One city employee has resigned and three others say they have been told to resign or be fired, according to the Columbia attorney who represents them.
The four employees were placed on administrative leave July 9 and say they have now been given an ultimatum by the city.
Two of the employees, Colleen Spurlock and Kyle Rieman, attended a Columbia City Council meeting June 21 where fellow city employee Ryan Jarrett spoke about “staffing and morale within the city government,” according to a letter to City Manager John Glascock from J. Andrew Hirth of TGH Litigation in Columbia. Jarrett’s presentation also asked for a change in the city’s pay rules for promotions.
Retaliation against public employees who attended or spoke at the meeting “violates the Freedom of Speech and Assembly clauses of the First Amendment,” Hirth’s letter reads.
Spurlock submitted her resignation letter Friday morning after meeting with Glascock and her supervisor Thursday. In the letter, Spurlock said Glascock told her she was “not supporting his decisions.”
Spurlock’s letter indicates she received a call from her supervisor July 9 and was told that Glascock was placing her on administrative leave effective immediately. She said she was also told she could not return to any city property or talk to anyone until asked to return.
In the resignation letter, Spurlock wrote, “I, unfortunately, do not feel myself or other city employees are safe or valued anymore due to the city manager creating a hostile work environment.”
Rieman said he was told he was put on administrative leave because he supported Jarrett at the City Council meeting.
“We think it’s violating the First Amendment,” Hirth’s letter to Glascock said. “We demand that you restore Kyle to his regular position immediately.”
Hirth’s letter also demanded that no retaliatory actions be taken against Rieman or other city employees for attending or speaking at a public forum.
The attorney cited an email from Glascock to city officials that read, “It has been told to me today that the Ryan Jarrett presentation to the June 21 council meeting was an orchestrated play by I.T. and Finance budgeting to have changed the 10% pay rule for promotions.”
According to Glascock’s email, the presentation was planned while Glascock was on vacation. He said he had reviewed the meeting video where he saw that other city employees attended to support Jarrett.
Hirth’s letter adds: “By its own terms, your email shows that the entire I.T. Department is being punished because Mr. Jarrett exercised both his First Amendment right to petition his government for redress of grievances and his statutory right to disclose information to the City Council which he sincerely believed to be evidence of mismanagement, abuse or authority, or waste of public resources.”
When contacted for a response, city spokesperson Sydney Olsen said, “This is a personnel issue, so we are unable to comment at this time.”