Grantville recreation director suspended
by Clay Neely
Michelle Huffstickler, parks and recreation director for Grantville, was suspended for one week without pay by mayor and acting city manager Jim Sells.
When asked about the suspension, Sells declined to discuss it, saying it was a personnel matter. Huffstickler also declined comment, citing legal reasons.
However, Council Member Leonard Gomez and David Riley are furious.
Huffstickler was initially suspended for insubordination for missing a scheduled meeting on Aug. 12, according to city officials.
Riley said there was no justifiable reason for her suspension, citing that other directors have missed meetings with no consequences.
“He had the police confiscate her car keys and her cell phone,” Riley said. “He tried to fire her but when he discovered that firing a department head would require a majority vote from the council, he suspended her instead.”
According to Gomez, he feels her suspension was an unnecessary misuse of power.
“She (Huffstickler) was unaware that a meeting was taking place that day,” Gomez said. “All attempts to contact her were botched due to a failure in the city’s email server – an issue that an IT member confirmed.”
Even after confirmation that the email was never sent, Gomez said Sells still refused to reinstate her pay for the time she missed during her suspension.
“He can suspend someone for missing a meeting that they didn’t even know about? What kind of protocol is that?” Gomez asked. “We had to find out about her suspension from another citizen because he won’t talk about it.”
“Jim (Sells) likes to talk about protocol but who does he have to answer to? Who writes his reviews and decides what rules he has to follow?” Gomez asked. “He’s stepping beyond his boundaries.”
Gomez feels this issue is indicative of what has been plaguing the entire community and local government.
“He’s not being honest with us or the entire community,” Gomez said. “We can’t rely on him to let us know what is happening with our employees even though we’re liable for his actions.”
For Gomez and Riley, the double standard set by Sells is infuriating. “He will only address items he feels are worth discussing,” Gomez said. “But when we want to discuss items that are in regards to missing funds or poor accounting, he refuses to acknowledge them and continuously postpones discussion on the matters.”
Gomez tried to add discussion about the suspension to Monday’s city council agenda, but Sells opposed it and the issue was not discussed.
“He feels he is above our charter in every way,” added Riley. “Look at the exceptional turnout for the splash park and the summer program. Michelle is beloved by our community. She shouldn’t have to take the fall because of personal politics.”
For Gomez and Riley, the hiring of a city manager is the most crucial step in resolving many of the town’s issues.
“That’s the only way we can get out of this mess. We can’t terminate him as acting city manager,” Riley said. “He wanted his hand-picked candidate to be the next city manager, but when we decided that spending $100,000 on a city manager for a town the size of Grantville wasn’t such a great idea, he took his ball and went home.”
Since then, Sells has not brought in or interviewed any new candidates, according to Riley.
“That’s why he’s running for office again – because his candidate fell through,” Riley stated. “This city has seen enough and I want to bring in a forensic accountant. There is more underlying (here) than what we know and it’s coming from the front office.”
“How many times has Jim (Sells) said that Michelle (Huffstickler) is the hardest working person in Grantville?” Riley asked. “But now he wants to use her as an excuse for the budget deficit so now he wants her out of town.”
For Riley, the message is simple.
“We can’t keep treating our employees like crap because you’re in a bind and can’t balance your budget or get what you want,” he said. “He’s the worst city manager and mayor this city has ever seen.”