to Hunt, the mayor hand delivered his termination letter on October 25th following recovery of his city vehicle, which he stated was stolen from his driveway in the early morning hours of October 25th.
“My city vehicle was stolen from my driveway around 2:30am on October 25th. Later that day, the mayor contacted me and told me the truck had been recovered. He asked me to meet him at the Oak Grove Police Department for the recovery. And when I arrived the Mayor handed me a letter of termination with cause and said nothing except I was not getting the truck back and I was not entitled to my severance package. When I asked what the cause was, he told me he would not discuss it with me, but the letter would explain the cause,” Hunt said.
Hunt referenced the termination letter he received, listing three causes for his termination, and refuting each cause listed.
Hunt indicated the first cause listed as “failure to obtain educational requirements set forth by my contract by accepting raises for educational credit.” Hunt claimed the mayor and City officials were aware that he had not obtained additional education during his term as City Administrator and denied he received any raises for educational credit.
“I have never taken a raise for educational credits. In fact, since I became the City Administrator I have not gone to any more college. And that was well known amongst the board, or at least Mayor Todd represented that. Rather it was standard cost of living or merit raises specifically included in the budget and approved by the board. Additionally, I have concrete evidence that Mayor Todd represented that the board was not requiring me to meet the 3-hour educational requirement,” Hunt said.
Hunt identified the second cause in the termination letter as “failure to rectify disharmony at city hall” and the third cause listed in the termination letter as “gross negligence by refusing to complete education in 2019,”. Hunt claimed his agreement required he complete six hours of credit in 2019, which he claimed he was scheduled to complete in fall 2019.
In concluding his statement, Hunt claimed gross negligence on the part of elected officials and expressed his thanks to residents, business owners, and City staff.
“I am very disappointed in those responsible for my termination and I do not understand the gross negligence they have performed as officers of the public. I planned on retiring from this City. But instead, I was systematically defeated by secrecy and dishonesty.”
“To the business owners and the citizens, thank you for the time I had in Grain Valley. Thank you for your support, for being here tonight, for always having my back. To my staff members, I enjoyed working with you guys. It was a joy working with all of you.”
“Thank you, Alderman Bass, for opposing my termination. I sincerely appreciate that. To staff and citizens, I am most regretful of the circumstance and what may come.”
Alderman Jayci Stratton is married to Grain Valley police officer Willie Stratton, the officer referenced in Hunt’s statement. Willie Stratton denied Hunt’s version of the events and was adamant an investigation conducted this summer was found to be unfounded.
“I would like to comment as a citizen that the statement he made is entirely false, and I was investigated and had nothing to do with any disability he had, and I’ll leave it at that. At this point, I am going to seek counsel because what he just stated was not the truth. My investigation was found to be negative and it had nothing to do with her (Alderman Stratton),” Willie Stratton said.
Alderman Stratton declined to comment further.
Mayor Mike Todd was approached for comment and declined to comment further at this time, calling on City Attorney Joe Lauber to assist with a statement.
“We typically don’t make a public thing about personnel matters and as he indicated we are under a threat of litigation. Our common approach is not to talk about all that,” Lauber said.
“There’s obviously differences between his perspective on the issue and ours. We are working to resolve those, and we hope that we can get there.”
In other business, the Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance calling for an election on April 7, 2020. One item planned for the April ballot is the proposed Community Campus, which would include a new city hall, police department, community center, and library. Representatives from SAPP Design presented an update to the campus project and rendering of the most popular design of three proposed to resident in a variety of community events.
The Board also approved the first reading of the 2020 budget. The next meeting of the Board of Aldermen will be held at 7:00pm on December 9, 2019 at City Hall.