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Top official placed on leave

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By David Giuliani

Mayor Tony Marquez placed Utilities Director George Du Four on leave without pay late Friday afternoon.

It was a move that sparked harsh criticism of Marquez from two City Council members who have traditionally allied themselves with the mayor since he was elected in March.

The mayor didn’t give any public reasons for his decision, and he’s not giving council members any justifications.

In an e-mail to the Optic, Marquez said the council would discuss his decision at “the appropriate time and in the appropriate setting,” which he said was the Feb. 4 council meeting.

“At this council meeting, the community and voters can see where their elected officials stand in regards to this matter and determine if they are a part of the problem or part of the solution,” Marquez said in the e-mail.

In an telephone interview this morning, Marquez said he decided not to pay Du Four while he is on leave on the advice of the city’s attorney, Carlos Quiñones. He said Quiñones mentioned the argument of the state constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits public money from going to private parties without getting something in return.

Du Four said he met with Andrew Quintana, the city’s human resources officer, and Elmer Martinez, one of the city’s two acting city managers, in a meeting around 4 p.m. They presented him with a letter signed by Quintana and the mayor informing him of his immediate suspension without pay. The letter stated that the council can vote on the Marquez’s decision at its next meeting.

The decision to suspend Du Four, who started as utilities director in the fall of 2007, added more turbulence to a city government that has seen plenty of it since voters elected Marquez last March. In June, a council majority fired six of the city’s 10 directors and appointed Sharon Caballero, a former Highlands University president, as director.

Caballero left suddenly last month, accusing the mayor of micromanagement. During much of her term, the city operated with most of the directors’ positions unfilled.

Du Four was one of the four survivors when the council fired the six directors. Marquez said council members Andrew Feldman and Diane Moore lobbied for Du Four, so he decided to keep him on board.

“I didn’t want to reappoint Du Four but did so at the request of Andrew Feldman and Diane Moore,” the mayor said.

• • •

Feldman and Moore, both of whom have joined the mayor on controversial decisions before, criticized Du Four’s suspension.

“Since the election last March, there have been changes at City Hall but very little in the way of progress,” Feldman said in an e-mail, contending that real progress cannot occur with micromanaging and a lack of communication.

He said the Du Four’s suspension was an example of the lack of communication between the mayor and the council.

“I can no longer support the mayor in his actions if they are not in the best interests of the citizens of our city. I am not a blind follower, and I am extremely frustrated with the lack of communication and micromanaging,” Feldman stated.

Moore took the same tone.

“Once again, I am very upset with the actions that Mayor Marquez is making toward the city,” Moore said in an e-mail. “Please understand that I do not agree or support Mayor Marquez in this decision. Until we hire a city manager, I do not see that the mayor-council should be micromanaging the city.”

Moore said she has tried to get details about Du Four’s suspension, but the mayor is not returning her phone calls. The mayor said he called Moore back Sunday afternoon but that she said she couldn’t speak at that time; that would have occurred after Moore’s statement to the Optic.

“This decision should have been discussed in executive session when all councilors could be well-informed to the mayor’s concerns and action,” Moore stated.

Councilman Cruz Roybal said Saturday that he had heard a rumor about Du Four’s suspension but that he couldn’t comment on personnel matters.

Councilman Morris Madrid also said he couldn’t comment on the mayor’s decision. He has been openly critical before of Du Four’s performance.

Marquez said this morning that Moore and Feldman have shown themselves to be micromanagers. He said Feldman has been known to go to City Hall every day.

“If you talk to any staff person at City Hall during Caballero’s tenure, Andrew Feldman was there on an almost daily basis,” Marquez said.

Feldman said he did go to City Hall regularly but that he wasn’t giving orders to staff. He also said that as mayor pro tem, he is required to be at City Hall more often than other council members.

As for Moore, the mayor said her fingerprints were all over the city’s effort to change the purpose of more than $1 million in state funding. That money has been a source of controversy at City Hall over the last few months.

He was referring to e-mails between Moore and Du Four about the state money.

