The Town of Fort Smith has suffered yet another employee casualty with the firing of the town’s senior administrative officer (SAO).
Fort Smith town councillors voted unanimously to fire SAO Brenda Black from her position last Wednesday, June 6, naming her “management style” as the reason.
“It was felt by council that Ms. Black’s management style did not meet some of the values and goals that we had, and it’s imperative that this work go forward,” said Mayor Janie Hobart.
Hobart said Black’s performance did not match the council’s “Visions, Values and Goals” established in 2010 and reaffirmed in 2011. When asked for specific items that were violated, Hobart responded that Black had done so “in general.”
All councillors, except Sheila Sauteur-Chadwick, who has been on leave for the last six months, were present for the vote, according to the mayor.
Hobart said town policy dictates that more detailed information related to personnel matters cannot be made public.
The letter notifying Black of her termination said she was being let go “without cause.” Black said the decision came with no warning and was a “total shock,” considering her performance review from last November was supportive and complementary, stating that she was “an extremely dedicated employee” and “the epitome of positivity.”
“I tried so hard. I worked really hard for the town,” she told The Journal. “I am seeking the advice of legal counsel and will likely take legal action for wrongful dismissal. I don’t think I am being treated fairly.”
Black said she suspects the decision had to do with disagreements she had been having with the mayor. She said “interference” from Hobart had long been a problem.
“It was impossible to do my job well,” Black said.
Black said she appealed to council to deal with the issue, but no action was taken.
“I went to them to tell them that things weren’t working, that nothing was getting accomplished, and asked for help,” she said. “There was no action, nothing was done. Now they are doing this to me.”
Black told The Journal that Hobart had attempted to extend her probation period past the standard six months to a year, but council had refused and voted to end her probation last November.
About 30 municipal employees, including a number of senior managers, have come and gone through town hall during the tenure of this mayor and council.
Black was a member of the town’s negotiating team involved in the current dispute with the Union of Northern Workers Local 02, which represents municipal services employees in Fort Smith.
Employees have threatened strike action over the issue of contracting services to private industry. Hobart said they will reorganize the negotiating team.
“We will have to change who the members of our team are, but we will continue to move forward and work with the union to see if we can have the union negotiations come to a positive ending soon,” she said. “ We’re meeting with the lawyer that is our negotiator in the next few days to see what our moving-forward point is.”
Dwayne Woodward, who was recently hired as director of municipal services, will perform as acting SAO in the interim.