Former mayor files complaint against city manager

By James Robinson
Posted 6/19/24


Former Port Townsend Mayor Brent Shirley filed a complaint May 6 against City Manager John Mauro, alleging Mauro inflated his professional credentials to obtain the position and now …

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Former mayor files complaint against city manager



Former Port Townsend Mayor Brent Shirley filed a complaint May 6 against City Manager John Mauro, alleging Mauro inflated his professional credentials to obtain the position and now engages in conduct that has driven away employees and created a hostile work environment for city employees and council members.

“It can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug that the city manager conducts himself with employees, public officials and members of the public in a manner that violates the city’s personnel policies regarding personal conduct and demeanor and prevention of a hostile work environment,” Shirley wrote. “Individuals have left their employment with the city due to his improper verbal behavior, including raising his voice and treating employees in a demeaning manner.”

Shirley, who served on city council from 1980 to 1982, and then as Port Townsend’s mayor from 1983 to 1993, sent his complaint via a 900-word letter to city council and the city attorney. In the late 1970s, prior to serving as mayor, Shirley managed the Rhododendron Festival. He also spearheaded such projects as the construction of the Northwest Maritime Center and began the effort to obtain a long-term lease for the city golf course.

“I make this complaint against City Manager John Mauro out of deep concern for a city I love.” Shirley wrote. “The role of the City Manager is one that demands the highest standard of conduct and accountability. It is the obligation and duty of the council to hold the city manager accountable for how he conducts his business on behalf of the city.”

Shirley said he has stayed connected to many former colleagues and has heard a steady stream of comments regarding Mauro from past and current elected officials and employees. Many city employees or officials may be afraid to speak for fear of retribution, he said. Because Shirley is retired, no longer owns a business and isn’t engaged in any city project or negotiations, he has nothing to lose.

“I’m the only one that can really do it,” Shirley said. “I need to do what is best for the community and step up.”

Following his May 6 letter to city council, Shirley submitted an open records request on May 24, asking for Mauro’s most recent employee evaluation conducted by an independent firm and any and all documents related to the city manager’s evaluations since he was hired. In addition, he requested a copy of Mauro’s application and any documents associated with his hiring.

Shirley also requested Mauro’s self-evaluations, council member and staff evaluations of Mauro and direct reports from other staff members.

On May 26, Shirley updated his request to include the results of an all employee survey conducted in mid-May.

By June 12, Shirley had received only an initial, perfunctory acknowledgement from the city, but nothing more.

State open records laws require that government agencies respond promptly to requests. Specifically, and according to the state attorney general’s office, the city has five days to provide the record or give the requester a reasonable estimate of how long it will take to fully respond. The city could also deny the request; however, it must also provide, in writing, the reasons for the denial and the specific exemption or law it is relying upon.

Shirley sent a request for an update on June 12, but did not immediately receive one.

On June 13, Leader staff contacted Haylie Truesdel, the city’s public records officer, asking for an update. Truesdel said via email that, “We have several staff members out this month, so I apologize for any oversight.”

Later that day, Truesdel informed Shirley that he should receive the requested records by June 24.

Shirley said his concerns are two-fold. First, he alleges that Mauro fabricated or inflated his employment records to secure a position that he says Mauro isn’t qualified for – hence the open records request. Second, Shirley said he is worried that Mauro’s alleged pattern of verbal abuse could continue to alienate employees or elected officials, or worse, drive them away.

Attorney Alexandra Kenyon of Kenyon Disend, PLLC, sent Shirley’s letter to Phil Olbrechts, the city’s hearing examiner. One of Olbrechts’ responsibilities is to adjudicate ethics complaints.

“It appears that out of an abundance of caution the city attorney has forwarded to me your May 6, 2024 request for independent investigation of John Mauro as a potential ethics complaint,” Olbrechts wrote.

Olbrechts asked Shirley for clarification on whether his request should be construed as an ethics complaint. Shirley responded, telling Olbrechts that he did not want his complaint, or investigation request, to be pursued or construed as an ethics issue.

Instead, Shirley said he wants city council to consider his complaint as though he were a city employee and follow the procedures outlined in the city’s personnel policy manual.

“Experiences of too many past and current employees, public officials and citizens demand a complete investigation of the alleged behaviors,” Shirley wrote to the council. “I request that council appoint an independent investigator to this matter, meet with me and others to begin their investigation, at which time, under a pledge of confidentiality, evidence can be provided to the investigator that will provide more details to substantiate the grounds for this complaint.”

Port Townsend Mayor David Faber, asked for comment, replied in an email: “When Mr. Shirley sent in his vague, third-party accusations, I spoke with the city's HR director Cynthia Shaffer and the city's contract attorney Alexandra Kenyon for direction.”

Faber, who also has a half-time job, said that the deadline did not enable him to determine the “exact correct person we sent this issue to, but I believe it was the hearings examiner.” Faber said it was his understanding that they “contacted Mr. Shirley, who either could not or would not substantiate the claims he makes in the letter, and does not want to proceed with an ethics complaint.”

Discussion of Shirley’s complaint and request for an investigation has not been on the regular city council agenda.  It remains unclear how council will proceed.

Faber said he didn’t know where Shirley’s letter would go from here, “if anywhere. That said, it seems like Mr. Shirley may well be more interested in creating smoke. John Mauro is a smart, dedicated, public-facing, award-winning, team-building, hard-working, friendly, and approachable City Manager.

Kenyon did not respond to voice mail or email requests for comment. John Mauro did not respond to questions sent via email by Leader staff. Specifically, Mauro was asked about his position in Auckland, New Zealand – his job title, the number of employees he directly supervised and the budget he was responsible for.

“I stand confidently by my record,” Mauro said. He also said that Shirley’s accusation are false.

Mauro and Faber were also asked how the city council would, procedurally, handle Shirley’s request. Neither responded to that question. 

In July 2022, the Leader reported on Mauro’s annual performance review. According to the records reviewed by Leader staff, Mauro received some exemplary remarks and some criticism from Faber and Councilmember Libby Wennstrom.

Wennstrom cautioned about Mauro’s temper and a tendency to “snap” when stressed. Faber also expressed measured concern at that time.

“I worry about John’s relationships with some members of council. Councilmembers are not part of the city staff and not subject to management, and while I know John understands that, I worry that his concern about their individual activities (which could harm the city) of some councilmembers could unnecessarily create conflict.”