The Sunnyside City Council will be holding a public hearing regarding the termination of former City Manager Frank Sweet during a special meeting on Wednesday, April 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center.
Sweet requested the hearing as allowed by law. The hearing will allow Sweet to reply to his removal and will also give the public a chance to voice opinions.
Sweet was hired by the city in March 2012 despite vigorous arguments from the public.
Some citizens expressed concern during council meetings that the city was moving too quickly to replace retiring City Manager Mark Gervasi. Citizens also questioned the expense of hiring Sweet when Gervasi had stated he was willing to stay on as interim city manager while the city searched for his replacement.
Sweet did have some support among the public, however, and quickly garnered more respect because of his prompt response to citizen complaints. Members of committees that work with the city complimented Sweet on his open-door policy.
One of the first points of contention arose before Sweet's first month on the job was completed, when Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder retired. Sweet did not appoint an interim police chief, saying the job of the deputy chief was to step up in the absence of a chief, and indicated that filling the position would take some time due to its importance. Almost a year later, the position is still vacant.
In April 2012,, the deputy city manager and chief financial officer of Sunnyside, Byron Olson, resigned.
While much of the city staff seemed content with Sweet's leadership, he ruffled some feathers in May 2012 when he proposed a policy prohibiting public employees from taking home city vehicles. Exceptions were later made to the policy for some employees.
Sweet also insisted that the city council follow the rules during workshop meetings. In recent years the council had started to conduct regular business during workshop meetings, but Sweet asked council to put an end to the practice.
Sweet also added a new agenda item to council meetings to allow council to hear from department heads during each meeting.
An issue with Sunnyside's Promise led to growing public concern with Sweet's leadership. The problem, which Sweet described as an accounting issue, led to Sunnyside's Promise cutting back its planned activities at the community center.
The division between Sweet and the police department was widened in July 2012 when Sweet fired the police chief's administrative assistant.
Also in July, Sweet rejected an interlocal agreement with the Port of Sunnyside to run the Sunnyside Municipal Airport that had been in the works for years. Sweet told the airport advisory board that the city would try to run the airport itself and that an agreement in the future was still possible.
Sweet also started to sort out the city's finances in July to prepare for the 2013 budget. A government audit showed significant problems with the way the city conducted its financial operations, but the auditors praised the cooperation they received from city staff, including Sweet.
A report about the Sunnyside Police Department, commissioned by the council in 2011 from MGT of America, was finally released to the public by Sweet, also in July.
Sweet made a point of attending as many committee and board meetings as possible to hear first-hand what issues the city faced. After attending meetings of the Sunnyside Museum Board, Sweet made sure much-needed repairs were made to the roof of the building.
In early August the city staff finished a human resources policy that had been in progress for quite some time. Human Resource Director Anna Bullock told city council that Sweet had made finishing the document a priority.
On Aug. 14, 2012, the city council voted to offer Sweet a permanent position based on the work he'd accomplished so far. A committee was formed that night to negotiate the contract.
After that council meeting, Sweet returned home and was arrested that night for allegedly stealing property from the city of Selah when he left employment there shortly before coming to Sunnyside.
Despite the charges against him, the Sunnyside City Council decided to stand behind Sweet and allowed him to continue as interim city manager, but did not pursue the permanent contract. Sweet is still awaiting trial on the charges from Selah.
Sweet opened a can of worms when he approved holding the Tri-Chamber Social at Centennial Square despite the inclusion of alcohol at the event. After much discussion, the council approved an exception to the rule prohibiting alcohol in city parks for the chamber event and eventually passed a resolution allowing alcohol at a limited number of events held at city parks each year.
In September 2012 Sweet fired the assistant financial director, Amy Palmer, who had been hired by the city shortly before Sweet was hired. Palmer had been acting as the city's financial director since Olson had left.
Sweet accepted a deal with a volunteer group to run the city's parks and recreation department.
Sweet and the city council eventually came up with a balanced budget for 2013, but council members, staff and citizens all expressed dismay with some of the cuts and raises in utility tax rates.
The search for a new police chief started in October and eventually was narrowed down to two candidates at the end of 2012. However, one of the candidates withdrew after accepting a job with another city and the process was restarted. In the second round of applications, Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck applied for the position at the urging of some local citizens.
Less than a day after the news broke that Schenck was applying for the police chief position further news broke that he had been fired by Sweet. An apparent letter of termination was delivered to Schenck. While Sweet claimed it was a warning letter, the city council took swift action and terminated Sweet's contract with the city.
During the meeting in which Sweet was terminated, Mayor Mike Farmer resigned from the council. The final vote to terminate was 4-2.