A new lawsuit against the city of Columbia resulting from the purge of four employees last summer by former City Manager John Glascock casts an unflattering description of the work environment at city hall.
Former city budget officer Kyle Rieman, who was fired by Glascock last July, filed suit against the city earlier this month, seeking a jury trial for wrongful discharge, claiming retaliation by the city manager for reporting his unlawful conduct.
The suit describes a “furious” Glascock, who returned from vacation to learn that Rieman and three other city employees had gone to the city council to raise concerns about a city ordinance that limits salary increases. The suit alleges that Glascock accused Rieman of orchestrating a “coup” with employees of the city’s Information Technology (IT) Department to get the ordinance amended while Glascock was out of town. In the ensuing days, Glascock cancelled a business trip that Rieman had planned, defunded IT department positions from the city budget, put all four employees on administrative leave and asked for their resignations. All complied but Rieman, who chose the firing.
One of the resignations was Colleen Spurlock, a city management fellow and Rieman’s domestic partner. The wrongful termination suit she filed in January was dismissed in June by Boone County Circuit Court Judge J. Hasbrouck Jacobs “without prejudice,” which leaves her free to file a subsequent suit based on the same grounds. Columbia attorney J. Andrew Hirth, who represents both Spurlock and Rieman, said that is their intent.
“That case is far from over,” Hirth said. “We’ll either re-file it or appeal it. If we amend it, re-file and it’s dismissed again, it will make the record a little cleaner and I’m fairly confident it would be reversed at the court of appeals. Her case will come back one way or another.”
Hirth said Judge Jacobs likely ruled out of “judicial economy” over a state statute involved in the case that was amended in 2018 and has very little existing case law, therefore likely to be appealed by either side. Reiman’s case is also scheduled before Judge Jacobs.
Both cases began with city employees’ concern over a city ordinance that limits the pay raise of a promoted employee at 10%. This “ten percent rule” can result in a promoted employee earning a significantly less starting salary in their new job than an equally qualified candidate that comes from outside city government. This is believed to have a negative impact on retention and morale of city employees.
Rieman and other members of the finance and human resources departments drafted language to amend the ordinance, but Glascock declined to take the proposed amendment to the city council for approval. At the council meeting with Glascock out of town, Ryan Jarrett, an IT department employee used the public comment portion of the meeting to inform council of the impact the ten percent rule was having on his career, employee retention and morale.
Rieman attended the meeting, along with several other city employees, including then IT Director Jim Chapdelaine and IT Infrastructure Manager Kim Chick. None of them spoke at the meeting. Spurlock was required to attend all city council meetings as part of her job, and did not sit with Rieman and the IT employees.
The day after Glascock got back from vacation, he denied a pending travel request from Rieman to attend an annual professional conference with several other city employees – one of them Spurlock, purportedly because city policy prohibits married or romantically involved employees from traveling together. However, a check with HR confirmed that no such policy exists. This led to Rieman and Spurlock reporting to then HR Director Rick Enyard that Glascock’s denial of Rieman’s travel request was under false pretenses and really in retaliation to Rieman’s attendance at the council meeting.
That same afternoon, Glascock sent an email to Finance Director Matthew Lue removing four new positions from the IT department budget – specifically because he disapproved of “these types of actions by staff, let alone a director.”
The next day, Glascock handed Rieman a memo stating that he was being placed on indefinite administrative leave, was barred from city property, and was not to discuss his suspension “or any other city business” with any other city employee. Chapdelaine, Chick and Spurlock were also suspended. Spurlock says she did not receive any memo but was informed by assistant city manager Carol Rhodes over the phone that Glascock had suspended her, and that Rhodes was unable to offer any explanation.
Missouri law states that no supervisor or appointed authority of any public employer shall: 1.) take any disciplinary action whatsoever against a public employee…. For the disclosure of information which the employee reasonable believes evidences: a.) a violation of any law, rule or regulation; or b.) mismanagement, a gross waste of funds or abuse of authority, violation of police, or waste of public resources.
Rieman’s lawsuit claims that Glascock unlawfully retaliated against him, Chapdelaine and Chick by placing them on administrative leave because they exercised their rights under the Free Speech and Assembly Clauses of the United States Constitution (and the state of Missouri) by attending a public meeting of the city council outside of work hours and as public citizens.
Further, Rieman claims retaliation for disclosing his belief in Glascock’s unconstitutional conduct to Glascock himself, city attorney Nancy Thompson, then Mayor Brian Treece and the six members of the city council.
A second count in the lawsuit claims that Rieman was unlawfully disciplined by Glascock for informing then HR Director Enyard that he believed Glascock was retaliating against him by denying his travel plans. Spurlock had related to others that she was chastised by Glascock for “going to HR” behind his back.
Hirth pointed out that all of the people involved were ultimately fired or resigned under pressure, including HR Director Enyard.
“John Glascock went out on this blaze of glory firing everyone who wronged him in any way,” Hirth said. “Just the sheer number of people gone in his last six months should give anyone pause that he was justified in doing so.”
Glascock retired in January after nearly 19 years with the city. He was a chief engineer, director of Public Works, acting director of Water and Light and a deputy city manager before being named city manager in June of 2019. He has declined several opportunities to comment on the incident and could not be reached for this story. City officials decline to comment on ongoing litigation.
Rieman had nine years of experience in state government, primarily as a data analyst in budget and legislative affairs before joining the city of Columbia as budget officer in April 2020. He is currently a candidate for Boone County Auditor, running as a Democrat against the Republican Jason Gibson in the November election.