Moore said council members at one time felt comfortable talking with directors. The mayor has since banned such communications, she said.

• • •

Marquez’s decision to suspend Du Four came a little more than a week after the state pulled back the more than $1 million in funding for a city water project. The city had already changed the purpose for the money once, which seemed to irk the state panel that oversees such funding.

Du Four said the effort to change the money’s intent started before Marquez took office and that when Du Four discovered problems associated with the switch, he was told by superiors that the mayor wanted him to hold off on addressing the issues.

When city officials put out a request for proposals in connection with the money, Du Four said, they didn’t run the documents by a state official who was supposed to sign off on them. Du Four said he wanted to show the request to the state official, but he said the mayor ordered to proceed without the approval.

Marquez later acknowledged full responsibility for that error in a private meeting with city staffers, Du Four said.

In a meeting between Du Four and Marquez on Dec. 5, the mayor grilled the utilities director about what type of connections he had with Carlos Gallegos, an influential local businessman, Du Four said. Gallegos worked behind the scenes to get the city to change the purpose of the state money so as to build a sewer line in north Las Vegas, which would benefit Gallegos’ planned development in that area.

Du Four said he told the mayor that he didn’t have any type of relationship with Gallegos, but the mayor didn’t believe him and continued to question the director for more than two hours. He said the mayor accused him of walking out of a City Council meeting at the same time as Gallegos, suspecting that the two were holding private discussions.

At one point, Marquez said he would review all of Du Four phone records to see if he had any contact with Gallegos, Du Four said.

Near the end of the meeting, Du Four said he told the mayor, “I have nothing to do with Carlos Gallegos. I’ve told you this for over two hours. I don’t know where he lives. I haven’t called him. You’re carrying this too far.”

Du Four said this meeting created a lot of stress for him. Six days later, Du Four went to the emergency room at the hospital because of dangerously high blood pressure.

“I should have been dead,” he said.

One day after that, then-City Manager Sharon Caballero resigned. At the time, she told the Optic that the stress that the mayor was placing on Du Four could have contributed to the director’s medical emergency. She said she didn’t want to go down the same path.

Feldman confirmed that Du Four told him about the Dec. 5 meeting with the mayor shortly after it happened.

In an e-mail, the mayor declined to respond to Du Four’s account of the Dec. 5 meeting.

“I cannot comment on allegations by a disgruntled employee facing disciplinary action,” Marquez said.

In their own words

Councilman Andrew Feldman on Saturday night:

Since the election last March, there have been changes at city hall but very little in the way of progress. Regarding the issue of the suspension without pay of George Du Four, utility director, this is an example of the lack of communication between the mayor and council. It is unclear if any of the council members were informed of the reason(s) for the suspension; I know I was not. The function of the mayor and council is to set policy and carry out the vision for the city. However, real progress cannot occur with micromanaging and a lack of communication.

I can no longer support the mayor in his actions if they are not in the best interests of the citizens of our city. I am not a blind follower, and I am extremely frustrated with the lack of communication and micromanaging; I sincerely hope that changes.

Mayor Tony Marquez on Sunday morning:

George Du Four was placed on leave without pay on Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 — effective 5 p.m.

The personnel matter will be discussed at the appropriate time and in the appropriate setting (next city council meeting).

At this council meeting, the community and voters can see where their elected officials stand in regards to this matter and determine if they are part of the problem or part of the solution.

I can’t comment on allegations made by a disgruntled employee facing disciplinary action.

Councilwoman Diane Moore on Sunday afternoon:

Once again, I am very upset with the actions that Mayor Marquez is making toward the city. The mayor did leave a brief voice mail and e-mail on the action HE took with the Utility Director George Du Four. Since then, I have tried to call him to get more details on his reasons, but the Mayor is not answering his phone and has not returned any of my messages.

Please understand that I do not agree or support Mayor Marquez in this decision. Until we hire a city manager, I do not see that the mayor/council should be micro-managing the city.

This decision that was made should have been discussed in executive session when all councilors could be well-informed to the mayor’s concerns and action.