NEGAUNEE - Several friends and supporters of Negaunee city treasurer Lisa Peterson spoke out during public comment at the Negaunee City Council meeting Thursday about what they said was unfair treatment of Peterson by city manager Jeff Thornton.
On more than one occasion, speakers were asked to step down from the podium or be removed by Negaunee City Police Department officer Lori Downs for repeatedly making what Mayor Keith LaCosse called "personal attacks" on Thornton.
The complaints stem from a Nov. 26 special meeting at which Thornton, while discussing personnel issues, told the council he'd met with Peterson "in an attempt to address several performance issues with her and her union representative," according to the meeting minutes. "Due to the demeanor of (Peterson) she was placed on suspension."
At the same meeting, the council unanimously approved a motion to allow Thornton to "pursue resolution in accordance to the collective bargaining agreement and allow him to remove (Peterson) if resolution cannot be achieved to his satisfaction."
Because the situation is ongoing and still being resolved through the union, Thornton said he was unable to discuss the specifics of any problems with Peterson's job performance.
Danielle DeRosia-Faccio, a friend of Peterson, said Peterson is a person of integrity, honest and forthright and one of the most level-headed people that she knows.
"That leaves me to question the report of the city manager," she said. "That report does not conform with my personal knowledge of Lisa's character."
Kim Klein said he's always found Peterson to be a person of strong ethics and cited information he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act regarding Thornton's personnel files and performance evaluations in 2008 and 2009 while Thornton was county coordinator for downstate Alpena County.
One performance evaluation from May 2009 said that Thornton "needs to improve peer level relationships and understanding or having empathy with differences that come up."
Thornton said later in the meeting that Klein had essentially cherry-picked convenient information in order to make him look bad, and that the referenced evaluation was from only one of the eight people on the Alpena County Board.
He said he had a copy of all of his employee evaluations, not just those convenient to Klein, and offered to make them available if council members wanted to see them. He said he'd been given a glowing review of his job performance before leaving to take the city manager post in Negaunee.
At the podium, Klein started to go through Thornton's evaluation line by line before LaCosse struck the gavel multiple times and told Klein he had made his point.
"Point of order!" several council members finally said.
"Time to sit down," Downs told Klein.
Several Peterson supporters also spoke during the second public comment section at the end of the meeting, with similar results.
Peter Dompierre, who addressed the council about the city's snow removal and utility deposit issues, said he was "shocked and dismayed" about the lack of respect shown for Klein while he was speaking.
"I saw the minutes of the meeting where Ms. Peterson was called on the carpet in a public meeting and I think publicly defamed by the city manager, and I think it's hypocritical of this council to dismiss somebody from this podium who has a Constitutional right to seek redress from their public officials over an issue that's a matter of public record," Dompierre said.
LaCosse said that he ruled some of the speakers out of order because the rules of the public comment session prohibit personal attacks unrelated to job performance or job duties, or discussion of grievances and discipline.
Thornton said he in no way intended to defame Peterson at the Nov. 26 meeting, and said he is required by the city charter to bring any dispute to the city council.
He referenced the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act, which provides review for disciplinary action and mediation of grievances for public employees.
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.