Candidate for city manager reportedly had past issues on the job

Published 8:02 pm Friday, July 12, 2019

One of the three finalists for Albert Lea city manager separated with his previous employer over a year ago after the town’s leaders brought 10 complaints against him.

In a March 28, 2018, meeting, the Northfield, Massachusetts, town governing board known as a Selectboard identified 10 complaints brought against Willie Morales, who was the administrator at the time, including improperly accessing hundreds of emails on the town server, using an inappropriate tone and response in emails, raising his voice and using profanity in a phone call with one of the board members, leaving a copy of the police chief’s employment agreement with the salary highlighted on a table in a local market, and failing to provide information and documents relevant to upcoming board meetings in a timely manner, among others, according to an article in the Greenfield Recorder.

After that meeting, the board began discussions for a separation with Morales, and he later that week was placed on paid administrative leave.

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In a March 30, 2018, article in the Recorder, Morales said the complaints brought against him by the Selectboard were the result of the police chief’s personal animosity against him, and he denied leaking the employment contract.

Morales said there had been three instances in which the police chief attempted to circumvent his authority regarding the police department’s decisions on recruitment. The chief reportedly obtained permission from the board chairwoman to contact the former town administrator, who had dealt with some of the issues that were at hand before, because he felt the former administrator had more experience than Morales and that he would receive quality advice and guidance.

The Selectboard complained Morales had improperly retrieved emails regarding the police chief and former administrator from the town server.

“I escalated to an email retrieval because I felt that there was an interference in the relationship between the chief and me by my predecessor,” Morales said in the article. He said it was within the scope of his job to access the emails.

The access to police emails drew scrutiny from the town and led the police chief to reach out to state agencies and the FBI regarding whether the incident violated federal law. The town’s email policy has since been revised.

Morales had worked in that position since July 2017.

Before working in Northfield, Morales worked in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, as a part-time administrator for about one year, and had stepped down when the Northfield job, which offered full-time hours, became available. He reportedly left Sandisfield on good terms.

Morales also reportedly served concurrently as part-time town administrator in nearby Monterey, Massachusetts, but after about three months on the job resigned for “personal reasons,” according to the Berkshire Eagle. The Selectboard there had requested he agree to an informal three-month review halfway through his probationary period.

“I will not submit myself to an unscheduled and unwarranted three-month evaluation,” Morales wrote to the board on Feb. 17, according to the Eagle.

He submitted his resignation a week later.

Prior to his time in Sandisfield and Monterey, Morales worked in Hudson, Iowa, from 2013 to 2015, starting first as an intern.

The other two finalists vying for the Albert Lea city manager job are David Todd and Adam Thompson.

Todd has been the Pine Island city administrator since 2015 and prior to that was the city administrator for Lanesboro and a police sergeant/patrol supervisor for Maryville, Missouri, for 11 years.

Thompson has worked as the director of economic development of the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce in Muscatine, Iowa, since June 2018, before previously working as the Muscatine community development coordinator for nearly five years.

In his current job, he coordinates new and existing business and retention projects and works with local governments and community leaders in planning and implementing community or economic development projects, according to the Muscatine Journal.

Prior to his jobs in Muscatine, he was the Brownfields Program coordinator in Coralville, Iowa, for over one year. The program accesses, cleans up and facilitates the development of potentially contaminated properties.

A fourth finalist, Brent Clark, former city administrator of Grand Island, Nebraska, withdrew his name earlier this week after accepting another position.

Candidates are slated to come to town Wednesday and meet with members of the public during an open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Edgewater Pavilion. The candidates will also take tours of the city and have interviews with city staff and the Albert Lea City Council on Wednesday and Thursday.