Former Grain Valley City Administrator Ryan Hunt says the city's mayor and aldermen were “reckless” in how they fired him in late October, and he's considering legal action.
Addressing city officials during a hearing at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, with an abnormally full crowd, Hunt said they had performed “gross negligence” by firing him and that the reasons given did not reflect the truth. City officials and employees openly discussed a disability of his, Hunt claimed, and his firing had been retaliation for an internal affairs investigation.
“I planned on retiring from the city,” Hunt said, “but instead was systematically defeated by secrecy and dishonesty by the city.”
Hunt, who started with the city in 2009 and became city manager in 2014, was fired Oct. 25, three days before he was scheduled to return from leave. A board majority had granted a requested 30-day administrative leave on Sept. 30, but the board voted a few days later to make it a leave of absence without pay.
In addition, Hunt said, the city revoked his access to the city and canceled his credit card, and the city attorney deprived him of “contractual rights.”
“This too was retaliatory,” he said.
Hunt's city truck was stolen from his driveway the morning of Oct. 25, and he said Mayor Todd called him later that day, asking to meet him at the Oak Grove Police Department. There, he said, Todd presented the letter of termination, told him he would not get the truck back or his severance package, and said he would not discuss the reasons beyond what was in the letter.
Todd acknowledged that meeting took place where Hunt said.
“We had to meet somewhere to give (the letter) to him,” Todd said. “That day, with the business with the truck, it was there.”
“Basically it's his right to come in and give his story,” Todd said of Hunt's address. “We're not going to squash anyone's freedom of speech.”
Regarding Hunt's take on why he was fired, Todd would not comment, saying it could be a legal matter soon.
“He alluded to the reasons,” Todd said. “But there's two sides to every story. If it goes into litigation, I feel confident in our case.”
Hunt said that earlier this year a city police officer who is married to a board member started “making negative and disparaging statements about me, including statements about my disability,” and hinted he had influence over the board. A subsequent internal affairs examination appeared to place Hunt at the center, he said, and due to discrepancies in information presented to himself and Todd he suggested a neutral third party to reinvestigate.
The board member referenced, Jayci Stratton, has also declined comment, citing possible litigation.
Hunt said he also became aware of what he believed to be unlawful conduct, but the mayor then barred him from a board closed session where be believed he would report the conduct.
Nearly two months later, on Sept. 24, Hunt said he received a disciplinary letter for breaching confidentiality, though city code permits him to examine or inquire about any department under his jurisdiction.
Hunt said he disputes each cause listed in his termination letter: failure to obtain required educational credits, accepting raises for education and “failure to rectify disharmony at City Hall.”
Hunt said any raise he received had been standard cost-of-living or merit-based raises included in approved budgets, and he was scheduled to finish the required educational credits at the end of this year as ordered by the mayor.
Hunt also said he was on leave for all but three days of the time referenced in the letter for “disharmony” and rather than a profanity-laced tirade toward Todd, Hunt said it had been the other way around, as Todd was upset Hunt had asked the whole board and not just him regarding administrative leave. Hunt said he told Todd he did not trust him alone after the past couple months.
Earlier, Hunt had noted several accomplishments during his career, including the revived Grain Valley Economic Development Corporation, the city's largest period of commercial growth and the city's total tax levy going down by 12 cents – with no disciplinary action against him until the September letter.
He closed his address by thanking business owners and citizens who have supported him, Alderman Shea Bass for opposing his firing, and city staff.
“ I enjoyed working with all of you,” Hunt said. “I'm sorry for the way this has turned out … for this to be so recklessly pulled off.”
“To the staff and citizens, I am most regretful of the circumstance and what may come.”