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Marine City Commission terminates its city manager, Holly Tatman

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube Marine City Manager Holly Tatman was fired by a majority of the Marine City Commission at a Jan. 16 meeting.

Police Chief Jim Heaslip, appointed as interim city manager 

By Barb Pert Templeton

Outrageous.

That’s how Marine City Commissioner Jacob Bryson described the recent decision, by a majority of the city commission, to oust City Manager Holly Tatman. Her contract with the city was terminated after just 18 months of service.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube
Police Chief Jim Heaslip

The Jan. 16 meeting had Tatman dismissed in a 4 to 3 vote of the commission. Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick and commissioners Rita Roehrig, William Klaassen and Mike Hilferink voted in favor of the firing, while Mayor Jennifer Vandenbossche and commissioners Brian Ross and Bryson voted against it. 

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The issue was placed under “closed session” on the commission agenda but Tatman exercised her right to have the matter discussed in public. The agenda notion read in part: To consider the dismissal, suspension, or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, or to consider a periodic personnel evaluation of, a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual agent.

The mayor introduced the topic by saying she’d been approached by some commissioners who stated they had lost confidence in the city manager.  

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube Marine City Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick made the motion to terminate the contract of City Manager Holly Tatman. 

Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick then made the motion to terminate Tatman and offered a list of her short comings. It included:

  • Not carrying out the duties and functions as outlined in the city charter
  • Not keeping the commissioners adequately advised on the business of the city
  • Not communicating in a timely, professional manner with the members of the commission
  • Not dealing effectively and openly with the public in a fair and equitable way
  • Not carrying out the policy directions of the commission as a whole

Hendrick’s motion was seconded by Hilferink. 

Vandenbossche asked if the commissioners would consider giving the city manager some time to address things on an evaluation list and Hendrick said no.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube Marine City Commissioner Jacob Bryson was outraged by the commissions’ decision to fire City Manager Holly Tatman.

Leaving room for wrongful termination

Prior to a vote, Bryson expressed outrage at the idea that the commission would dismiss an employee who has never, “not once” been disciplined by the board or written up for any alleged contract infractions. He stated that he was having a hard time even seeing any grounds for termination; you usually give someone some chances to fix whatever you think is wrong, Bryson said. 

“Forgive me but this sounds to me like just asking for a wrongful termination suit, I can promise you that,” Bryson said. “We have a city manager, well-liked and respected by her peers and subordinates, what do you think that does for the people working for her, they are going to be jumping ship left and right.” 

Bryson also asked for specific incidents and dates for Tatman’s cause for dismissal.

“I gave you the terms,” Hendrick said.

“That’s not enough I want examples,” Bryson said.

“That’s all you’re getting,” Hendrick replied.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube
Former Marine City Mayor Cheryl Vercammen spoke out during public comments at the Jan. 16 meeting sharing her thoughts about how removal of the city manager was due to a vendetta and displaying a not-so-subtle message on her paperwork.

Hilferink then interjected that he wants to remind people that the main goal is to work as a team and they need that in the city right now. He said that’s all he would say on advice of the city Attorney Robert Davis but Davis quickly pointed out that any “advice” he shared was simply what was laid out in the city charter. 

Ross reminded the commission that the auditing firm, who stepped in to keep the books when a previous city treasurer resigned, stressed the need to keep the current city staff intact. 

“I fear immensely for the city going forward should we dismiss anybody on the staff,” Ross aid. “In short, a vote yes is a vote to move the city backwards.”

Tatman addresses her critics

Prior to the vote Tatman was allowed to share some thoughts. She said since the new commission, three new members were elected in November, had only been at two meetings with her and had yet to work on any projects with her, they would be dismissing her without even giving her a chance. It appeared there was an intention to get rid of her by the incoming commissioners from the onset, she added. 

Tatman then expressed gratitude for the people who spoke on her behalf and wrote letters to the commission. 

“I think the city is going in a great direction, I think this is a great town that has a lot of potential,” Tatman said. “But I don’t think you’re giving this a chance; if that’s the route you want to take there’s nothing that I’m going to say up here to change your mind.” 

The bottom line for Tatman was that she wasn’t even being given an opportunity to work with the commission and its new members. 

“I don’t think that I have done anything wrong,” Tatman said. “I have surpassed all the expectations put in front of me; I’ve done nothing wrong except bust my butt for this community for the last year and a half. I’m passionate about public service, it’s what I do, it’s who I am and will continue to do so in a place that wants me.”

Public comments plentiful

The meeting actually began with over an hour of public comments, many in favor of retaining Tatman. 

Resident Joe Moran said that over the last eight and a half years he has served on five committees and chaired four of them. He worked closely with city managers to set agendas, develop information and move projects forward.

“With our previous city manager, I found I had to frequently push to get things done often completing her job to get things to fruition,” Moran said. “I’ve not had to do any pushing or drafting with our current city administrator she’s always on top of whatever is needed for our current projects and incredibly intuitive and proactive in finding ways to move things forward. She’s actually excited about her job.”

He said Marine City is experiencing the most positive period in the last ten years and the many grants that have been lined up might fall away without Tatman at the helm.

Former Mayor Cheryl Vercammen stepped to the microphone and called for residents and business owners to stand up against ‘the crooked city commission and mayor who are trying to terminate the best city manager Marine City has had in a long time.’

“How do you fight against hate?  How do you fight against personal vendettas?” Vercammen said, noting she gave five years of public service to the city as a commissioner and mayor.

“I’ve had to fight against the hate machine all that time,” Vercammen said. “There has been a plan in place to completely control Marine City government and that plan starts tonight with a threat to terminate our city manager, Holly Tatman.”

She added that the city manager had never received any disciplinary action, never had a written or verbal warning about job performance and has never even received an evaluation.

At the conclusion of public comments, City Clerk Shannon Adams read several letters of support for the city manager into the record.

The vote to dismiss Tatman, which came in the final minutes of the four-hour meeting, was followed by chants of “cowards” and “bullies” from the audience.

Commissioner Roehrig then read a prepared document that said an interim city manager had to be appointed and suggested Police Chief Jim Heaslip. Along with his appointment officials approved a plan to initiate security measures for all accounts and equipment related to the position. 

Hendrick then read a document explaining the need to establish a committee to conduct interviews for the new city manager. The committee will include the interim city manager, two commissioners and one city resident. Commissioners Ross and Bryson volunteered to be on the committee.  

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