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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

City manager gets the ax in Monroe

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - When C.D. "Al" Cappuccilli announced in the fall that he would seek to regain the mayor's office for a seventh time, he said one of his first initiatives would be to replace City Manager Debbie Manns.

He won the Nov. 8 election over incumbent John Iacoangeli, his bitter rival, by 14 votes. Last month, at his swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Cappuccilli, appeared to back off his earlier statement about Ms. Manns, saying he was going to appoint a committee to study the matter.

No committee was ever formed and, on Monday night, Mr. Cappuccilli and four members of City Council who supported his candidacy surprised everyone present in council chambers, including the city manager, by voting to terminate Ms. Manns. After the 5-2 decision, the city manager was escorted from council chambers by police Chief John Michrina, who has been named acting city manager until an interim replacement is named.

"Things have changed since I came in," Mr. Cappuccilli said yesterday. "I had that feeling that she really wasn't with the new administration."

Ms. Manns could not be reached for comment last night.

Earlier, after Mr. Cappuccilli said he wanted to terminate her, she said, "I am bitterly disappointed that someone would have so little regard for the contributions I have made."

Dorothy Edwards, one of two City Council members who voted to retain Ms. Manns, was livid at the way in which the vote took place, saying the motion, made by Councilman William Burkett and supported by John Martin, took her by surprise.

"I thought it stunk," she said. "I did not have a clue [this was happening]. I don't like this undercover stuff."

At the meeting, the only reason given for Ms. Manns' dismissal was that, according to the terms of her contract, she could be terminated without cause.

"You can do that at anytime with or without notice," Mr. Cappuccilli said.

Ms. Manns was hired in June, 2004, after a six-month search conducted by the Iacoangeli administration. She replaced Robert Hamilton, who retired in December, 2003, one month after Mr. Iacoangeli was elected, having defeated then-incumbent Mr. Cappuccilli by 12 votes.

Mr. Iacoangeli, who knew Ms. Manns, a former Southgate, Mich. administrator, wanted to appoint her as interim city manager, but City Council rejected the request.

Mr. Iacoangeli said yesterday he was not surprised by Ms. Manns' dismissal.

"But I was surprised it came so fast and for no apparent reason," he said. "She was a good city administrator. She had good evaluations. She was well-liked by the business community and the unions. She worked well with the constituents. It was an Al issue. It was because she was hired during my administration. That was the bottom line."

Ms. Edwards and Councilman Linda Compora, an Iacoangeli supporter who repeatedly has clashed with Mr. Cappuccilli since he took office, believe the mayor, and council members Mr. Burkett, Mr. Martin, Brian Beneteau, and Ed Paisley orchestrated Monday's scenario prior to the meeting.

"It's hard for me to believe that no one knew or talked about this ahead of time," Ms. Compora said.

But the mayor said he was surprised by Mr. Burkett's motion to terminate Ms. Manns, as was Mr. Beneteau.

"I absolutely had no knowledge [of it]," Mr. Beneteau said.

Mr. Beneteau, a first-term councilman who ran on a Cappuccilli ticket with Mr. Burkett, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Paisley, said he had no problem with Ms. Manns and was supposed to have lunch with her yesterday.

"I voted to [terminate her] because I believe it was in the best interest of council and the city. There has to be [compatibility] between the mayor and the city manager, and I didn't see that taking place so we couldn't move forward," he said.

Ms. Compora said she visited with Ms. Manns in her office Monday night at 7, just before the meeting.

"She always had chocolate," Ms. Compora said.

Later, after Ms. Manns was fired and escorted out of council chambers, Ms. Compora followed her and Chief Michrina back to Ms. Manns' office, where she was allowed to collect her personal belongings. By that time, according to Ms. Compora, Ms. Manns no longer had access to her computer files.

"She was already locked out," Ms. Compora said.

Mr. Iacoangeli said that Ms. Manns' contract stipulates that she receive three months salary and six months of benefits upon termination.

Mr. Cappuccilli said he would be contacting the Michigan Municipal League to request that it appoint an interim city manager. A selection process for a permanent city manager will ensue quickly, he said.

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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