March 14, 2012University City Manager Lehman Walker is insisting he has done nothing wrong following censure and disbarment by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) for what the organization considers to be ethics violations.
Several members of the University City Council have come to Walker's defense, claiming that he is a victim of politics.
On Feb. 29, ICMA issued a statement that Walker was censured and barred by the group's executive board.
According to the statement, Walker was found to be in violation of several tenets of the ICMA code of ethics. It states that while working for another local government, "Mr. Walker communicated with a University City council member and mayoral candidate about city business; made comments criticizing the University City manager's performance; and did not inform the University City manager about the discussions."
Prior to becoming city manager in University City, Walker worked for the city of Evanston, Ill. Prior to that he worked for University City as director of community development. It was during the time in Evanston, between the two stints with University City, that he is alleged to have committed the violations.
Walker is also accused by ICMA of sending his resume to the mayoral candidate shortly before the election. Additionally, Walker is accused of failing to meet ethical obligations to serve at least two years in Evanston before resigning to take the city manager position in University City. He resigned from his Evanston position after nine months.
"The essence of the alleged violations is that I did not have the right as a private citizen to communicate to other private citizens my opinions about what was happening in ... University City," said Walker in a written statement to the West End Word. "This is a First Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution."
Walker goes on to state that the group's actions were an example of why he had already resigned from voluntary membership in ICMA.
"Not only is their decision ridiculous and politically motivated, it is driven by an interpretation of a so-called code that is simply used to protect certain members," he said.
"When a voluntary association elects to become political and selective in the members it represents, it loses its value as a voluntary organization for all members and communities," Walker added. "This type of political activity is contrary to my personal rights. I see no future value of the association for me personally or to University City at a cost of $1,100 per year."
When Walker became city manager, his contract included a clause that the city council could take action against him for ICMA violations. However, several days before the ICMA charges were announced, the council met in a closed executive session and voted to have that clause removed from Walker's contract.
Several council members indicated that when they took that vote, they were not fully aware of details of the ongoing situation. Councilman Terry Crow at one point asked of other members, "What did they know, and when did they know it?"
Councilman Arthur Sharpe Jr., noted that while he had no problem altering the contract, he "did not know a number of things prior to the meeting."
Paulette Carr, a council candidate in the April 3 election, said she believed some council members were not being fully informed about situations.
Walker said he is glad the issue is being brought out so that the public can decide if membership in the ICMA is a good investment of the city's tax dollars, which he believes it is not. He said one in five city managers belong to the group and that many look at it largely as a networking resource.
Since the announcement of the censure, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch and several members of the University City Council have come out in support of Walker.
"The allegations mentioned in the complaint against Mr. Walker happened prior to his hiring by the city of University City," said Welsch. "This complaint is a personal issue between Mr. Walker and the ICMA. It is in no way connected to his work with the city ... since he was hired on Aug. 2, 2010," said Welsch.
"The charter is clear that the members of the city council can talk with staff members for the purposes of gaining information," Welsch said. "Mr. Walker was working under the direction of our city charter when he engaged in conversations with members of our city council."
Welsch said the ICMA process was "totally unprofessional and politically driven," and that it involved personal emails written by Walker that were released by officials in Evanston to U. City residents who shared them with a former city manager. She said those emails were then provided to local ICMA members who filed a complaint without first talking to Walker. She said ICMA also acted on the complaint without first talking to Walker.
Also supporting Walker is Council Member Lynn Ricci.
"Lehman Walker inherited 30-plus years of mismanagement. He has had a gargantuan job in righting this ship, and it appears the prior administration is angered that, in the process, a bright light fell on their malfeasance," she said. "So they have made a concerted effort to use their membership in a small organization ... as a weapon to discredit Mr. Walker."