By Teri VanLieshout
Dear Sturgeon Bay City Council and Personnel Committee,
I am writing with reference to the proposed action to terminate Josh VanLieshout’s employment contract on Tuesday, 7/17/18, with the City of Sturgeon Bay. As a city resident, I have submitted my comments to my alderperson, Laurel Hauser. I will share my thoughts with the rest of you via this letter. I am also Josh’s wife. I would respectfully ask that you take time to consider these thoughts before the weighty action on Tuesday. I thank you for your time and consideration.
- Is negligence or poor work performance the issue? Is there a good reason for this termination?
While I know you can’t discuss specifics, are there job performance issues in question? To my knowledge, from what Josh has said regarding the overwhelming support from his department heads, he’s been doing a good job. People tell me how much they like having Josh work for the city—citizens and employees alike. What is the nature of the issues involved? Why do you need, “a new direction” with the city administrator? Consider this: his position is not supposed to be political. He is not elected. He’s there to manage the city, not to make political statements or to “take sides.” He serves the council, the mayor, and the City’s interests. He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place when citizens, the council, and the mayor don’t get along.
- What will this accomplish?
What do you think terminating Josh’s employment with the City will accomplish? Do you have a person in mind to succeed him? What do you think he/she will do that Josh isn’t doing as city administrator?
- Do you have a plan for next steps? What do you want in a city administrator?
What will be your “litmus test(s)” for a new administrator? Are you looking for him/her to share your opinion on key issues? What are those issues? Can you only work with people who share your opinion or can you work with a diverse set of people?
- Have you considered how this action affects morale at the City?
Do you know this action is prompting a mass exodus of talent? People who have been working for the City for years are actively seeking other employment. Many feel unsafe. People are demoralized by this proposed action. They are scared. They wonder who is next. Again, what will this accomplish? Is the talent and experience lost, in the meantime, worth it?
- Who is next?
Are you going to terminate and re-hire all department heads? What are your criteria for terminating employment? Do you have criteria?
- Is this action open and transparent?
Is this action proposed for Tuesday, July 17, 2018 an example of “open and transparent” government in action? Why can’t you tell the public what the main issues are (at least in general) before action is taken? You could say, for example, if there are work performance issues. I thought with this new majority in place on the council, open and transparent government was going to be the way things were done. How is this transparent and open, in your eyes?
- How does this represent “a new spirit of cooperation?”
The banner on the grainary reads, “A New Spirit of Cooperation.” How does this action represent cooperation? It looks to me like “adopt my political agenda or you’ll be fired.”
- This affects the life and trajectory of our family. Please take that into consideration.
Finally, please consider our family. I do know the City employs a person and not a family, and it’s not the City’s job to worry about us as a family unit. Nonetheless, we are part of this community—all of us. We will not likely be able to stay in our home if this action is taken. We will likely have to find work elsewhere. I want you to really consider this before action is taken on Tuesday. We have two daughters, Arry (14) and June (10) who attend Sturgeon Bay Schools. They have attended schools here since pre-K. They love it here. They love their friends. They love their teachers. Arry is so excited to play in the Sturgeon Bay marching band this fall. Josh has served as soccer coach and has been involved in our church life. I have been involved in numerous activities within this city over our years here, from being involved with our church to leading our local Breastfeeding Support Group for many years. I was planning on working for Sturgeon Bay Schools in the fall. I love this school district—it is excellent. I want to continue my work here. We love our church. We love our friends. We love our community. Sturgeon Bay is our home. We hoped to close out our careers here and finish raising our family here. This is heartbreaking. While I understand you employ a person and not a family, I ask for you to have some compassion and empathy for how your actions will affect our family. Is this really necessary? Is it really worth it?
So many people have reached out to us and have said they are outraged and shocked at this action. They tell us they are so sorry and hope we don’t have to leave. How do you think the public will react to this action? We are supported by many in the community. Elections have consequences, and so do actions like this one. The people of Sturgeon Bay will remember this.
Please be thoughtful about this decision on Tuesday, as it is consequential and important. I would ask that you not terminate Josh’s employment with the City, but rather pledge to work with him. I know he’s willing to work with you.
Thank you for your time in considering these questions and comments. I appreciate it. If you have a chance to reply or talk to me in person, I would appreciate that also. My contact information is below my signature.
Sturgeon Bay, WI