EDMORE — His village manager’s contract may not have been renewed, but Neil Rankin is still an employee of Edmore.
The Edmore Village Council voted 4-2 at a special meeting last Monday to not renew Rankin’s contract.
The meeting had originally been scheduled to discuss Rankin’s contract and evaluation after his first year on the job. However, that discussion did not take place.
Instead, President Chet Guild and councilmen Eddie Adams, Chuck Burr and Jerry Rasmussen voted to not renew Rankin’s contract, which expires this coming Wednesday. They gave no explanation for their votes.
Councilwomen Bonnie Ashbaugh and Karen Deja voted against the motion. Councilman Art Schuitema was absent from the meeting due to a medical issue.
Ashbaugh and Deja say they were “shocked” and “stunned” by the unexpected vote. Ashbaugh has called for another special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Curtis Building to again consider Rankin’s contract and annual evaluation. Community members are encouraged to attend the meeting and voice their thoughts.
In the meantime, Rankin will continue to operate as village manager even after his contract expires on Wednesday.
According to Edmore’s manager ordinance 2013-4, “The manager shall serve at the pleasure of the council and may be removed by the affirmative vote of five or more, but only after a hearing before the council.”
“After I consulted with my attorney, who is an expert in municipal law, if they want to go ahead and not renew my contract, that’s fine, they can do that, but they can’t terminate me unless they have five votes saying so,” Rankin summarized.
Rankin said the events of last Monday have shed light on some important matters, including whether the four councilmen had reached a previous agreement before last Monday’s meeting to vote to not renew Rankin’s contract.
“The one issue this really brings to light is the Open Meetings Act, which is there for a reason,” Rankin said.
“Decisions aren’t meant to be made by three or four of them outside of a meeting. That’s a scary thought … ‘we’ll just go over the restaurant, we’ll have a few drinks and we’ll decide what’s going to happen in the village next week.’ You have to be careful what you’re saying and what you’re doing. You’ve got to have due diligence. I gave them all copies of the Open Meetings Act, but I can’t read it for them.
“If there was an issue, they haven’t communicated any of those issues with me,” he said. “My door has been open from day one for them to come talk to me.”
Adams, Burr, Guild and Rasmussen did not return messages seeking comment for this story.
As the situation continues to unfold, Rankin wants the village to continue to progress in a positive manner.
“My mindset is that Edmore has so many great things going for it right now,” he said. “We need to move forward as much as possible. We’re doing so many good things here and I want to move us forward. We have so many possibilities and so much to offer.
Another village manager scenario
The situation in Edmore brings to mind a similar case involving a southern Michigan municipality, the village of Dexter in Washtenaw County.
In February 1987, Dexter Village President Paul Bishop informed Village Manager Carl Willoughby — who had been village manager of Dexter for more than five years — that the village would not renew his employment contract and he would become an at-will employee of the village.
In June 1987, Bishop informed Willoughby that his employment with the village was terminated.
However, Willoughby’s attorney then informed Bishop that the termination was ineffective because it failed to comply with the village manager ordinance, which stated that Willoughby could only be removed by a majority vote of the village council at a public meeting with 30 days notice to Willoughby prior to removal by a resolution stating the intention to remove him and the reasons therefore. The village ordinance also gave Willoughby the right to request a public hearing before termination.
The Dexter Village Council then adopted a resolution stating their intention to remove Willoughby, the reason being that Willoughby allegedly “failed to carry out instructions of the village president and council.”
In response, Willoughby sued the village of Dexter, claiming his termination deprived him of liberty and property in violation of the 14th Amendment. He argued that a public employee has a property right in continued employment which cannot be taken away without due process of law.
The case was brought before U.S. District Court, which eventually dismissed Willoughby’s lawsuit in 1989.