By Steve Hansen
QCS managing editor
The Tucumcari City Commission plans to revisit the firing of City Manager Doug Powers, according to the agenda for Thursday’s regular commission meeting.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at Tucumcari City Hall.
On the agenda, there is an item under “New Business” that is worded “Consideration of Reinstatement of Employment of Doug Powers.”
Commissioner Robert Lumpkin placed the item on the agenda, he said, and he intends at that time to “talk about the pros and cons of Doug Powers, the pros and cons of dismissing him and try to get it (Powers’ dismissal) corrected. I have information to support my intent to reinstate him.”
The commission voted 3-2 at its previous meeting on Sept. 26 to fire Powers as city manager in a move that was not previously announced or discussed in any other meetings of the council, whether in public or in executive session. Commissioner Jimmy Sandoval moved that Powers be fired. Commissioners Dora Salinas-McTigue and Ernie Dominguez voted with Sandoval for the dismissal. Mayor Amiel Curnutt and Commissioner Robert Lumpkin voted against the motion.
McTigue could not be reached Tuesday for comment about the reinstatement attempt. Sandoval would not comment about the dismissal.
When contacted Tuesday, Dominguez said, “It’s a personnel matter. I have no comment at this time.”
The vote came during the “Items from Commissioners” portion of the meeting, during which items are usually brought up for discussion only. The wording of the agenda item also did not mention firing, only “communications” between the manager and the commission.
A few days after the meeting, City Attorney Randy Knudson said in a letter that while dismissing a city manager, even without cause, is a privilege of the council, Powers’ termination was done in a way that leaves the city open to liability. Knudson said the matter should have been placed on the agenda under an area in which voting is allowed by usual council procedure. Further, he said, Powers should have been informed that such action against him was being contemplated before the vote occurred.
“Comments from City Attorney Randy Knudson” is also on the agenda for Thursday’s commission meeting under “New Business.”
After the meeting in which Powers was fired, McTigue said the commission majority voted to dismiss Powers because of issues at the city’s wastewater treatment facility and because the city had allowed other communities to use its landfill facility for trash dumping. The new landfill’s first “cell,” or section, she said, had filled prematurely because the city is taking garbage from other communities.
Commissioner Dominguez echoed McTigue’s concerns and said there had been poor communications between Powers and some members of the commission. Commissioner Sandoval said immediately after the meeting that Powers was fired for “nonperformance.” He would not comment on Powers’ dismissal on Tuesday.
Because of the filling of the first landfill cell, Tucumcari is now hauling trash to Clovis for disposal at a cost between $200 and $230 per truckload, according to Alex Arias, the city’s superintendent of streets and sanitation.
The city’s acting wastewater treatment plant manager, Michael Rivera, had urged the commission earlier in the Sept. 26 meeting to take action related to replacement or repair of non-operating equipment, manpower, maintenance budgeting, and problems related to effluents that enter the plant that interfere with the action of bacteria in the treatment process.
On the landfill issue, Lumpkin said the city’s new landfill east of town was designed to be a regional facility, because Tucumcari earns substantial revenue by taking refuse from other communities, including Santa Rosa, Guadalupe County and San Jon. In fact, he said, revenues from other cities are financing much of the nearly $500,000 being expended to build a new cell. The first cell filled prematurely, Lumpkin said, largely because of a malfunctioning compactor, which is not adequately reducing the volume of trash that is buried in the landfill.
Since the Sept. 26 meeting, a group called the Committee to Reinstate Doug Powers as City Manager and Mayor Curnutt have placed an advertisement in the Quay County Sun to urge that Powers be re-instated and defend Powers’ record of achievement as a city employee.