A Moline city council member has issued a public apology after city officials alleged recently that former senior staff members were unprofessional, incompetent or destroyed work documents during their employment with the city.
Alderman Dick Potter, Ward 4, apologized Tuesday on behalf of the city to the former employees after Mayor Stephanie Acri, City Attorney Derke Price and Alderman Mike Wendt, Ward 3, alleged in a Feb. 7 Dispatch-Argus and Quad-City Times article that the employees resigned rather than answer questions regarding tax-increment-finance (TIF) district revenue and development projects.
Former Finance Director Kathy Carr, former City Administrator Doug Maxeiner, former City Administrator Lew Steinbrecher and former Planning and Development Director Ray Forsythe were among those named by Wendt, Acri and Price. They've denied wrongdoing.
"I'd like to address comments made recently in committee of the whole (meetings) and articles I've seen in the paper regarding some issues with former staff and other issues with TIF (districts) and 'Project Colossus,' or whatever we're calling it," Potter said. "And I want to publicly let everyone know that I'm distancing myself from this — whatever this program is — the ability to go after former staff and those sorts of things.
"I want to begin by offering a public apology to Kathy Carr for any personal or professional slight she may have felt by comments that have been made or inferences that have been made that she somehow did something wrong. She served this community for a number of years and was a diligent employee above reproach," Potter said.
"(Carr) brought us accounting awards on an annual basis. I'm willing to bet it happened every year she was finance officer."
Wendt alleged in January that Carr mishandled documents prior to her resignation in 2019. As a result of that allegation, Wendt asked the city to update its document-protection policy. Carr firmly denied any allegations of wrongdoing and stood by her decades of service to the city.
Potter accused fellow council members of political motives, drumming up the accusations just before an election, and he said the "willingness" by some council members "to vilify and demean members of our staff is just not healthy. It's going to continue make it difficult for us to attract additional talent, and I want no part of it."
Turnover has been swift in Moline in the past two years, with eight high-level staff departures and numerous other less-senior employees leaving the city. When Maxeiner abruptly resigned in January 2019, Potter attributed his departure to a "near-poisonous atmosphere" between senior staff and some elected officials.
Wendt reacted to Potter's apology after the meeting: "I do not think anything nefarious happened with the destruction of documents," Wendt said, in part, in a text to the newspaper. "But the fact remains, documents that were needed for us to better understand our TIF, working documents, were deleted. ... That is why this body voted unanimously to implement a document-retention ordinance, or ensure that public documents are protected, and to ensure that documents are not destroyed or deleted from the working drives by staff in the future."
Carr said she has not heard from Wendt. She said Wednesday she has always had respect for Potter and appreciated the apology.
"While I wasn't surprised he spoke out on the recent treatment of former employees, I did not expect for Alderman Potter to be the one to issue an apology," Carr said. "His message is sincerely appreciated as I am very proud of my past service to the city."
Carr said the allegations made by Wendt last week were a "painful experience" but "turned out to be an astonishing one due to the dozens of phone calls and text messages I received from current and former employees, friends, neighbors and leaders in the community. It all validates my performance as the former finance director for the city."
Carr retired in May 2019 — four years earlier than she planned — after more than 35 years with the city and 26 years as finance director. She had hoped to retire at the age of 62, with 40 years of service to the city.
"I was not pressured to leave," she said. "After seeing how Doug (Maxeiner), Ray (Forsythe) and (former City Attorney) Maureen (Riggs) were treated, I no longer enjoyed going to work, and life is too short to not enjoy it."